Jimi Famurewa reviews The Parakeet: Thrillingly incongruous boozer becomes one of London’s great gastro pubs

Unapologetic pubbiness: the Parakeet doesn’t feel like a genteel bistros in ill-fitting disguise  (Adrian Lourie)
Unapologetic pubbiness: the Parakeet doesn’t feel like a genteel bistros in ill-fitting disguise (Adrian Lourie)

Early on during dinner at The Parakeet in Kentish Town, amid a swelling tide of wine-loosened voices, my wife glanced towards where our food would be coming from. “That looks,” she said, with visible concern, “like it might be a ridiculously intense kitchen to work in.”

Now, even setting aside the particular perspective afforded by her years of waitressing jobs — which is to say, she finds all open kitchens vaguely anxiety-inducing and if they gave out medals for service to provincial trattorias, she would be as laden with them as a minor royal at a coronation — it was hard to deny that she was onto something.

Carved out of the wood-panelled wall, the back-of-house at this new, food-led pub is a semi-open tank, outwardly defined by palpable airlessness and tight proportions. Smoke wafts up to obscure the bowed heads of a focused brigade; over in its back corner, flames dance within the domed interior of a wood oven. The sense, if you had to name it, would be of a giant porthole window on an especially stressed young submarine crew.

However, if the engine room of this place — an opening from ex-Brat chefs Ben Allen and Ed Jennings — presents as pressurised or frantic, then that only heightens the serene, smoke-wreathed brilliance of the dishes that eventually arrive. Because here, drifting through the chaos, is the rolling lusciousness of smoked chicken terrine, a vast, crackled expanse of grilled whole sea bream, and the potato bread of the actual gods. Here, more broadly, is both a recognisably butch, Basque-inflected effortlessness and something that feels, in its flavour-building idiosyncrasies, like a genuinely significant addition to the capital’s new wave of gastro pubs.

Mystically tender: the whole turbot (Adrian Lourie)
Mystically tender: the whole turbot (Adrian Lourie)

Part of this is the unapologetic pubbiness of it. Where some of the capital’s recently launched, tarted-up boozers can feel like genteel bistros in ill-fitting disguise, The Parakeet’s team have maintained the main bar space and the mischievous clamour of what was once known as The Oxford. Sweeping in from the rain on a Friday night, we stepped into full-scale Hogarthian bedlam: blaring music, brimming pints of Camden Hells and sweaty old boys in Stone Island pulling each other into drunken, face-gripping embraces. The dining area in the back – all stained-glass fixtures, flickering candlelight and striking, acid-hued portraits by Ghanaian painter Theophilus Tetteh — is more sedate but only slightly so. That even the hand-dryers in the toilets have been entombed in wood-panelling is both quite mad and oddly fitting.

We properly began with smoked mutton sausage: an indecently plump length of housemade charcuterie with the barreling spice of lamb kofta and the snap of a bratwurst. A small plate of brothy white beans, strewn with blood orange and bubbled slices of tempura butternut squash, had unusual lift and textural dynamism. Asparagus — julienned and set in ravishing almond and nettle purees — brought a welcome crazed maximalism to a vegetable often approached with austere reverence. And then there was that sea bream. Is it a conscious, relatively cut-price, and perhaps somewhat brazen rework of Brat’s signature whole turbot? It absolutely is. Does this make it any less enthralling, mystically tender, or liable to make you abandon cutlery and roam, with eager fingers, for scraps of crisped skin and hidden pockets of smoky, pearlescent meat? Can confirm: it does not.

Indecently plump: the smoked mutton sausage (Adrian Lourie)
Indecently plump: the smoked mutton sausage (Adrian Lourie)

This is not to say that there were no erratic moments — a pretty flower of confit potato was, for me, somehow both limp and burnt, and a forcefully bitter chocolate torte felt like luxurious punishment. But these seemed like examples of both the kitchen’s fidgety tendency (accompaniments have been known to change midway through service) and puckish, relative inexperience. We polished off brown butter custard with a gorgeous, warmed half-barrel of the kouign-amann they buy from Kossoffs bakery, pushed out past an overspill of more lively drinkers on the pavement and, perhaps, finally understood why this place is named after the tropical birds that can be found screeching across the sky all around the city. The Parakeet is thrillingly incongruous, it is quintessentially London, and if you approach to join its growing, appreciative flock on a busy Friday night, there’s every chance you’ll hear it before you see it.

256 Kentish Town Road, NW5 2AA. Meal for two plus drinks about £130. Kitchen open Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm—10.30pm and Sunday from noon—7pm; theparakeetpub.com