Restaurant Review: Rotunda, King’s Place (Jan 2013)

Posted on: January 30th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Kings Place

Kings Place is a major new landmark in the rejuvenation of the King’s Cross area. Peter Millican’s office development, party occupied by the offices of The Guardian and Observer, also contains concert halls, art galleries and exhibition areas which provide an attractive cultural amenity in an ultra-modern setting.

The main venue for food and drink is Rotunda Bar & Restaurant. As its name suggests, the shape of the room follows the curvature of the building design. Subtle lighting, fully glazed walls and lustrous banquette seating help to provide a stylish, contemporary venue for relaxed, informal dining. The impressive stepped ceiling, with its sweeping curves, is reminiscent of a flying saucer. My dining companion commented on the overall effect being that of a revolving restaurant, albeit one that does not move!

Rotunda Interior

Nicky Foley, head chef for the last two months, has injected new life into the restaurant. With a CV that includes head chef at Butler’s Wharf Chop House and Aubaine, as well as experience at Bentley’s and Tom’s Kitchen, his experience of London kitchens is firmly established. The emphasis at Rotunda is on modern British cooking with interesting but not outlandish combinations and strong robust flavours. High quality produce such as Goosnargh duck, Rye Bay scallops, Clarence Court eggs and South coast turbot are much in evidence whilst foraged ingredients are mercifully kept to a minimum.

A few traditional dishes from Nicky’s native Ireland also feature.  These include Devilled Irish fry – crubeens, suet-baked kidney, white pudding, chestnut mushrooms, fried quail’s egg – and steamed Irish suet pudding “hare & oyster.”

However, pride of place goes to the beef and lamb. These are sourced from Peter Millican’s farm in Matten, Northumberland but are matured and butchered in the restaurant’s own hanging room to guarantee quality and purity. The menu provides useful pictures of the different cuts of the animals to aid the diner in selection. Prices range from £17.00 to £23 for one and £26 to £32 per person for large sharing cuts. “Hay baked” lamb neck costs £17.00 whist the sharing cuts are £16.60 or £19.95 per person. These might seem steep but portions are generous and there is no denying the quality of the raw material. For instance, the Limousin X beef, low in fat and high on muscle is hung for a minimum of 28 days to maximise its flavour.

Although there is a noticeable absence of pork and poultry – presumably not reared on the farm – the menu structure gives a good range of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes at reasonable prices. It features three nibbles (£2.00 to £2.75), six starters (£5.95 to £10.50, with two available in small and large sizes); five mains (£15.95 to £19.95), five puddings (all £5.95), and three savouries.(£7.50 to £15). Sides average £3.60. These prices compare favourably with charged at similar or lesser establishments.

Rotunda’s wine list, arranged by grape variety and showing an impressive range from Old and New Worlds, has prices to suit all pockets. Brief tasting notes provide useful guidance for those facing such embarrassment of choice.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in January to sample the menu.

Three nibbles were simply prepared and enjoyable. English radishes were crisp, and fresh with a gentle bitterness. The light mayonnaise spiked with anchovy and rosemary was well judged. Soft boiled quail’s eggs were accurately timed and candied walnuts were lightly toasted and not oversweet.

Pan fried Cod cheeks made good use of that often neglected but delicious morsel of fish. Their soft texture and succulent flavour worked well with the jelly like qualities of Judas ear mushrooms and the richness of bacon jowl.  Sorrel added a lemony note to balance the dish.

Rotunda Cod Cheeks

Rye Bay scallops were seared to produce a caramelised crust and moist, sweet flesh. Partnered with a rich duck blood sausage and lifted by celery, lemon and parsley, this was a harmonious marriage of textures and flavours. It would have been even better with more dressing and acidulation. The aromatic citric notes of the Sauvignon Blanc provided a fine match for both starters. (Wine: Domaine Horgelus  Sauvignon  Gros Manseng France 2011 )

Rotunda Scallops

A whole lamb shoulder (to share) was a triumph long slow cooking – 12 hours in fact. The Texel breed is leaner than most, the flavour being well defined. Nevertheless, the sweetness of the shoulder meat, so meltingly tender it could be flaked with a fork, showed the qualities of this flavoursome if more fatty cut. Given its richness and size – it could easily have fed three if not four people, this was not a dish for the feint hearted. The accompaniments of Irish champ, buttered leeks and roast squash were all competently executed, whilst a rich gravy and mint sauce brought the whole dish together.  A Bulgarian Pinot Noir with soft berry fruit proved an unusual but suitable soft red wine for this course. (Wine: Soli Pinot Noir, Moiroglio, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria 2008)

Rotunda Lamb Shoulder

For dessert, Rosehip soup with vanilla ice cream brought a Scandinavian note to the menu. Both elements of this simple dessert were skilfully prepared, with an intense floral note to the thick sweet syrup and a smooth, velvety texture to the ice cream

Carrageen gave the right degree of wobble to a buttermilk pudding topped with a rich jelly of sea buckthorn. Here was an ingredient that evokes extreme reactions, but the dessert was well balanced, the astringency of the berry countering the creaminess of the buttermilk.  (Wine: Seifried sweet Agnes Riesling New Zealand 2009)

Rotunda Carrageen

Service during the meal was welcoming, knowledgeable and helpful.  Manager Liz expertly advised on the wine selections as noted above. Overall, the revitalised restaurant under Nicky Foley’s direction is producing cooking of a high standard and deserves the success it has already attained. We will follow its progress with interest.