The thing about trying to get in early when a new restaurant opens (on this occasion the second day – and yet still the estimable Dos Hermanos beat us to it... just what is their secret?) is that you open yourself up the kind of teething troubles that inevitably beset a new business. You have to put up with a few lapses in knowledge among the staff, the odd vague or ambivalent advice on wine selection. But you do so with an air of forgiveness, knowing that what you'll get is (generally) people keen to please, the odd bargain here and there and – with a bit of luck – a healthy boost in visitors from the search engines.
The Water House, then, is a bit of a curate's egg (and therefore just about as expected for as aspirational restaurant in its opening week). Keen and affable staff, certainly, most of whom seem to have tried most of the items on the menu (good, but surprisingly rare, attention to detail). No obvious jitters in the kitchen, either, which turned out decent quality – if unspectacular – food with no lengthy delays. Here and there, though... the odd problem. The manager, enthusiastic enough in his welcome, seemed to be on permanent lookout for people he could give "the tour" to. This involved a trip outside to view the pipes (more on this shortly) and a consequent lack of attention to the diners, particularly those trying to order their bill. Too many restaurants let themselves down by making the process of leaving at the end of the meal drag on, and while it can certainly be forgiven in a new restaurant that hasn't even got its credit card machine working yet, I really shouldn't have had to go and find my own coat. Could have helped myself to all sorts in that cupboard...
Like its sister establishment Acorn House, the Water House is committed to an ecological and sustainable business model. Food is seasonal and locally sourced, water is drawn from the neighbouring Regent's Canal to feed the heating and cooling system and so on. And like Acorn House, this worthy heart is not worn on the restaurant's sleeve (although it is present on the back of the slightly rubbish T-Shirts the staff wear – yours for £8 if I recall). While some restaurants make a great (often slightly desperate) play for the green card, with paragraphs of mission statement guff of the menu and practically birth certificates for the chickens, these guys let you judge the food for itself, only filling you in on the tree-huggy details (and taking you on the tour) if you ask a few questions. Missing a trick? Maybe. But a refreshing and confident approach nonetheless.
I started with a winter salad: an interesting array of greens, including dandelion leaves, with some good contrasting flavours, studded with some slightly over-frazzled pancetta and bullets of pomegranate. I'm not normally one for a plainish salad but this was surprisingly pleasing. Antonia had the burrata di bufala, which came on toast with some crushed olives and was creamy, stringy and very moreish.
For mains I had pork loin with aubergine and spinach and a paprika sauce. This was pretty good but arranged in such a way (see crap pic) that you were pretty much guaranteed 30-odd identical mouthfuls, and consequently the dish dragged on after a while. Nice balanced flavours though, the smoky paprika and aubergine complementing the well judged spinach and perfectly cooked pork.
Antonia had potato ravioli in a rather loose cream and truffle oil sauce. A smallish number of big, flat ravioli with not much filling. A bit disappointing: it's not often you hear a vegetarian saying "It's not often I finish a meal and find myself craving a bacon sandwich". We shared a plate of good cheese to follow, let down slightly by the Montgomery cheddar, which felt like it had been pre-sliced some time ago (less obvious if this was the case with the rest).
The wine list is all organic and quite spendy, with only one or two bottles below the £30 mark (they have further selections by the glass). We were on tap water last night (presumably not from the canal) so we came out shy of £70 including service. Not cheap but certainly not bad value for some (almost) excellent quality grub.
So decent enough food and worthy without shouting it
from the rooftops. Worthy of the trip, though, and the slightly scary diversion
off the already slightly scary Kingsland Road? I'm not so sure.
Water House, 10 Orsman Road, London N1 5QJ 020 7033 0123