Magazine article The Spectator

The Good Cook

Magazine article The Spectator

The Good Cook

Article excerpt

FOR a place teeming with diplomats, royalty and hacks, Kensington High Street is not overburdened with good eating places. It is just like any other high street - the usual branches of the usual chains between the usual shops. No wonder residents of Kensington Palace are occasionally to be found in McDonald's.

However, a newcomer is challenging the chain hegemony. Number One Kensington High Street used to be a bank until it became a pretty average Tex-Mex, catering to the Royal Albert Hall crowd and visitors to those famous royal gates across the road. It is now a stylish addition to that rapidly expanding genre: the modern British restaurant with a rising star. The rising star in question is Allegra McEvedy, who has just produced the mandatory book and is preparing for the mandatory television series.

Until this year, the 29-year-old was running the Good Cook in Notting Hill, a cafestyle joint in the Tabernacle community centre which won glowing reviews for imaginative food and cheap prices. The Tabernacle soon became as popular with the local trustafarians as with the local rastafarians. I recall a noisy evening sandwiched between a table of investment bankers and a table of unwaged Old Etonians `in film' while a meeting of heavily sunglassed Black Power activists rumbled on in the room upstairs.

Now, the Good Cook has moved to larger, smarter premises. The unremarkable street entrance gives few hints of the cavernous space within. A large bar area backs on to a huge, wood-panelled dining-room with elaborate stone carvings above the doorways. The initial impression is of being in a converted church.

The sense of space was enhanced by the fact that there was a great deal of it. Bar one couple, we were the only people in the place. Some restaurateurs claim that it is unfair to review a restaurant on a Sunday night, on the basis that the place is not at its best (a complaint which raises the counter-question: if you're not so good on a Sunday night, then why not cut the prices?). This, in fact, was a Saturday night. But on this particular evening no restaurant anywhere in the country was likely to be at its best. It was the night of England's Euro 2000 clash with Germany.

There was no question of missing the game. Four of us had sat through that tortuous 90 minutes in increasing disbelief as the impossible came true. By the 80th minute, my friend Topaz had been reduced to hiding behind a wall and reading junk mail out of the bin - anything to take her mind off the agony of waiting for the final whistle. When it came, we sat gasping for air for 15 minutes as we watched the winning goal replayed umpteen times. And then it was time for a celebratory dinner. Pubs were overflowing, the streets were full of chanting youths, but the Good Cook was an oasis of calm.

It turned out that, in the absence of any customers, half the kitchen staff, including Miss McEvedy, had already gone. `I'm off, too,' said the girl on the desk, grabbing her bag. This would, indeed, be a test of the restaurant's consistency. …

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