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The Parakeet, London: ‘The food is great but beware of the dogs’

Aug 10, 2023

The Parakeet, 256 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2AA ( Snacks £3.50-£8.50, small plates £10-£15, large plates £23-£42, wines from £25

There are many things that might improve a restaurant experience. Having a stranger's chunky dog rub its hind quarters against you, then lick your companion's hand is not one of them. The team at the Parakeet in London's Kentish Town might well feel this is an unfair way to begin this column, given the plaudits they’ve received for their food. They’re about to get a few more of those plaudits. But I review restaurants, not just the food they serve. The first thing I mentioned to friends after eating there wasn't the lovely lamb belly with courgette and anchovy or the terrific house pickles – we’ll come back to them – but the bloody dog. And the way various waiters told me they hated the pro-dog policy (guide dogs, excepted).

To not open with that would therefore have misrepresented the experience, even though it's asking for trouble. Dog lovers can be an ardent, overheated lot who think every room everywhere can only be improved by the presence of a canine, restless or otherwise. I’m genuinely glad your dogs bring you so much love and comfort and companionship. I just don't want one indulging in rigorous arse-end frottage against me while I’m trying to get into the asparagus. Is that so weird?

The Parakeet, formerly the Oxford Tavern, is a big-boned old pub, with a large bar at the front and, at the back, beyond the velvet curtain, a large, square dining room, complete with vivid stained-glass touches and lots of wood panelling. The menu is on a wall-mounted blackboard. Sit beneath it, as I did, and you will enjoy a procession of fellow punters standing in front of you, staring over your head and photographing it before sitting down again.

Tucked away in the back of that dining room is a semi-open kitchen complete with an on-trend live-fire grill. It comes with the territory. The head chef is Ben Allen, who worked for a while at Brat where chef Tomos Parry turned cooking whole turbot over fire and smoke into an art form. In London and elsewhere these days, you can keep your induction hobs and your high-spec electric ovens. If you can't singe your waxed beard on it, what's the point?

I’m trying to sound cynical and jaded, but in truth I love this stuff. Bring on the smoke and the indirect heat and the occasional lick of flame. Here at the Parakeet, Allen and his sous chef Ed Jennings use it to good effect. Among the bar snacks for £6 is a smoked mutton sausage. I want a fridge full of these at home. The meat is coarsely ground and smoky enough to remind you of the grill backstage. The balance of fat to peppery meat is perfectly judged and the casing just tight enough so that you get the lightest of squeaks when you bite in. On the side is a dollop of grain mustard to ease things along. Then there are those slow-cooked lamb ribs, now separating into their layers, which pull away from the bone. The surface is glazed and burnished by the heat, before being layered with a fine dice of courgette and salted anchovy alongside a smooth courgette purée.

There is a mutton dish, some ox cheeks and a smoked chicken terrine. That grill really does do the heavy lifting. But their vegetable game is also strong. Leeks are cooked until soft and layered with a thick pecorino cream. It's that cheese in grainy liquid form. Across the top are chewy smoked mushrooms. Asparagus are shredded and laid on a deep ajo blanco, a rich garlicky sauce made from ground almonds. We have a couple of their cigar-like crab croquettes, with a liquid brown meat centre, and a brace of their plump oysters with a lightly acidic dressing and strands of both fermented kohlrabi and seaweed. Their £4 house pickle plate, with halves of artichoke heart and celery and petals of onion, is so good we order two. Pieces of trout in a bright butter sauce are pretty to look at. That sauce is a fancy piece of work. But the fish is so soft, so mushy, you could consume the whole plateful with a straw. It's a rare down note.

But there's something else. Brat made its name by doing flamey, smoky things with big lumps of protein: huge whole fish; ruby-muscled, fat-striated chunks of beef; mutton chops tasting of the hills. For all the intense, furrow-browed, Michelin-starred cheffiness it's quite pubby. The Brat menu would sit comfortably in the Parakeet. Meanwhile the food at the Parakeet is really quite, well, restauranty. Which isn't an adjective, but should be. The crab croquettes come with tiny whorls of mayo placed just so and a sprinkle of edible blooms. There are just two of the precisely cut lamb ribs, and a suspicion that tweezers were involved with the placement of the hyper-engineered pieces of courgette. Even their confit potato is presented in a whimsical spiral rather than the usual sturdy Jenga block. They do offer a whole sea bream, but that's it.

You could sell this as a refreshing move away from live-fire dude food, but it could also be seen as straining against the very idea of a food pub. It's actually a quite fancy restaurant, where the bill builds quickly for less than large portions. It just happens to be in the back room of a pub. Which brings this full circle. A pub with a pro-dog policy is obviously fine. A restaurant like this with a pro-dog policy really isn't. Early on, I ask the dog's owners if they might move it to the other side of their table. They tell me they can't. Because the table on their other side also has a dog with them. Unasked, we are comped our mint teas "because of the dog". Statement of the obvious: the management of the Parakeet can do what the hell they like. If they’ve got a thriving business, complete with hounds slouching all over the parquet, fair enough. I just won't be going back, however good the food, however charming the service. And both of these really are great.

Take your mind off the canines with dessert. Try the delightful kouign-amann, a finely laminated, caramelised Breton pastry supplied by nearby Kossoffs bakery, served in a frothy pond of warm vanilla cream. Or have a slab of the truly exemplary dark chocolate torte, with a cooling quenelle of whipped cream. Perhaps pat the bulldog on the way out, just to show willing. Or don't.

More live fire news, as former Great British Menu finalist Joe Baker announces he is opening a new restaurant on his native Jersey next month, utilising a bespoke wood grill. Pêtchi, which means ‘to try to catch a fish’ in the island's traditional dialect, will occupy the top floors of a former harbourmaster's office, and will serve wood-roasted lobster rice, ex-dairy beef chop with smoked olive oil and wood-roasted scallops with white asparagus. Pêtchi is a successor to Number 10, his previous restaurant on the island, which closed at the start of this year (

The two outposts of Chinese restaurant group Baoziinn, in London's Soho and Borough, have announced the launch of a Green Feast Menu in collaboration with Omni Foods, which makes and markets a plant-based meat substitute. The extensive meat-free menu, available seven days a week, includes a lengthy list of dumplings and buns as well as the likes of aubergine with sweet and sour sauce, broccoli and cauliflower with garlic and their take on mapotofu (

In Cornwall chef Jeffrey Robinson and his wife, Caroline, are opening a sustainability-focused food pub. Their previous restaurant, New Yard in Mawgan, used ingredients from their own walled garden and changed the menu daily depending upon what was available. Harbour House in the village of Flushing, which opens next month, will operate in a similar way, with an offering of ‘whole-grilled fish’ as well as ‘steak for two’ (

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

The Parakeet, 256 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2AA ( Snacks £3.50-£8.50, small plates £10-£15, large plates £23-£42, wines from £25 News bites