This is a bit of an odd one. Let’s start with a little context – for a number of years Peyton and Byrne has been close to my heart before I was blessed with opportunities to review some of the greatest restaurants of the world. In a busy corner of Covent Garden is a chic fashion grey cafe a stones throw away from modern landmarks such as The Lion King and London’s Royal Opera house.
Tourists and Londoners alike flock to peek into the large panes of glass as the delicate shelves are brimming with an even more fragile looking assortment of delights for both the eyes and mouth that would not be out of place on a Parisian cobbled street. Speaking of Paris, I am sitting in Laduree – in Paris – appreciating the great value for money that the Covent Garden Peyton and Byrne store really is. For four years I have been hopping across Waterloo Bridge to collect half a dozen of these delights to help ease to pain of a tough day in the office – it is of course common knowledge that cake is the cure to all pain.
When approached to visit a new Peyton and Byrne establishment I was not really sure what to expect, I knew only of their cakes which I had, literally, grown in waist-size to love. With a sense of slight trepidation myself and a colleague – whom I have spoilt many a time with the aforementioned cakes, headed over to Inn The Park appropriately named as it is set in the middle of the immaculate grounds of St James’ Park.
The day was one of heavy significance, the UK parliament was welcoming its first female prime minister since Margret Thatcher just a couple of hundred meters away from where we sat on the wooden decked terrace – it was all very civilized. At first glance so was the menu at Inn The Park. There are traditional favorites such as fish and steak accompanied with chips – Britons finest culinary offerings. Or so you would assume – Peyton and Byrne have cherry picked the best ingredients available in the UK to craft British dishes that challenge you to think beyond the local high street chippy, something that stood out in the ‘small plate’ labelled starters list. Presbyterians will salivate at the sight of the options that range from octopus and hake to a handful of vegetarian friendly choices in addition to two meat alternatives. The option to share three plates between to diners is a welcome thought and after much deliberation we chose charred octopus with jersey potatoes, handpicked Cornish crab, avocado & nacho pear and finally flamed Newlyn squid & wild garlic emulsion.
All three looked very attractive, particularly the octopus with its contrasting purple streaks. It was not just a feast for the eye either, with just a single piercing of a tooth the quality and freshness of the British sea creature was apparent. A dip into one of the piped green polka dots and a few caramelized onions resulted in a mouthful of flavors that worked incredibly well. It’s not the most conventional of dishes, but alone is one that would have us visit again. The squid, complete with ‘garlic emulsion’ is a slightly different story. Again, it was cooked well and the absence of chewing gum like elasticity paid testament to its freshness. The potency of the garlic had me remembering the first time I tasted Wasabi – a little over powering. The crab salad looked the part and was paired well with a light sauce but was not the best we have ever had – that being said we were too busy passively fighting over the last octopus tentacle for it to have mattered.
The well timed break between the first courses allowed us to appreciate the beauty of the setting in which we were situated. The manicured lawns and hedges are so well boxed you could be forgiven for thinking they are plastic imitations that quivered so naturally. Our green fingered horticultural appreciation was set to one side by the arrival of our main courses. We opted to choose dishes for both a vegetarian and meat eaters. From the selection of meats a steak requested medium rare is a great test of a kitchens knowledge. The 12oz dry aged Dexter sirloin on the bone with béarnaise sauce and hand cut chips certainly looked the part. Imagine a sirloin on the bone and the image is presented onto the plate before you. Severing the fibres we saw that the meat had been cooked as requested, the fatty remains had been seasoned and disappeared as quickly as the large cut of beef leaving just a bone and a handful of chip remains. We had been impressed.
If steak is a test for meats then risotto is surely the standard for veg. Organic spelt risotto featured wild garlic, peas, asparagus, Berkswell cheese – a tasty proposition. What was presented was rather intimidating, I am no small eater and as long as the food meets my low standards of basic satisfaction chance are plates return to the kitchen looking as if they had just come out of the dishwasher. I believed that nothing was impossible, this plate of risotto somewhat challenged that. I am a fan of asparagus and greens in general, the heavy underlying flavour was of asparagus and personally is was a little too powerful. I would be more inclined to sample the sweet potato and chickpea fritters on my next visit.
Following the mixed feelings of the mains we looked forward to what we really hoped would be the star of the evening, dessert. The menu was not as full as we hoped, but the were a couple of standout choices. We stuck to the British classics with a chocolate pot and a meringue. Both were presented very conservatively in dessert cups that looked to have been taken from the set of The Great Gatsby. Crushing meringue must be one of the most satisfying culinary experiences, taking a bite of the sweet crumbling dessert was even better. There was the initial brittleness followed by a soft bouncy center that was all contrasted by the sharpness of raspberry – gorgeous. Loving chocolate in pretty much any form often makes it difficult to be critical of desserts. In this case there was no need, the brittle was sweet and the nuts worked in tandem harmoniously with the rich soft chocolate below, cleaning the chocolate pot was not a problem.
Inn The Park is fantastic. In a city brimming with eateries it is great to try something more unusual and walk through one of the greatest parks in London to sit on the terrace whilst enjoying a quick sandwich or a full meal. The cafe concept is great and we cannot recommend it enough although the sit down dining experience is a little bizzare. There is a kitchen that spans the length of the structure that serves take away dishes and it is slightly odd walking past what looks like a canteen in such an establishment. Aside from this we will certainly return, if not for the dessert then for the delicious octopus.