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A hidden Covent Garden restaurant serving a kebab-based tasting menu.
It could have been so awful. A ‘speakeasy-style’ restaurant with a ‘kebab tasting menu’? Where you eat straight off the counter? But it wasn’t. It was brilliant.
A bit of background for you. Kebab Queen, which is in a back basement room, is from the crew behind the restaurant upstairs, Maison Bab (itself sibling to Kingly Court’s Le Bab, a posh kebab joint I liked a lot). You go in, give them your details, and will then be led down the steps, via the kitchen of the main restaurant, through a heavy steel door and into a small room. Here, there’s just enough space for a narrow but functional kitchen with a ten-person counter running along it.
As you sit down and go to put your phone down on the counter, you’ll realise this: the counter is warm. Very warm. One of the enthusiastic young team will give you a block on to which you can plonk your worldly possessions (plus any cocktails) and will then explain that they heat the counter so they can assemble the food right in front of you, doing away with crockery and cutlery. This ‘no plates, no forks’ approach is the restaurant’s homage to a 3am kebab shop visit. Let’s be clear: the experience here is absolutely nothing like a 3am kebab shop visit (where are the blindingly bright lights? And the fights?), but still, like the feeling of picking up a just-made nigiri, or tearing off a fresh strip of dosa, there’s something visceral about handling your food in this way. And yes, I do think it improves the taste.
Clean freaks, don’t panic: the surface is made of Dekton, a material as indestructible and non-porous as you can get. (Trust me, I’ve tried to destroy Dekton before. Like, with a sharpie. The Dekton always wins.) Even so, they spritz down between courses, with antiseptic. ‘Don’t worry,’ they say, ‘it’s organic and edible. Want to watch us spray some in our mouths?’ No thanks, we’re good.
The point is this: KQ is fun. The music is deep and soulful, the lighting low and vintage, the staff chatty and warm. But what of the food? I’ve only left it last because your memories of KQ will go well beyond the dishes (a seat at dinner, which starts at 7.30pm, feels more like a trip to the theatre). That said, we didn’t eat a single thing we didn’t love. Interestingly, only a few came in wrappable format: of these, the star dish was a piece of cabbage set down in front of you, then scorched with a hot iron. Next, the filling-slash-topping was added: chicken and monkfish in a silky sauce, with bone marrow from the fish spines and crisp puffs of chicken skin. Plus a little salsa verde for oomph. It was sublime. Other dishes were ‘topping only’, leaving you to pick up bits of meat – like pink-middled duck slices with a pool of thick saffron-and-molasses-laced jus – straight off the counter with your fingers. If this makes you squeamish, then, yep, you’re probably in the wrong place. If you want a dining experience that’s genuinely unique, step right up.
4 Mercer Walk
|Transport:||Tube: Covent Garden|
|Price:||Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £175.|
|Do you own this business?|