Paradise by Way of Kensal Green

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How far would you travel to reach Paradise? I travelled all the way from EC1 to the depths of west London for a taste of it. Two tubes: one Central, one Bakerloo; a bit of walking and a five-minute drive.

The Paradise I was in search of on this occasion was the venue in Kensal Green, rather than mankind’s dream destination, though judging by the ridiculous number of people lugging a suitcase behind them on the Bakerloo Line, it seems they’d been victims of a Google mix-up. Fools! I’m all for the school of live and learn, so I followed silently behind, a raucous laugh hidden inside.

The name, although I’d immediately taken a dislike to it, is a critics’ dream, surely. In fact, despite the lengthy journey getting there, I was secretly hoping it would be awful, so I could say things like, “Paradise? Hell, more like!” or words to that effect, but alas, it was actually rather good.

I had other apprehensions about the place, fuelled by the online gallery of ‘fun times’ and partygoers enjoying some of the music of which it boasts a full calendar. I’m always dubious about pub-club-music hall crossovers, especially when they’re mixed with something as leisurely as an à la carte menu. If I want loud music while I eat, I’ll go to Camden Market, or sneak a sausage roll into Ronnie Scott’s.

But there wasn’t anything remotely noisy about the place on the Tuesday evening the boy and I went to eat there, except the din of mingled conversations, beats from the generic chill-out music trickling in between noises of cutlery touching plates, and glasses getting clinked in celebration of there being only three days until the next weekend (I’m guessing). It appears I’d got the place all wrong.

Inside, through the main bar and into the back Farrow & Ball mint green dining area, we sat among Victorian birdcages, stone busts, taxidermy birds, Fornesetti & Milano wallpapered toilets disguised as wardrobes, oil paintings of people and animals, flower-printed curtains which wouldn’t look out of place in a Laura Ashley catalogue, chandeliers, mismatched furniture and candles. A brilliantly executed display of interesting old things, reminding me a bit of the Grand Union chain decor, but a far superior example of it, causing the latter to look like a cheap imitation in comparison.

There wasn’t anything hellish about the place. Even our waitress Anneka was spot on; she had good answers for every menu and venue related question I threw at her, and I asked quite a few, and even managed to change my usually stubborn mind on some of the dishes I planned to order. Her enthusiasm saved me from the goat’s cheese curd salad, that Adam ended up ordering to start, and pointed me in the direction of what she described as a “breakfast for dinner with a funky twist”: diced black pudding, boiled egg and pancetta. Good call.

The samphire and parmesan side she recommended with our mains of lamb and sea bass was also a perfect match, although the portions were more than ample without it. Other than my fish lacking in flakiness, a result of being ever so slightly overdone, everything else was faultless and, for those who like taking pictures of their dishes, worthy of a picture or two. The desserts, too, did the trick, Adam loved the sticky toffee pud and my chocolate and raspberry delice was spoon-lickingly good.

All three courses were of a brilliant quality and value compared to much of the gastro-pub offerings out there. No doubt something to do with the man behind the food, head chef Tim Payne, who counts working as executive chef under Marco Pierre White on ITV’s Hell’s Kitchen and other London restaurants The Criterion and Mirabelle among his culinary credits.

Anneka’s stand out suggestion of the evening was the chilled Pinot Noir (2010 J. Lohr Estate Wildflower Valdiguie). It solved the red or white dilemma and was a first for us both, bursting with a distinctive fresh raspberry and pomegranate nose and crisp taste which was surprising and really rather exciting. Deceptively light for a 12% wine, it’s one I’ll be seeking out in future.

Paradise it ain’t (certainly not in the desired sense); a great place to head to while you’re in the vicinity, it is. Just try to resist bursting the bubbles of the suitcase-clad en-route; they wouldn’t understand. Repeat after me: live and learn.

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