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Inside out!

Louisa Walters weighs up restaurant interiors, tries a new pop up and looks ahead to an exciting food festival

Louisa Walters is a features writer

Parrillan
Parrillan

Can we talk about restaurant interiors? Here in ‘Ivy’-clad London (see what I did there?) we are spoilt, almost to the point of being blasé, with stunning restaurants.
We saunter into Soutine, wander into the Wolseley, march into Milos and, even at the cheaper end of the scale, bounce into Bob’s Cafe and take for granted the beautiful interiors. Yet when we go abroad, it’s all ‘looks like nothing from the outside/tiny rustic place with no enhancements/table in a car park but OMG the food…’

And so it was that when I lumbered into Little Kolkata in Covent Garden on the hottest day of the decade (lumbered on account of it still being 37 degrees at 8pm) and saw an extremely old-fashioned chipped black-and-white tiled floor, ‘seen better days’ wooden tables and chairs and a sad fan circulating the hot air (there is aircon, but it couldn’t cope on the hottest UK day on record) my heart sank to my sandals. But I was hungry and the welcome was as warm as the weather, so I soldiered on.

Things certainly started to look up when I looked down the menu. This restaurant is a homage to the owners’ hometown of Kolkata, and what followed is like a love letter to the destination. Gentle spices, fine sauces, influences of Chinese, Portuguese, French and even British cooking (Kolkata is India’s oldest port) all combine to create a very special dining experience. And then I learned that the floor is, in fact, antique, and the rustic dishes are handmade and, slowly but surely, I was transported to that country I so dearly love.

Little Kolkata

Conversation turned to our next trip and Kolkata will definitely feature, if only because I want to go somewhere that produces dishes such as Doi Papri Chat – crispy wafers topped with spicy potatoes and yogurt, beautiful purple beetroot croquettes, Mustard Begun Basanti aubergine with Indian mustard sauce, Allor Dam baby new potatoes in herb and tomato sauce and mango Aam sea bass with green mango and mustard sauce. For  those who do eat non-kosher, the standout dish was sizzling lamb chops with an apple masala chutney. And who knew that Peas Puri – a puffed flaky bread filled with a pea purée – could be quite so moreish? Or that whitebait could figure on an Indian menu, frazzled to a supremely satisfying crunch with masala and kaffir lime? Or, indeed, that a beer laced with elderflower could appeal even to me, a staunch wine/cocktail drinker (mine was a Feludar Martini with vodka, lychee, rose, lime and cranberry, his was a non-alcoholic – after the beer! – mixed berry mojito).

On the subject of interiors, the new Parrillan in Coal Drops Yard doesn’t have one. Opened as a pop-up on 10 May, it’s all outdoor seating, although it does have a roof and patio heaters for cooler days. It’s part of the Barrafina group, so naturally there are a few Spanish tapas dishes, and then they bring a little stove to your table for a cook-your-own meat, fish and veggie experience. There’s a sublime looking cheesecake for dessert (which I didn’t have, but the people on the next table did and I was drooling) and some quirky gins (I did have one of those!).
It’s great fun with a terrific vibe and perfect while the weather
is still warm (although they told me they are building glass walls and keeping it open all year).

Deep in the heart of Soho, there’s a great new Japanese Izakaya/Korean restaurant dishing up fabulous food and unusual cocktails with superb service.

Robata (meaning fireside) specialises in Japanese charcoal cooking and is only
a few months old. Tootoomoo fans may remember Alberto, the effusive and extremely friendly manager… he has turned up here to run this place and he does so brilliantly. The chefs have earned their stripes at Roka and Zuma, so we knew we were in for a treat.

Robata

I had an Umu Natsu – a sake-based cocktail with pineapple, peach and a thick, sweet tea foam while my daughter tried an elderflower and mint vodka cocktail. We shared a bowl of veg crackers with a tangy guacamole-type dip while we whittled down what not to order from a menu that honestly offers every dish we’ve ever wanted.

We agreed on a platter of sushi rolls, a tuna tartare with caviar and truffle mayo, sea bass ceviche (Roka eat your heart out), fried karaage (Korean fried chicken – one of my faves), miso duck breast with corn salsa and corn on the cob with a crushed wasabi coating. There are amazing-sounding Bao buns, but we’ll go back for those. Dessert was a palate-cleansing matcha ice cream with crushed meringue and vanilla mascarpone cream with chocolate crumb. Alberto insisted we try the peach sparkling sake – who knew sparkling sake was a thing? This is soft on the tongue with gentle bubbles…. we loved it! There’s a great value lunch and pre-theatre menu starting at £20 per head. Highly recommend.

London Restaurant Festival

Israeli cuisine is at the forefront of London’s restaurant scene with high-profile openings such as The Palomar, Nopi, Coal Office, Rovi and Scully all following hot on the heels of Ottolenghi. This October, the annual London Restaurant Festival will pay tribute to Jerusalem, showcasing a host of dedicated events and tasting menus from top Israeli chefs, including tasting menu events at restaurants including The Palomar and Scully.

Moshiko Gamlieli

London Restaurant Festival is partnering with OpenRestaurants™ Jerusalem, which takes place in November, as a ‘sister festival’. This annual event celebrates Jerusalem’s fusion of traditional Middle Eastern, North African, South American and exotic Asian flavours, with opportunities to try everything from street food to fine dining. With events, talks and tastings with top Israeli chefs.

Jerusalem’s cuisine will be championed through a high-profile ‘chef swap’ on
22 October. Moshiko Gamlieli, from Jerusalem’s celebrated restaurants Mona and Anna, will travel to London to cook at Mortimer House Mediterranean restaurant. Then, in November, Mortimer House’s head chef, Lello Favuzzi, will travel to Jerusalem to take part in OpenRestaurants ™ Jerusalem.

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