We head up north London to OKN1 in Hackney, to see what’s in store at New City College’s very own collaborative kitchen of students and professional chefs. Is it an ingenious idea? Or a case of ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’?
In a word:
Colleagues, tutors and anyone looking for a bite to eat after work. The bar also attracts a small number of students after a cocktail or two after their lessons.
Now, you might not notice the fact that the restaurant is attached to Hackney college – I certainly didn’t. It’s only until you pay a visit to the loo, do you realise it’s part of the building. The surroundings are all strong brick in brown and beige, including the venue, but there is a touch of sophistication to the interiors, thanks to its minimal design, wooden flooring and furniture.
It’s also surprisingly pleasant to dine outside. The restaurant has a lovely airy garden, airy enough to almost blow your menu away. Maybe we chose the wrong time of year for alfresco dining? Still, it’s a great place to eat and drink in the open air.
To start with, they have an impressive drinks list, with an exciting cocktail menu. Jack can’t help but order an ‘Old Brexit.’ Need anyone say anymore on the subject? Back to the cocktail, it takes a while to arrive but Jack is keen to try it. It’s much sweeter and less spicy than expected. The Old Grouse too is a bit less fiery than Jack hoped for, however, it’s still an interesting tipple – a taste of something familiar, which he puts down to the brandy.
Now comes the food. I have the Hot Smoked Salmon, Pomegranate, Baby Gem Salad. It doesn’t look as appealing as I thought it would be, but it’s full of fantastic flavours. The combination of the hot smoked salmon and cool baby gem lettuce works brilliantly, and the crunchiness of the sweetcorn and juicy pomegranate seeds really sets it apart from other salads. You could happily sit here and just eat this with a glass of wine.
Jack goes for the Burrata, Heritage Tomato, Basil starter. The burrata is soft and creamy and the tanginess of the heritage tomatoes adds a powerful zing to the dish. It’s lovely and light and whets your appetite for more…
The starter for me was quite filling, so I’m a bit anxious about having a whole plate of risotto. The Risotto Verde, Parmesan, Pine Nuts arrives and I’m amazed at how…green it is. Sure, it said so in the menu, but I suppose I was expecting to see white rice.
It’s an interesting risotto, the rice is tender and creamy, but there’s a strange undertone of something ‘citrusy’ that doesn’t appeal to me. I loved the crunchiness of the pine nuts and the hardened parmesan cheese, their textures work really well with the risotto but the ‘limey’ taste doesn’t do it for me.
Salmon is a particular favourite of Jack’s so he chooses the Poached Salmon, Chilli, Green Beans and Samphire. The salmon is flaky and tender and the bed of green beans add a firm crunch. The samphire really lifts the dish. Again, it’s a light main but it leaves you feeling satisfied.
On the side, we have a bowl full of Green Beans, Chilli & Parmesan, which makes a great accompaniment to the dishes. Chilli and parmesan is not something I’ve experienced together before, but it worked surprisingly well with the crunchy green beans.
I still have room for dessert so I go for the Prosecco & Raspberry Posset, Charcoal Biscuit. Fear not, the biscuits are normal sugar biscuits and don’t taste anything like burnt offerings. They taste extra delicious dipped in the posset, which has a strong raspberry flavour with just a hint of prosecco.
It’s strangely nostalgic. It reminds me of desserts from my childhood, which usually consisted of strawberry yoghurts or Angel Delight. Maybe it’s the baby pink colour of the posset, or its creamy consistency? Still, it’s a beautiful dessert.
It’s an imaginative restaurant with lots of creative, flavoursome dishes, and the staff are friendly and helpful. It may not hit the mark every time, but that’s the joy of experimentation. You may have to keep your eyes peeled for it when you’re out and about in north London, but it’s worth going off the beaten track.
Address: 40 Hoxton Street, London N1 6LR
Tel: 020 7613 9590