By his own admission Alex Proud, the founder of London's ever-expanding Proud empire, is not cool. A businessman who should probably have been a politician in another life, Proud's ever-expanding portfolio of bars, clubs, restaurants and galleries (the first of which was established in Trafalgar Square back in 1994) are not that cool either. But, somewhat bizarrely, therein lies their charm.
Last week, we went along to sample the latest addition to the empire, the Proud Kitchen. Set within Proud's flagship Gallery and club in Camden, the eatery has been pulled together in an eclectic, Camden-y kind of way, all exposed stable beams, over-sized spherical chandeliers, flock wallpaper, found twigs and "vintage-feel" bench tables. Described by Alex Proud as "the perfect place to start your night out - the gig-goers equivalent to a pre-theatre dinner" the man clearly knows his customer.
Set among Camden Market's array of fast food stalls, The Proud Kitchen has sensibly set the bar a notch or two above the competition, being sure not to alienate the gig-goers, goths and post-pubescent tourists to frequent this corner of North London. Much like nearby Gilgamesh, Proud's fixed menu features a range of recognisable global dishes, pared-down for less adventurous palettes.
A starter of beef bresaola with piccalilli and sourdough toast made for an inoffensive opener. That said, the super-tangy piccalilli played havoc with the delicate flavours of the beef, so we'd advise going easy on the high-viz condiment if you value your nostril hairs.
The main fared worse. An over-done slab of sea bream dominated the fennel salad beneath, while a sage, pumpkin and parmesan risotto was cheesier than a milk fermenter's armpit and lacked the bite so imperative to the dish.
Dessert, as so often is the case, was the best course of the three. We opted for a star anise meringue with winter berry compote along with a milk chocolate and beetroot fondant. The former tasted home-made, though the egg-white centre piece lacked the chewy centre that so maketh the meringue (and it didn't taste remotely of star anise). Nonetheless, the dish made for a comforting close, particularly when combined with the pungent berry compote.
The suspiciously perfect-looking chocolate pudding, though not remotely milky or beetrooty, was delicious and filling. So filling in fact that we'd almost have preferred to have it first.
Despite the mixed review, we'll concede that Proud Kitchen has delivered on its promise. Setting out to provide night time revelers with a quality pre-booze fill, there's definitely worse they could do. And at £19.50 for the fixed menu it's almost as reasonable as Sam's Samuri Sushi down the road, though not quite.
Proud Camden, The Horse Hospital, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, NW1 8AH www.proudcamden.com/kitchen
Words by Teo van den Broeke