William Sitwell reviews Compton, London: ‘This place is good – I’d take my favourite aunt’

food, william sitwell reviews compton, london: ‘this place is good – i’d take my favourite aunt’

Compton, London

food, william sitwell reviews compton, london: ‘this place is good – i’d take my favourite aunt’

In Brief | Compton, London

Compton is in Clerkenwell but, frankly, it’s straight outta Belgravia (don’t worry, my wife doesn’t get half of my hilarious references either). In design and decor its pale flamingo-pink walls, vanilla doors, marble and wood tabletops, parquet floor and polite quietness are a shuddering reminder of those dining rooms you used to get in places like Peter Jones on Sloane Square; the type of place a quaint godparent might take me as a schoolboy.

All very nice and civilised and, yes, what a terrific treat – but nevertheless a strain on the nervous system, and all I’d be thinking of was the wretched thank-you letter that would have to follow. You know that church-like atmosphere that makes you want to stand up and swear? Or the way, by the crater of Mount Etna, you get the urge to jump in?

These anxieties aside, Compton is positively fabulous. It’s on the site of the Modern Pantry, where the brilliant Kiwi-raised Anna Hansen served an eclectic, exciting menu for 10 years. Restaurants being a precarious business, Compton is the culinary wing of a successful property agents’ business of the same name. They have board and meeting rooms upstairs, so if economic calamity closes the chequebooks of average Joe they can survive by feeding themselves. And those lucky employees.

The menu offers moreish nibbles and carefully crafted, exact and decorous plates of refinement and serious flavour. You can share or have a dish all to your big, old self. We started with two cauliflower croquettes, which the waiter forced on us like a persistent drug dealer. I’m glad he did. Like a pair of oblong fungi, they sat in a bright-yellow blob of mayo laced with the flavour of onion bhaji. They were decent.

food, william sitwell reviews compton, london: ‘this place is good – i’d take my favourite aunt’

Compton, London

What followed was far better: nibbles of squid (Cornish, apparently. Who knew?) chopped with onion, tomato and romesco sauce in a light oil on toast. This dish, like the Isle of White tomatoes in crunchy croutons we also ordered, achieved what good chefs have yearned to every decade since Elizabeth David discovered the Mediterranean: real, intense, sunshiney flavour, and perfection in texture and, crucially, temperature (room; about 21.5C).

Investigative greed saw us share a plate of pasta with girolles and sweetcorn that was less accomplished, being more redolent of kids’ tea pimped with truffle and bay leaves. But our main course dishes were bang on theme in size and colour, neatness and precision.

My companion Tom’s salmon dish had crisp skin, flesh just right and sat on a small seat of creamy celeriac and beans in a rich tomato sauce. He liked it. Tom runs a shop famous for its food. His thumb gestures have the power of a pollice verso in the Colosseum. Chef, it’s all good.

I was similarly cheering, having been lured by a temptress ‘From the grill’. Defying those who advise one to order food out you couldn’t dream of making at home, I had the chicken and baby gem. Mind you, I don’t have a flat iron at home nor adequate skills to make butter infused with gremolata. Although I should as it’s merely parsley, lemon zest and garlic. The chicken was covered in it, gloriously, and the baby gem had added crunch, with some croutons. Cheatingly vying for my worship. Gloriously so.

With coffee and mint tea they brought a little custard tart and fruit scone. This place is good – very good – and really quite impressive value. I’d take my favourite aunt, my awesome godmother. I’d force sips of the perfect little wine list on them and we’d rebel against that flamingo pink and have a riot – and no thank-you letters, neither.

Read last week’s column: William Sitwell reviews The Bear Inn, Shropshire: ‘The food is magnificent, civilisation has hope’

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