Every restaurant needs a hook, a USP, an eye-catching gimmick to get press tongues wagging and generate early days buzz. Well, actually, no restaurant needs this but every restaurant thinks they do, which is for all practical purposes the same thing. Whether it’s Bob Bob Ricard’s ‘Press for Champagne’ button or Magpie’s roaming food trolley, if you can boast a little something that nowhere else can, you’ll be on the tip of people’s tongues when the subject of where to have dinner comes up. At least, that’s the idea.
Kudu’s ‘thing’ is that they serve food inspired by South Africa, and to be fair, this part of the world has been so far quite under-represented in the capital. There’s Vivat Bacchus, a South African steakhouse and wine bar that’s been doing its thing on Farringdon Road for a number of years now, and though the food isn’t wildly brilliant they do have a walk-in cheese room, so full marks for that. Otherwise, well, pickings are slim. You may have heard of another South African place on Farringdon Road called Hammer & Tongs. Don’t go.
So Kudu would only need to be fairly good to stand out from the competition, and to make the most of its South African heritage. Instead, it’s a pleasure and a delight to report, Kudu is way, way better than that. In fact, it’s such an exciting, vibrant little place, serving food of such intelligence and charm, that it makes the case for this previously rather quiet section of South East London to become a genuine food destination.
In many ways of course, Kudu are simply continuing the Modern British path forged by the Dairy and the Manor (both of which head chef Patrick Williams spent time at), and the way the menu is divided into snacks, small plates, large sharing plates and desserts will be familiar to most of you. Any overtly South African influences are limited to certain presentational flairs, such as the potjie the house bread is served in, or the use of South African whisky in the cocktails. That bread, by the way, is for dipping in a pot of melted seafood butter (think what happens when you heat up potted shrimp), and if you know a better way of starting any meal we’d be very surprised indeed.
A ‘tarte tatin’ made with onion and beer, served with goat’s cheese, was another playful experimentation with form, presumably cooked upside-down like a ‘real’ tarte tatin, as the onions had darkened and caramelised quite nicely, the fluffy goat’s curd alongside a good foil for the dense pastry and veg.
‘Pig’s head tortellini’ consisted of some solid pasta work lifted by a heavenly mushroom broth, dense and meaty, with a gentle hint of hay smoke.
The whole roast mallard in a honey and garlic glaze (well, we were hardly not going to order that, now, were we?) appeared first on a bed of hay to get our pulses racing, before being taken back to the kitchen for plating. This kind of ‘double introduction’ of game courses is something quite common in top-end restaurants (e.g. The Ledbury) but it was a lovely extra touch in somewhere in Peckham charging £15 a pop.
On the subject of prices, though, we were somewhat surprised to discover that the menu is saved on the website under the file name ‘menu discounted prices.docx#, which tends to suggest that a) someone needs a bit of a crash course in IT; and b) they may be planning to quietly bump up the numbers slightly once the first few weeks’ reviews are in. Of course, we could be wrong, but the optics don’t look great, do they?
That said, even if prices do creep up a bit, this would still be superb food for a reasonable amount of money, and well worth travelling across town for. There’s probably no guarantee that all family operations (front of house is Amy Corbin, yes that Corbin) should necessarily be this successful, but just like Robin and Sarah Gill of the Dairy, or Terry Blake and Yohini Nandakumar of Lewisham’s Sparrow, it certainly doesn’t seem to harm to have a team like this in charge of things, certainly not a couple who can infuse the whole thing with so much joy and love. Yes, we loved Kudu, and if you possess a fully-functioning heart of your own, you will too.
JOL was invited to review Kudu on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.