"The staff know the menu inside out, and on occasion are genuinely funny."
So, the all-singing, all-dancing, rebuilt and refurbished Westgate centre is settling into the landscape of our city, and with it comes an unprecedented influx of bars, restaurants and cafés. Naturally, a fair proportion of these are enormous chain groups – Nando’s, Pret and the like. But, an even more substantial segment is made up of comparatively small brands with, typically, a couple of outposts in London who are making their first forays outside of the capital. In this case, KuPP originated only two years ago in Paddington, with its second branch opening last year in Exeter and its third earlier this year in Southampton. The recently opened Oxford branch sits above the vast new John Lewis store, and on most days is open at 9am for breakfast, all the way through to 11pm for late-night cocktails.
But, is it any good? The layout and décor are as smart as you would expect in a place that claims to draw its inspiration from Scandinavian “design and culture”. Tree trunks separate the dining area from the bar, filament lightbulbs hang from the ceiling, and there are houseplants on the tables.
The bar is lit up with neon and there is wooden decking on the terrace. From the outset, service is excellent; the staff are clearly enjoying themselves, know the menu inside out, and on occasion are genuinely funny. You quickly forget that you’re still essentially inside a department store.
The menu is fairly faithful to traditional Swedish cuisine, with an emphasis on seafood, various types of bread, and all things pickled, smoked, cured, potted and otherwise preserved. Of the starters, the highlight is Skagenröra: a sort of mild, Swedish prawn cocktail with sour cream, lemon and dill, served on a moreish slice of fried sourdough (£8.95). Similar iterations of the seafood-and-bread formula do equally well, with an aromatic and meaty beetroot-stained gravadlax accompanied by dense, crumbly rye bread (£9.50) – the fish itself is very good, and needs no further interference. ‘Carpaccio’ of hot smoked venison (£7.50) is a little too thick (and for that matter, cooked) to really warrant the title, but still stands up on its own merit, the rich meat balanced out with classic Scandinavian pickled vegetables.
Simple ingredients and adherence to the Scandi formula means that each dish has little scope to go wrong – and are all the better for it. Meatballs, of the kind served at everyone’s favourite labyrinthine Swedish furniture hangar, are lifted out of the ‘stodgy comfort food’ zone with the addition of pickled cucumber and red cabbage, and honey and mustard-laced crushed new potatoes rather than cloying mash (£13.95). Smörgåsbords are available (£25) and are possibly the best way to get a comprehensive idea of KuPP’s offerings, and smørrebrød open sandwiches are on offer for a quicker taste of most of the ingredients I’ve mentioned here.
KuPP has a winning formula, and seems just as well suited to a warm summer afternoon as it would to the kind of cold, dark winter evenings that this sort of cuisine has developed from. Also, with a cocktail bar stocked with aquavit, it would make a great weekend drinks venue if you feel like trying something different – infinitely more joyous than the standard shopping centre food court fare. Skål!
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