Waitress: May I explain the menu?
Me: By all means
Waitress: It’s spilt into four.
Waitress: Starters, mains, sides and desserts.
Waitress: Most people order a starter, main and possibly a side. If they’re still hungry they have a dessert.
Me: Great, thank you so much.
With a warm smile and endearing nervousness, it was hard to feel anything but support for our prentice waitress. But the exchange did highlight an unnecessary over-engineering of service delivery that came to typify our evening.
Kinship is the brainchild (and possibly lovechild if the gushing marketing is anything to go by) of Chris Grare (him of Lilly and Bloom) and Arron Rhodes (of Gough’s on Gough fame). My admiration for Gough’s knows no bounds and there was a lot to like about Lilly and Bloom, so expectations were set pretty high.
First impressions were good. Before she’d had a chance to deconstruct the menu, our jolly waitress showed us to one of the better tables that encircle the central cheap seats. The air was filled with sweet meaty smells wafting from the open kitchen and Easy-E expressing his opinions of law enforcement professionals.
Toeing that fashionable line between Art Deco and warehouse industrial, the interior has been artfully, if not intelligently, designed. We were unable to quite forget we were in a big square purpose-built room, which detracted from the atmosphere somewhat. Without two groups of rowdy Brit’s I suspect the atmosphere would have been rather anaemic.
With the waitress’s erudite recommendation in mind, we ordered quickly, and I opted for a starter of beef tartar, main of duck ravioli and reserved judgement on desserts. Mrs A. chose risotto, chicken, a side of mash (as instructed by me as I couldn’t very well order it to accompany my ravioli) and mentally selected the Mr Whippy dessert.
The wine list was well curated and reasonably priced. But there is a lack of consideration with the rest of the drinks menu; there are just five cocktails (one of which is a gin & tonic) and two beers (Asahi and Brooklyn).
As the focaccia had a $68 price tag, we dived into our starters.
My beef tartar arrived via Sumatra; the generous portion of diced cow was accompanied by lime samba, bean salad and roasted peanut sauce. It was all very pleasant, but I was hoping for a hit of lip-numbing spice from the sambal. The dish needed something to contrast the sweet-fresh salad, sweet-soft beef and sweet-sweet sauce, but there was nothing akin to a tabasco karate chop to the back of the throat.
Mrs A’s burnt onion risotto had the consistency of Ambrosia rice pudding. All flavour came courtesy of onions sprinkles and a deep-fried egg yolk beignet. It was all a bit big and a bit dense.
Like many of the dishes on the menu, the risotto seems to have designed around ease of construction. The pre-made rice pudding can be dolloped in the bowl and sprinkled with the crispy shallot, leaving the flash frying of the beignet as the only real manual task. Which makes the shear number of kitchen staff somewhat confusing. There were about ten of the poor buggars trying (and failing) to look busy in full view of the restaurant.
They could have been kept busy polishing a few spoons. Because, in an utterly unnecessary, self-aware gesture, our dirty cutlery was taken from our plates and placed on the table after each course.
My main was not so much a ravioli as it was rich braised duck ragu between two slightly plasticky compact discs of pasta. The duck had the type of rich flavour that speeds up food delivery from plate to mouth by a factor of two. The Lo Soi (according to Google, a stock-based sauce) also had deep Indonesian bent to the flavour and a light ginger cream that sat on top of the CD-sized pasta disc.
The dish was utterly bonkers and – pasta notwithstanding – it worked and worked well.
Mrs A’s. chicken was fantastic. With a crispy skin, a tomato ragu and big nuggets of garlic, the big rustic flavours were pure Provence.
The unapologetically European flavours of the chicken contrasted (clashed) with the Asian fusion of our other dishes. I get it, in these woke times we should all embrace the melting pot of culinary diversity, encouraging interracial union of flavours and cuisines. That’s all well and good until you decide to steal your wife’s food to find that thyme and lemongrass get along with each other as well as a couple of Middle-Eastern States.
Around this time our plates (but not cutlery) were cleared for the second time, the music thinned to power pop rock. As the tinpot speakers struggled to do justice to The Pixies, Mrs. A put in her Mr Whippy order.
It was a big clumsy bowl of type two diabetes. A handful of Cadburys Misshapes and M&S caramel were scattered on top of a small mountain of ice cream.
Truth be told, I enjoyed the bowl of potato more than the ice cream. If given a tablespoon and a choice, it would be the be white cream of vegetable I’d stuff into my mouth. If you’re going to the trouble and expense of installing a Mr Whippy machine, do something with it – create a pudding that’s truly celebratory, not this lazy mess.
Overall, Kinship feels consciously compromised. Like the Flying Elks, Forbidden Ducks and Bread Street Kitchens of the world, whenever a renowned chef trades-down the results usually disappoint. Unlike the Black Sheep’s and Pirata’s of this world – who know how to do affordable occasion dining – Kinship gets too many fundamentals wrong.
Kinship is a labour of love between its proprietors. Unfortunately, it’s a more laboured than loveable. It falls between a few too many stools and in a city of distinctive restaurants, it simply doesn’t feel unique enough.