Letter from London: September 2012

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

London lets it hair down
Jane Egginton discovers that high dining needn’t mean stuffed shirts, picking out a fistful of new London restaurants that raise the bar while raising a smile

In London, it’s never been much of a struggle to find good, even excellent  food, but let’s face it – there are a few too many of those stiff, stuffy restaurants pandering to the big spenders who like things just so: you may get haute cuisine, but the atmosphere can be a low. This month, London welcomes five newcomers who pepper their fine food with humour, humility and invention… and surprisingly, four of them are in the square mile – that beating heart of straitlaced London.

Fish food


Messages thanking his customers for their visit, light up the Twitter page of Martin Morales – owner of Ceviche. With enthusiasm, a warm heart and a substantial dose of Peruvian hospitality, he must be the perfect restaurant host. At Ceviche’s pisco bar, diners dig into the fresh, marinated fish of the same name, prepared with just the right amount of Peruvian lime. Accompaniments include a super salad of quinoa (which of course originates with the Incas) and a very large slice of chica. Chica means cheeky or fun and it is perhaps this ingredient that really makes Ceviche stand out from the crowd. Unlike so many high end restaurants it doesn’t take itself too seriously. My first taste of ceviche was twenty something years ago in a small town on the dusty coast of Peru. I still maintain it’s the only hangover cure that really works, so if you have a particularly heavy night on the pisco sours in Martin’s restaurant (and these delicious drinks are oh-so-moreish), you have the best excuse to return the next day.

Small plates from Spain
Like Ceviche, Tramontana Brindisa, opening in early September, specialises in ‘small plates’, or tapas. We’ve become familiar with the paella and rice dishes that have made their way here from Eastern Spain, but Tramontana innovates with a lighter touch, offering speciality salads and fresh fruits from the region. This part of the world is also famed for its wine – look out for the 18-metre wine wall – and cava, together with high quality cured meats and seafood. The restaurant is the latest offering from the Tapas Brindisa group, the brains behind some of the most successful Spanish restaurants in the city.

Japanese-Scottish Fusion
While there are other restaurants in London showcasing Japan’s kaiseki (the closest western equivalent being haute cuisine), Chrysan brings a fresh – and more sustainable – approach to the tradition. Famed Kyoto chef Yoshihiro Murata eschews the notion of importing everything from his homeland, and has high praise for our nation’s produce. His creations showcase fresh Scottish lobster, crab and salmon, all of the highest quality, and often surpassing what Japan has to offer. As well as British ingredients, Murata makes use of British chefs, who toil side by side with the Japanese masters, learning from each other and making use of local, seasonal ingredients. It’s a refreshing break from the often restrictive world of high style Japanese dining. Chrysan opens in Broadgate this month, with city workers benefiting from a set lunch menu and a bento box option, and kaiseki cuisine in an informal setting.

The Factory House

British industry
It’s good to see some home grown talent getting in on the act, and classic British cuisine gets a makeover at a new subterranean restaurant opening in Leadenhall Market. If Danny Boyle’s Olympic ceremony were a restaurant it would be The Factory House, which vows to celebrate this island’s traditional fare, paying homage to the age of the modern industrialists, the great experimenters. Sean Davies (formerly of the Tate restaurants) has created a menu that includes foraged cob nuts, medlar plums and damsons, and wild food such as good old British partridge and guinea fowl. Smoked eel cakes, mackerel mousse and inventive bar snacks such as bacon and thyme popcorn also feature on the menu of this all-day restaurant. Theatricality is evident throughout: diners enter via a helical staircase encircling a free-standing glass shaft lift to reach a spectacular copper-faced bar, antique train station clocks and a spit roast. Davies says: “The Factory House is heavily inspired by the excitement of the Victorian industrial age, when people were intrigued to experiment, innovate and try new things. The menu uses classic British ingredients and dishes, served up in an inventive and contemporary manner for our city guests.”

The Old Bengal Warehouse

The Old Bengal Warehouse
This month the oldest surviving warehouses built by the East India Company will be reinvented as a modern 10,000 square feet dining and drinking space. It was to here that the British mariners returned, having scoured the known world for spices, cigars, tea and other wonders. Come 17 September, the Warehouse will re-open as the New Street Grill, Fish Market, cocktail bar and wine shop. The poet John Masefield once paid homage to the building, declaring it “the wealth of the world and London’s power.” With all these new restaurant openings in the Square Mile, the area might be again.

Need to know:
17 Frith Street, London W1

Tramontana Brindisa
152 Curtain Road, London EC2

1 Snowden Street, London EC2

The Factory House
Lime Street, London EC3

The Old Bengal Warehouse
New Street, London, EC2


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