Food and Drink: Now I know how a goldfish feels: The food is great, but if it's privacy you're after, go elsewhere. Emily Green tries out the bigger, buzzier, Kensington Place

I LOVE Kensington Place. Some do, some don't, as evidenced by the dramatically contrasting arguments on these pages the week before last. KP has a distinctive taste. Lined from roof to floor in plate glass, it is quite deliberately making a fish tank of itself. If you don't want to be watched, don't go. To me it is a form of public facility, bringing street theatre to a formerly dreary Sixties concrete parade.

It is noisy theatre; so noisy, you have to turn up your own volume, or be drowned out. You can drink and smoke and generally enjoy yourself. You can even fall out of those notoriously unstable chairs, as I once did, tipping an oyster down my blouse, and simply right yourself and keep on eating.

I wondered if its magic would emerge intact when it reopened week before last after a pounds 300,000 refit. The owners, who don't just own the place, but actually run it, were dashing around the day after Lamont Wednesday with commendable cheer. They had reason: Kensington Place was full.

Many of the confirmed fans filling it up must have been hard pressed to notice the difference. But different it is. The dining room and kitchen are some 20 feet longer. It can feed and seat 40 more people. Recession? What recession?

Yet if Kensington Place wants to fill those 40 new seats day in and out, it is going to have to remember they are there. I sat in one during a second visit, a Saturday lunchtime, and my guest and I quickly realised we were in social Siberia. Blocked by a pillar from the watchful eye of the manager, it got colder and colder as our lunch progressed. Nothing arrived quickly, especially the waiter. Some things, such as mineral water, didn't arrive at all. My companion, excitable when hungry, became mildly frantic, bellowing 'Excuse me]'

Yet to dwell on this one downer after so many ups is to split hairs, like the one my companion found in our olives. The real purpose of my two visits was to write about the food. The chef, 42-year-old Rowley Leigh, has graduated from his tousled Young Turk status of the Eighties. He is now a leading British chef.

His first job was as a short-order cook in Joe Allen's: good training, he says, in which he 'learnt to cook eggs, any style'. He then spent eight years with the Roux empire, moving from Le Poulbot to Le Gavroche to Roux group meat buyer and back to Le Poulbot, where he spent his last three years as head chef. This is the best possible training. Eggs? Easy. Meat: no problem. Puddings: a piece of cake.

When Kensington Place first opened in November 1987, Mr Leigh had inherited a kitchen better suited to a townhouse than a huge bar/restaurant. The dinky workspace, he says, was one reason the food was starter-friendly. With the new extension, he hopes to put more emphasis on main courses and vegetables. Yet even in the earliest days, there was always real finesse to the food.

An omelette, Mr Leigh will say, should be 'smooth as a baby's bottom'. This week mine was exemplary. Flipped constantly in a small pan, it emerged a beautiful little lump, as opposed to long, thin and leathery. It was creamy within, none of its fluffy layers coarsened by over-cooking. The seasoning was no more than fine herbs, all it needed.

There are sure-fire delights that crop up regularly on the menu: grilled baby chicken; beautiful little scallops that have been shown the griddle, served with delicious split pea puree and some zingy mint seasoning; halibut, which can be a tough and difficult fish, but seems to behave at KP. One day I found it tender and simple, topped with earthy, sweated, trompette mushrooms.

Another day halibut was given a treatment I normally associate more with, say, grouse: it was roasted in caul, bedded on bacon and salty cabbage. This was good, but strange. It made fish taste like meat. The steamed version came with snow peas so fresh they could have come straight from the garden. We instantly asked for a second portion.

British cooks seem rarely to partner meat with pasta. Not Mr Leigh. In a particularly simple and robust dish, veal kidneys came in a mustard sauce with nice eggy noodles instead of mash. Some dishes might sound outright weird, such as what looked like 'mackerel tatziki'. It turned out to be tataki, a treatment that involves giving the fish a good pounding.

According to a Japanese friend, the fish is spared violence if it is a bonito, but is seared instead, then marinated in citrus juice, soy, spring onion and vinegar. The mackerel variation is pulverised, then marinated. My fish was garnished with what tasted like toasted, julienned ginger. The upshot was intensely flavoured and so rich it wanted a small lump of rice as a foil.

As another dish, I ordered teal salad. These little wild ducks are meant to be tricky to shoot. They are difficult to cook, and challenging to eat as well. My companion kept insisting I send mine back. She thought it was raw. I kept at it. It was served - quite properly, according to the Larousse Gastronomique - blood rare. But it is strong meat for me, and needed more than a light lacing of plum sauce, and a gutsier plum sauce at that.

As I left, Mr Leigh asked me what I thought of the sauce. If I had had Woody Allen's wits about me, I would have lifted the old gag that it was terrible and there wasn't enough of it.

Puddings are mainly excellent and classic. A grand selection, at pounds 8, could feed four. It includes good, healthy wedges of lemon tart, tart Tatin, chocolate mousse, raspberry ice-cream on a chocolate biscuit and perfect tiramisu. The only clanger to my mouth had a fellow food-writer swooning only days earlier: baked tamarillos.

You might well ask, baked what? Tamarillos: sharp, acidic little fruits, shaped like plum tomatoes, that originated in Peru and are now farmed in New Zealand and America, picked unripe and shipped over. Their sourness might not jar so badly alone, but in the company of classic sweet tarts, moving on to baked tamarillos is rather like going straight from toothpaste to orange juice. On another day, I had two wine-poached pears, cleverly cored but left with their stems, and filled with a spicy cream. Of course, this dish is not new; it is classic for a reason. But the luxury of finding it in a big jazzy bar, where you can spend as little as pounds 15 a head (even a set three-course lunch is only pounds 12.50 on weekdays) or as much as pounds 40 or pounds 50, it feels brand new, even revolutionary.

Kensington Place, 201 Kensington Church Street, London W8 (071-727 3184). Vegetarian meals. Wheelchair access, also wc. Open daily lunch and dinner. Access, Visa, Mastercard, Switch.

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on