Restaurant Review: Kopapa Cafe & Restaurant
Kopapa – Maori for ‘a gathering, to be crowded, a building to store food’ – is one of New Zealand chef, Peter Gordon‘s restaurant’s. Often known as the father of fusion food, I’ve long been excited by his cooking – as seen on TV or read about – though I’d never been to one of his restaurants. I therefore thought Annie’s idea that we go to Kopapa a great one and we went there last night.
Kopapa is situated in one of the most vibrant areas of London, right by the Seven Dials Monument in Covent Garden.
Seven streets converge and meet at the monument. The area was designed and developed by Thomas Neale MP in the 1690s. His aim was to establish a fashionable area to attract well-off Londoners and the design was a way of maximising use of the site and being able to build lots of houses. However, his grand plan wasn’t realised and the area became a notorious slum and byword for poverty, being referred to by Dickens as ‘seven obscure passages’ and taking a leading role in Agatha Christie’s The Seven Dials Mystery. The end of the 20th century saw its star finally start to rise and blue plaques reveal it as the home of the Monty Python recording studios and where the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had his office. Nowadays, it’s a lively, vibrant area which I love and is full of wonderful and interesting shops and restaurants and cafes. I know it better as the home of the famous Monmouth Coffee House, which served the best coffee in London way before coffee became the fashionable drink it is today, opening its doors in 1978. It no longer roasts coffee onsite but is still a wonderful cafe and place to enjoy some of the best coffee in London.
I had a little time to wander around before meeting Annie, but then headed into the crowded Kopapa. It’s very much a bar/cafe rather than restaurant; the tables small and cramped quite closely together. We were also quite obviously the oldest people there and although this doesn’t bother us, the noise level did. It’s definitely not a place for an intimate dinner or if you want to have a good long chat – as we did!
A plate of delicious breads came. The focaccia was excellent; one of the nicest I’ve ever had. A dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar came with it.
We chose our food and ordered a carafe (400ml) of a French Languedoc white wine. We opted for the set early evening menu at £17.95 for two courses. Though we chose the same main course, we had different starters. Annie had a Salad of Goat’s Curd, Green Beans, Pomegranate Roast Grapes, Cherry Tomatoes, Rocket & Hazelnuts (as I type this I can’t help wondering if ‘fusion’ means you have to have a long list of ingredients!).
Annie said her salad was good but noted she only got three grapes and a couple of cherry tomatoes. I had a Salad of Hot Smoked Salmon, Samphire, Charlotte Potatoes & Orange Glazed Chicory. It was a good portion; I could have happily eaten just that with some bread for a light lunch. There was plenty of smokey salmon and the chicory was delicious. However, there was very little dressing and many of the green leaves were bare. I almost asked for some oil and vinegar. The samphire was so fine and small, that it was hard to get enough onto a fork and get that lovely sea flavour you expect. So, in all, our starters were OK, but nothing to especially excite our taste buds.
For our main course we’d chosen Pan-fried Sea Bream with Broccolini, Coconut Coriander Chutney & Paprika Crumbs.
This was definitely more exciting. The sea bream (one of my favourite fishes) was perfectly cooked: a crisp skin and gorgeously tender and tasty pieces of fish. The coconut coriander chutney was very exciting indeed; really wonderful with a bright taste that almost burst in your mouth. The ‘paprika crumbs’ were less attractive. Indeed, we asked the friendly waiter (and the service was top notch) what the crumbs were. He explained they were crisply cooked shallots tossed in smoked paprika. To us, they were just rather dry crumbs that didn’t add much.
We finished with just coffee and our final bill came to £60 for the two of us, including 12.5% service and the wine and coffee. The meal had been OK but given it was a Peter Gordon restaurant, definitely disappointing. Annie noted that it wasn’t as good as Joe Allen (our most usual haunt) on a good night. I can see it as the kind of place I’d pop into if in the area – and it’s possible to sit at the bar for just a drink and snack of small plates – but I don’t think it’s somewhere I’m going to be rushing back to.