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Ceremony: Review

Ceremony opened in the latter part of last year without, well, any ceremony. As far as we’re aware, there was no big PR drive, no social media buzz, no swanky launch party. If it wasn’t for a noticeably effusive review by a local resident – a certain Mr Giles Coren, not generally known for gushing about vegetarian restaurants – we may not have heard about it. Or actually we might have, given the spate of enthusiastic reviews from other critics that followed…

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Image credit: Matt Robertson

Even if the venue wanted to have a great big launch party, there wouldn’t be enough room. Formerly the long-established Fortess Tandoori, it’s a small, narrow space on Kentish Town’s busy Fortess Road. There are tables for two at the front and cosier booths at the back. A beautiful blue-hued bar is something of a centrepiece, with bar stools for walk-ins to have drinks and snacks. There are exposed brick walls, distressed mirrors and the obligatory funky lights that are practically a law these days.  Well, probably. There’s a large, restored garden at the back, but on a cold, dark weekday evening, we didn’t see it.

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Image credit: Jasper Fry

As opposed to being a ‘vegetarian restaurant’, Ceremony wants to be known for serving Modern British food ‘that happens to be vegetarian.’ A starter was almost substantial enough to be a main: a whole golden runny-yolked duck egg coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs, rolled in vegetarian parmesan, perched atop finely grainy wet polenta. The deeply flavoursome cornmeal was studded with slippery wild mushrooms, and we caught a pungent whiff of truffle oil.

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Image credit: Lateef Okunnu

Layers of umami-laden flavours were also present in cannellini bean broth with cavolo nero and dumplings – own-made cheesy potato gnocchi. A generous garnish of root vegetable crisps provided textural variation: both the crunchy crisps on top, and the broth-soaked soggy ones floating at the bottom. A chewy, somewhat salty piece of wholegrain bread sticking out of the bowl was perhaps superfluous. On a commendably seasonal menu, more winter vegetables like jerusalem artichokes and salsify were impeccably paired with pappardelle.

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Image credit: Lateef Okunnu

Lemon posset was like an upside-down cheesecake served in a glass: thick, almost clotted cream sharpened with lemon, topped with shortbread crumbs. It was pleasant enough, but desserts don’t seem to be a strong point here, and the meagre and unimaginative selection is more like an afterthought.

A couple of other quibbles. The service, while friendly and well-meaning, needs to be sharper. Our waiter wasn’t particularly knowledgeable – though we did bombard him with lots of questions like ‘is the cheese vegetarian?’ – and one of us was kept waiting by the entrance door before being led to an empty table.

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Image credit: Matt Robertson

There’s no service charge: unusually, it’s factored into the cost of the dishes and tips are not expected. Many will applaud this as it saves the faff at the end of a meal, but we would prefer to determine how much to pay and do so separately (and we like rewarding good service with a generous tip).

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Image credit: Matt Robertson

Ceremony is owned by a husband and wife team who are a big deal in the drinks business. Joe Stokoe has worked at Milk and Honey and Trailer Happiness, and his American wife Ali Dedianko is a creative director of the London Beer Week. As you’d expect, there’s a small but exciting list of beers and cocktails that are not to be missed. Our short, straight-up, gin-based ‘Perfect Ceremony’ was a mellow, lightly fruity easy-drinking gem.

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Image credit: Jasper Fry

Overall we were impressed by chef Kinga Jablonka’s food. She has worked in nearby restaurants, plus Marylebone’s Michelin-starred Dinings. Her cooking is hearty and homely with a real depth of flavour, and it is… sensible. Yes. There are no matcha and mung bean buddha bowls here, or spiralised cucumber with hemp seeds.

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Image credit: Jasper Fry

The food isn’t Instagram-pretty or dinner party-fancy. It’s what your mate who loves you – the one who’s supremely skilful in the kitchen – would cook if you were in need of a hug. In an interview with a local publication, Dedianko said: ‘We serve vegetarian food that’s not trying to be good for you. It’s just meant to be delicious.’

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Ceremony is a neighbourhood restaurant, but don’t just leave it for the smart young locals. Go if you want good food that happens to be meat-free. Go if you’re bored of avocado roses and unicorn lattes and want proper, grown-up veggie fare. Take a friend if you want to win an argument about vegetarianism. But go soon – don’t stand on ceremony.

Ceremony, 131 Fortess Road, NW5 2HR

Feature image credit: Jasper Fry

2 thoughts on “Ceremony: Review”

  • Ollie says:

    I can’t believe you think the current situation regarding tips, is a good thing. The sooner restaurants simply pay their staff properly and avoid tips the better. It irritates many people when the ‘optional’ service charge is added. If you simply know the price at the start the issue is avoided, and if you have an issue, talk to the manager, rather than having a very uncomfortable conversation with the waiting staff basically telling them you have decided to pay that specific person less that night.

    Danny Meyer has pioneered this approach, and makes it clear his staff are paid better as a result. It’s a much nicer experience for the staff and the customer.

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