Damon Fairclough discovers a real curiosity in Smithdown Road’s dullest building
If uninspired student residential blocks are the crowning urban icons of our age, this miserable architectural sub-genre reaches its nadir on Smithdown Road just beyond the junction with Penny Lane. Between the Halfords garage on one corner and the pizza purveyors of Tribeca on the other, a grim-faced edifice in two-tone brick sits in silent disbelief that it ever got built.
Its upper windows reveal unshielded glimpses of student life, but on the ground floor, its three street-facing units have escaped their preordained destiny of Subway, vape shop and one unit left eternally empty. Instead, they house three independent ventures: a noodle bar, a ‘boutique cycling studio’ (a room full of exercise bikes) and – the most recent arrival – an establishment called The King’s Demon.
Transitioning from the loadsamoney decade to the fourteenth century in just five steps is no mean feat...
While this latter location may sound like a fetid hangout for World of Warcraft types, it’s actually a bar and restaurant that declares itself to be a home of ‘breakfasts and British small plates’. With its wide glass frontage, canopy and street foliage, there’s a sleekly subdued Euro feel to its façade, and while its curious name may hint at diabolical incantations, its mish-mashed interior hints at nothing more demonic than a designer with a severe case of indecision.
With its black and gold palette, there’s a distinct 1980s streak to the decoration, while north African lanterns contribute a touch of kasbah and a fake stone wall adds an essence of medieval castle. Transitioning from the loadsamoney decade to the fourteenth century in just five steps is no mean feat, and visitors may be excused for wondering whether the menu is built around the same kind of stylistic confusion.
In the event, the ‘British small plates’ idea describes The King’s Demon’s line-up fairly accurately. The menu is packed with dishes like cottage pie, Scotch eggs, pork medallions and steak and chips, all priced around £5-£8. Diners are urged to choose as few or as many as they like, with three dishes recommended for those with a decent appetite.
King prawns (£6.95) were fried in potent chilli garlic butter and served in a bowl of leaves doused in a beautifully light citrus dressing. Although the flavours were more Pacific Rim than trad British meat-and-two-veg, the dish’s proficient simplicity was typical of our meal.
From the menu’s sliders section, we chose two miniature burgers (£6.50 for two) that were generously stacked, topped and tailed in good brioche buns, and delivered a few more than just a couple of tiny bites. The cheese and bacon burger was juicy and peppery, and although the fish finger buttie was a touch on the soft side – a crispier batter would have done the trick – the accompanying tartar sauce was dense with hefty gherkin chunks.
The small-plates menu doesn’t distinguish between starters, mains or side dishes, but a bowl of wilted greens (£4) and a ‘vegetable tower’ (£4.50) both served us well as accompaniments. The greens were less dull than they sound, being topped with a translucent poached egg and parmesan shavings, and although the tower’s advertised layers of sweet potato and ‘market vegetables’ were actually served as a distinctly untowering dollop in a dish with a creamy tomato coating, there was nothing bland or lacking when it came to flavour.
Similarly, our chips (£4) were chunky, fluffy in the middle and grease-free in all the right places, with the same made-with-care aura that characterised most of our choices.
Of the savoury dishes, only the pork belly (£5.95) truly underwhelmed, lacking the requisite stickiness and ooze. The three large lumps of meat were each served with their own dressing – a scatter of salt, a sweet honey glaze and a thick barbeque sauce – but the flesh was dry and the thick fatty layer failed to melt in the mouth.
When it came to desserts, the small plates concept seemed to go out of the window. Our citrus cheesecake (£4.50) was full-sized, but far too thick and overly sweet. However, the Bakewell tart was deeply pleasurable, and although the accompanying custard was a little thin, the tart itself was moist and firm with a parched, cracked almond landscape across the top.
From its heavy-metal name to its eccentric décor and novelty menu – British tapas of sorts, made to be nibbled as the sun sinks below the Smithdown Road substation – The King’s Demon is certainly a curiosity. But although there was something about the venue’s hotch-potched visual style that inclined me to think the food would be similarly pick-and-mixed straight from the cash-and-carry shelf – frozen chips, bought-in desserts and the like – it seems I misjudged The King’s Demon’s ambition.
It wasn’t perfect, but although true kitchen sorcery didn’t occur, a few neat culinary conjuring tricks made for a pleasant surprise.
The King’s Demon, Unit 4, Penny Lane House, 346-356 Smithdown Road, L15 5AN
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
King prawns 7.5; Cheese and bacon slider 7; Fish finger slider 6.5; Pork belly 5; Wilted greens 7; Vegetable tower 7; Chips 7; Citrus cheesecake 5.5; Bakewell tart 8
Far from demonic
A bit of everything