Spring feels late to the party this year, doesn’t it? We get the odd day of glorious sunshine popping up now and then, it’s one of those days, without a cloud in the sky, when we cast our eye over to the ‘Welcome to Kentish Town’ mural, head down the busy high street as the sun begins to set and arrive at The Parakeet. What was The Oxford Tavern on Kentish Town Road, has now been transformed into a 60-cover dining room where a locally sourced, seasonally changing menu from ex-Brat chef Ben Allen and sous-chef Ed Jennings is served.
Part of the posh pub movement, The Parakeet offers a whole new reason to pop down the boozer with a menu of elevated modern European dishes, drawing on Ben’s experience at Brat and the two-star Steirereck in Austria. We’re met with the sounds of laughter, the clattering of glasses, as conversations flow across every table, it’s friendly and inviting, with everyone feeling the excitement at the hint of warmer weather. The sun casts a golden glow across the bustling room and the aroma of sizzling meat and food being cooked over open fire fills the air.
The Victorian pub is bursting with character and is beautifully put together, with ornate antique furnishings set against a backdrop of wood panelling, dark green leather booths and white exposed brickwork. At the back, the open kitchen gives a peek into the workstations of the chefs as the flames dance and flicker behind them.
The menu is drawn up over two blackboards donning the walls and our waiter quickly gives us the run-through, before dropping a wine menu onto the table and telling us he’ll be back in two. It all sounds madly appealing, and super seasonal with wild garlic, nettles, and asparagus catching our eye amongst the tall, neat white chalk lettering. Thick slices of potato bread are placed on the table, made in-house from half potato flour and half wheat making it so super soft. Nestling next to the bread is a generous dollop of butter, smoked using hay and whipped together with regular butter to give it that fluffy texture. When it’s this good, there’s nothing more satisfying than bread and butter.
Spider crab croquettes are next up (made using a bycatch of monkfish, showing that the team here take their sustainability efforts seriously) made with a shellfish stock as well as the crab meat, served with wild garlic aioli on top to complete the crunchy parcels of joy. The beautiful lamb chop is presented with confit Jerusalem artichoke, topped with crumbled hazelnuts and drizzled with gremolata, and the charred asparagus served amongst almonds, nettles, and confit lemon is the perfect spring dish. There’s more wild garlic on the egg yolk and Tropea onion dish, featuring the sweet red onions from Calabria that are so sweet, locals say you should be able to eat one like an apple (something to keep an eye out for next time you’re in southern Italy).
For the big sharing dish, we go for ox cheek, marinated for 12 hours in red wine and black pepper, and put into their wood-fired oven to get that perfect melt-in-the-mouth consistency. Sat on pomme puree with the jus of the meat, then comes crispy polenta with shallot onions, rosemary and olive oil crumbled on top. Simply superb. We finish with the Kossoffs kouign-amann, a sweet Breton cake bought in from Kossoffs Bakery up the road, that’s drenched in brown butter that is infused in milk for 24 hours before being turned into a custard.
The Parakeet have something special here, it’s the kind of place we love; an unpretentious approach to modern seasonal food resulting in an elevated menu of exciting dishes, housed in a familiar setting with a sophisticated edge. In short, a posh boozer with banging food.
256 Kentish Town Road, London, NW5 2AA