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I went for dinner at Powder Keg Diplomacy last night and was mightily impressed.

Powder Keg Diplomacy’s restaurant is a fairly intimate venue with maybe 20, 25 covers, in a conservatory. The front of the place looks like a nice place to hang out but I only experienced the restaurant section. There’s a kind of retro turn-of-the-20th-century colonial glam feel to the place (the Power Keg Diplomacy website gives you a good indication of how the real world establishment feels) and it’s done so well it avoids falling into the trap of being gimmicky by a wide margin.

The food itself isn’t earth shatteringly original or out there – there’s no molecular gastronomy going on here – but it’s a cut above your normal bistro fare, with just enough of a twist to make it interesting.

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For example, my starter of scallops came on a cauliflower purée, which is common enough, but the purée was curried – delicately and perfectly – and the dish was topped with toasted hazelnuts. Scallops are a dish I tend to order because, well, because I love them but also because I find that how well a restaurant cooks its scallops reflects how well it cooks everything else. Being something of a scallop connoisseur, I’m particular about it being cooked just so. There’s very little leeway with grilled scallops. I reckon you can go from perfect to overcooked in just 15 seconds, maybe less. I’m happy to report, PKD’s scallops were spot on. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and an interesting take on the dressing and accompaniment without getting in the way of the delicate flavour of the star of the show.

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For my main course, I had the fried hake with crushed potatoes, samphire and beetroot sauce. I didn’t really get much flavour from the beetroot sauce – the natural saltiness of the samphire overpowered it – but it at least looked pretty on the plate (see picture above). The hake, as with the scallops, was perfectly cooked. Wonderfully crispy skin across the whole piece, and moist large flakes of white flesh underneath. Flawless.

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For dessert I chose the blueberry cheesecake. One reason I did this was because I’d had a pretty bloody good cheesecake at Loch Fyne in Newhaven Harbour when we were up in Edinburgh at the weekend, and I wanted to make a direct comparison. I’ll confess, I was little disappointed when the dish arrived as it was prosaically presented in comparison to the other dishes in the meal, especially compared to the crumble that my dining companion had, which was presented in a tea cup. (See the very poorly angled photo at the top of this post.) However, one spoonful of what looked like an ordinary cheesecake brought back glorious memories of the blueberry cheesecakes I’d sometimes eat from frozen when I was a child, only this was a million times better in quality. Simple yet perfectly executed.

Simple but perfectly executed is a good summary of Powder Keg Diplomacy as a whole, actually – food and service. The service was attentive yet unobtrusive, and friendly without being overfamiliar. The colonial theme of the place is also there in the background, making its presence felt but without distracting from the food.

An honourable mention goes to the tea we had at the end of the meal. None of your lazy ‘whack a Tea Pig into an overlarge teapot and over-dilute it’ stuff going on here. It’s  leaf tea, spooned into the pot in generous portions, and served with a  tea strainer.1 That alone should tell you how well Powder Keg Diplomacy does ‘proper’ English food.

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I eat out more than I should but I’m not often moved to write a lot about restaurants but Powder Keg Diplomacy more than deserves a write-up. Brilliant stuff.

  1. Although I think George Orwell would have disapproved of the tea strainer. []