Sunday, October 15, 2006

In all of the unlikely places...

It's an inauspicious kind of corner - opposite the bright lights of the Windmill Fish Bar, and continually subject to the waxing and waning roar of Kennington Lane. There's a Pizza Express round the corner, a couple of estate agents and a smattering of shops and eateries, but Kennington is not the kind of place which would inspire anyone not within walking distance to proclaim, "hey, let's go there for the evening!"

However, Franklin's, perched on said corner, is the kind of place which should make people want to come to Kennington. Once you're off the busy street it's calm and classy, without being fancy - subdued colours, matching modern prints adorning the walls, simple paper tablecloths and cute thistles instead of flowers.

The menu is changed daily, presented on a printed sheet of paper (as above - apologies for no better photos - I forgot to take my camera!). It's that rare thing - 'modern British' which really is modern British - made with local, seasonal produce, creative and yet with references to older times and traditions.

You know how you don't know what you've got til it's gone? Well, also I think sometimes we also don't know what we've lost til we find it again. In this case, good service. It's so long since I had genuinely good service in a restaurant that I think I had forgotten what it is. Not just polite and efficient, but genuine enjoyment and involvement; basically making it a profession, an artform, rather than the lowly service job it's often treated as. Both our waiter and waitress were helpful ad knowledgable without being patronising, friendly without being overbearing and enthusiastic without being fake.

This was just one aspect in which you could tell someone had had a vision of everything this restaurant should be and had made it. You could see it in the homemade bread and the good, sweet butter (attention to detail!), in the careful decoration, and not least in the food.

I had two starters, as last time I had a proper meal out I could barely even make a dent in my main course - better to err on the side of the caution and make sure there's room for pudding. It was the right thing to do. After the stuffed squid and breast of lamb I was quite full and not in need of pudding at all, although of course I couldn't say no…

But back to the starters; the squid was a tiny bit rubbery, as squid can be, but I don't think it was the cooking, just its inherent texture. The stuffing seemed pretty simple - tomato-y and chilli-y - but somehow had much more depth than I would have imagined, so that every mouthful was as bright and fresh and interesting as the last.
The breast of lamb was presented somewhat peculiarly - five cuboid fingers, crunchy in breadcrumbs and fried, aside a spoonful of obviously homemade piccalilli. Again, it was packed with flavour; like the 'lambness' had been distilled, and was rich and delicious, nicely complemented by the sharp piccalilli.

B had potted mackerel with toast. Not too dissimilar to a mackerel pate - more chunk and oily and with a slightly more subtle flavour than the smoked variety. The aged sirloin that followed, accompanied by wild mushrooms, was humungous - no other word would do. A solid, substantial slab of meat. It wasn't the best steak I've ever sampled, but pretty damn good (one slight quirk - the waiters don't ask how you'd like it cooked as the chefs want to do it their way. I guess that's fair enough that they want you to eat it how they plan it - which luckily was medium rare, but most people are just used to being able to have steak to their taste).

So, completely stuffed, we recklessly decided to ignore our moaning bellies and sample the pudding menu too. I can't refuse an apple crumble, and wasn't let down by their very apply, crunchy, muscovado-flavoured version (with extra-thick cream; almost like clotted) and B discovered a new ice-cream flavour - quince, which tasted a bit like mincemeat to me, or something kind of spicy, but very nice all the same.

The only downside to all this was that unaccustomed to such quantities of rich food, our stomachs somewhat incapacitated us - you know that completely too full feeling, where you just have to rest and let your body concentrate itself on digestion?

But, questionable gluttony aside, it was a 5-star meal; and a restaurant I would certainly like to go back to, even if I didn't live just around the corner.

NB - we paid £67 for three courses each, with drinks. They do a set course lunch Monday to Saturday until 5pm which is very good value at around £11 for two courses or £15 for three.

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