I hadn’t clocked when I got the invite but my friend Amy had told me about the original version of this place many, many years ago and I had still not got around to going. This was, perhaps in part because, before its recent relaunch, getting a table (as fully admitted by one of the co-owners at the launch party) was very restricted to certain times and days.
Now they have become more like a ‘real’ restaurant both increasing your chances to eat there, and bringing in money to finance spreading their mission to help local budding chefs to find their path.
I should explain that Open Kitchen (or OKN1 as it now is branded) is in partnership with New City college where people come to learn their trade in hospitality, be that cooking or waiting. So previously if you booked a table you were allowing yourself to be a guinea pig and therefore paid dirt cheap prices for good food. Now the chefs are a mix of novices and professionals and the menu and prices have been adjusted to accommodate, but they are still fairly modest. The lunch menu has nothing pricier than £8 and on the dinner menu sides are around £3, starters about £7, mains top out at £15 and you can get a scoop of ice cream for only £2.50.
And I can assure you the food I tried was very accomplished and worthy of the increased prices. We had buttery asparagus with lovage mayo, fish goujons and perfectly cooked chips, sausage roll with cheese to just make it that bit richer, tiny heritage carrots with a butternut squash hummus and gorgeous caramelised onion and cheese tarts. We had a couple of cocktails and then stuck to white wine which was from Chapel Down, where, funnily enough, I had just spent the previous weekend – good quality, local stuff!
We had some mini desserts – mini strawberry shortcakes where the strawberry was in the form of a little pipette squirted into the cake. Delicious! And inventive.