A few minutes’ walk from Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament, through a leafy courtyard of Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, sits a quiet, hidden spot. Kona is Taj 51’s newest offering. With warm neutral tones, a fireplace, a wall of pictures, and intimate rooms, the atmosphere is that of a dining room in a private home, elegantly and expertly decorated.
The surroundings are classic fine dining – hydrangeas on white linen, and slightly over-eager staff hovering, but it’s a small price to pay for chef Tom Cruise’s cooking.
A starter of king scallops with butternut squash puree, vanilla and caramelised spring onion is a simple, but spectacular plate of complementary flavours. And, it’s a nice change from the scallop and cauliflower puree present on every menu in London, which desperately needs updating.
Even more important, the kitchen somehow manages to do what few others have mastered – keep food hot until it’s delivered. The taste of crisp, green apples in a glass of Chablis goes down easy with the light, Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
Foie gras with brioche, and Damson plum provides tart, sweet flavours, matched with a perfect Gewürztraminer. We’re not wine connoisseurs, but we know what we like, and Kona’s sommelier is earning his keep.
Main courses of sea bass and halibut make it easy to order guilt-free. The saffron broth poured over the halibut would make a better bath for poaching the fish to really let the unique, grassy taste sink in, but the sea bass with chorizo and orzo is a success.
For us, the stars of the second course are the sides. Veggies and carbs are not to be under-valued. In fact, they can lift a disappointing meal, though thankfully we didn’t need them to. Rather, they made it all the more memorable.
Yes, I’m going on about it, because sides are quite possible the least inspiring part of any menu. Not here. Tender stem broccoli perfectly cooked – not too crunchy, not too soft, arrives looking like an Italian flag. It’s got a generous coating of fresh Parmesan, studded with chili. The mascarpone polenta with black truffle is as good as it sounds – actually, better, and I’d be very happy if it became a “thing”.
A warm apple crumble for dessert hits the spot, and even better are the buttery, salted caramels, so fresh they melt instantly in the mouth.
Kona is a lovely escape from the madding crowds of St. James. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a place to linger, and lounge, particularly after dinner, in a small sitting room just next door, over a glass of port.