Filling the vacant Q Grill is a much more commercial prospect (owned by the same restaurant group, fact fans): telly chef Gino D’Acampo, whose second north London branch follows his first in the mezzanine area of Euston station.
Inside there are cosy circular booths, high counter stools, pendants, an open kitchen, and romantic tables-for-two-sir with views over always entertaining Chalk Farm Road. With its baby blue pastel colour palette it’s a cross between 1950s diner and private members’ club.
The menu is a sort of Pizza East-light: antipasti of calamari, bruschetta, linguine, meatballs, pizza. On our visit we ate some things we liked – and a couple we didn’t so much. A superior beef carpaccio, the fillet aged 28 days and sliced to melt on the tongue, was a good start. It was drizzled with gremolata that exuded exactly the right kick of parsley. And a chicken liver pâté was smooth with the kick of Marsala and a welcome pot of mustardy fruits.
The wine also impressed: an unusually squat bottle of Pinot Nero proved a versatile, easy-drinking red, with tangy notes of red berries and cherries.
So what wasn’t up to scratch? Well, the two mains, actually. Having previously enjoyed a scallop pasta at another branch, I opted for a ‘safe’ dish, crab linguine. And while it was cooked correctly – white meat, chilli and lemon zest – it lacked any oomph or magic. Safe to say it improved with a few glugs of chilli oil.
It was a similar story with the gnocchi, soft potato dumplings – with mozzarella, tomato and chilli – that were only brought to life with the liberal addition of oil.
The following day I ran into my neighbour, who reported the same issues on her visit with her brother: decent starters and average mains.
Gino is a safe enough option before a gig at the Roundhouse, say, or if nearby Anima e Cuore is full. But with his cookbooks strewn everywhere, and the heavy sell of what is defiantly called ‘My Restaurant’ inside, I would expect more fire and soul.
D’Acampo has, it would seem, engineered his gaff solely for the post-Market visiting masses, rather than repeat local custom.