Step out of the tube at King’s Cross and destination restaurants may not appear to dominate, as in other parts of town, but a little preparation will yield a mighty fine discovery or two.
First off? The eye-catching Karpo (23 Euston Road): its quirky ‘living wall’ of plants, airy atrium, open kitchen and clean Scandinavian flavours (quail with slaw, turbot with sorrel) are a real surprise on the grubby main thoroughfare. There’s a subterranean loungey-bar stacked with books and cocktails too.
Splash some cash? Why, cross back over that infernal road to NW1 and glide up the steps to the Gilbert Scott: there classic old English fare awaits you, such as crusted haddock, corned beef and mutton in the splendour of a Victorian dining room, surely the place for an illicit affair (should one be so inclined).
For something more modern – but equally glam – head over to Plum and Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel, spearheaded by talented Kentish chef Mark Sargeant, who more than knows his way around a piece of hake.
Further east along Euston Road, the delights continue. Don’t miss Varnisher’s Yard, hidden in the Regent’s Quarter, for tiny Andalucian tapas joint Pepito and its rowdy older sister Camino: order the tortilla del siglo (a deconstructed tortilla more like a crème brûlée) or pulpo con cachelos (octopus with potatoes). And the pan con tomate is pretty good too to soak up the cocktails or pints of cold Estrella. Particularly good value? The £6.75 lunch deal.
Gastropub The Fellow and nearby La Rotunda, in King’s Place, are both modern British destinations worth checking out, particularly the latter’s waterfront alfresco “secret garden” dining room – at least, until the weather changes. It’s fairly pricey (the 2 course set menu is £19.50), but makes a good date spot, with meat from their own farm in Northumberland.
Prefer something more hip? Try new Cally Road opening T.E.D (reviewed here); or Shrimpy’s (from the people that own Bistrotheque). Top tip is the soft shell crab burger at this tiny “Calexican” pop-up in situ at the Filling Station by the canal – but only until the end of this year.
For fans of streetfood, KERB operate a daily market (Tues-Fri, 12-2pm) on Granary Square. Try tasty counter pintxos and tumblers of wine at roving 1940s van Donostia Social Club, or juicy grilled chicken with anchovy dressing, capers and parmesan at Bill or Beak. Meanwhile, down on King’s Cross Square, the Real Food Festival farmers’ market runs the first week of every month, from Thurs-Sat.
But it’s the big two openings around Granary Square that still compete to attract hordes of punters. Caravan launched in autumn 2012 and is effortlessly cool: a vast converted granary store lit by industrial pendants and dripping candles, the food is far better than at the Exmouth Market original. Highlights are deep-fried duck egg exploding over babaganoush; meaty mackerel fillet balanced by seaweed, miso and cucumber; smoked trout with salsify and curry mayo; and, a particular hit, chorizo and sweet potato croquettes dunked in saffron aioli. Plus they have a terrace that’s rammed daily too, whatever the weather.
Last summer it was joined by stylish Grain Store, with Bruno Loubet in the kitchen and talented mixologist Tony Conigliaro at the bar.
Here, vegetables are given “equal billing” to meat and fish. Highlights were sautéed padron peppers matching bitterness with the sweetness of toasted almonds, and flaked salt cod adding depth of flavour. The star of the show? Cauliflower braised in buttermilk and caraway, rich and luxurious, matched with a meaty devilled duck heart.
And expect a whole raft of new openings kicking off this autumn. Following Canal Reach Canteen, a licensed laidback cafe with good daily salad offerings on York Way, is Dishoom, the Bombay café with branches in Shoreditch and Covent Garden. Occupying a vast former transit shed, originally used in the 19th century to house horses to move goods and wagons around the Granary complex, it’s set to be the largest restaurant opening so far. On the menu? Grilled chops, prawns and kebabs, with plenty of small plates thrown in.
Other new openings to make the mouth water include the laidback tea room Yum Chaa, which has a branch on Parkway in Camden, opening next to Caravan, and the Greek Larder, a café-restaurant and delicatessen from Theodore Kyriakou (the man behind The Real Greek) setting up shop on York Way just north of the canal. Finally, Notes Coffee (which also serves food and booze) will take over an outlet in Pancras Square.
And next year, look out for the Pavilion, a three-storey dining complex currently rising next to the canal.