The Parakeet


I have learned, through bitter experience, to treat the label of ‘the best neighbourhood restaurant’ with a pinch of (Maldon sea) salt. So often, what the marketing has trumpeted as something exceptional proves to be a mediocre experience, pleasant enough while it lasts but barely worth the journey out of zone one. (And before anyone accuses me of being a centrist snob, I live in Oxford, so a zone very far away from such considerations.) But I had heard not just good but great things about The Parakeet in Kentish Town. People I trusted – and not just the country’s leading restaurant critics, although they all weighed in too – told me that it was the perfect neighbourhood restaurant, a place where superb food, a peerlessly comfortable setting and a well-chosen drinks list all came together to produce the equivalent of culinary nirvana. Well, what else could I do but visit?

Entering the clubbable wood-panelled interior one day, I was struck by how simple everything was. There was a large pub space at the pub, where Kentish Town drinkers were honourably downing pints of Camden Pale; you walk through to the back restaurant, where there is a small kitchen, staffed by former Brat chefs Ed Jennings and Ben Allen. The trick here, as with Brat, is that all the food is cooked over open flames on a wood oven. Does this sound gimmicky? Trust me, it really isn’t; the flavours and textures are second to none.

The menu divides nearly into four acts, although they’re not labelled as such. First come bar snacks, which are best tackled with one of the exemplary Paloma cocktails, and they’ve already become iconic in London foodie circles. The mutton sausage is an uncompromising, mustardy beast; the spider crab croquettes unmissable and far too unctuous to last more than a moment on the plate, or in the mouth. And, oh heavens, the oysters; red apple, pickled kohlrabi and chilli give them a memorable kick, especially washed down with the Paloma. For £4 a pop, you’ll struggle to swallow anything more memorable in London this year.

 Then, act two, we move into small plate territory, aided by a bottle of fine, crisp Alvarinho, which has a pleasing lightness to cut through the richness and complexity of everything that we sample. Mussels come served with tomato in a broth that allows the excellence of the seafood to come through, without dousing it in the usual mariniere sauce; a lamb chop’s cabbage and pepper sauce is simplicity itself. I’m not usually a leek aficionado but a friend’s recommendation to try them in the pecorino sauce with smoked mushrooms is an invaluable one. They are the platonic idea of leeks – not a phrase that I can ever imagine writing – and I find myself gasping in acclaim.

Arguably a misstep follows. We are told to try the kitchen’s signature dish, the sea bream, and we are very tempted. But seeing it on a neighbouring table, we realise that it’s simply de trop. We opt instead for pork chop in anchovy sauce with cime de rapa and beef rump with creamed cauliflower, with a fine Uruguayan wine that our excellent waiter recommends. Both are, of course, exemplary – nothing that we eat or drink is anything less – but I find myself catching a breath of regret at not having the Parakeet’s equivalent of Brat’s infamous turbot. I accept that this is the first world problem to end them all, but next time, next time.

We’re thoroughly sated by this point but it would be a mistake not to try the puddings and round off the meal with something sweet. But there is, alas, no way that we’ll be able to venture into the heavier aspects of the spotted dick and custard – which no doubt will do something amusingly modern with the most retro dessert known to man – or the Jerusalem artichoke parfait and rhubarb. Instead, aided by an exemplary espresso martini apiece, it’s time to share a chocolate torte, which has a welcome darkness that takes away the usual sweetness of this particular treat, and the Kalamansi sorbet – the latter being a kind of very sour Philippine sorbet, is feather-light in texture but packed its very own punch in terms of taste.

We had chosen well, I thought, even if there was just the slightest touch of lingering regret at not having the sea bream. But that’s what the booking button on the Parakeet’s (elegant, tasteful) website is for, and, even as I write this, my finger is hovering over it once again. There will be a next time. In fact, there’ll be many next times. And I suspect that every one of them will be just as much of a pleasure as the first visit was.

The Parakeet, 256 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2AA. For more information, and for bookings, please visit

 Photos by Justin de Souza