A stone’s throw from Baker Street Station, but nestled away from the chaos of Marylebone Road, Carousel describes itself as a ‘creative hub’. Set up by four cousins, it leads with its food but also hosts art exhibitions, life drawing workshops, stand-up comedy and more.
I arrive for lunch a little dubious (perhaps understandably), not at all eased by the slightly confused-looking receptionist who sends us through heavy wooden doors on the ground floor of what looks like an office building. As soon as we’re through those doors though, we are put completely at ease. Inside is a world fully focused on food.
The restaurant’s concept is a simple yet thrilling one: it brings together exciting chefs from all over the world via a roster of chef residencies for dinner service. Most recently, the list has included Santiago Lastra (NOMA Mexico), Anton Orjollet (ELEMENTS, France) and Scott Smith (NORN, Edinburgh). At lunchtime from Tuesday to Saturday, however, Head Chef Ollie Templeton takes over service with a seasonal menu of ‘homemade crowd-pleasing dishes’. The menu is not particularly extensive, but even so it proves almost impossible to decide between its dishes. Luckily, Carousel have already thought of this eventuality and offer a ‘let us decide for you’ option, which we gratefully accept.
At £25 per head, it’s a selection (made by the chefs) of items in the snacks, small plates, pasta, large plates and sides section. Plates arrive at the table with a steady pace throughout service, intended to be shared amongst the entire party. The restaurant’s fine dining meets communal eating feel, with its long wooden tables and slightly mismatched glasses, brings a tone of friendly sophistication. Each dish comes out of the kitchen precisely presented; but dining alongside several families on a Saturday afternoon makes us feel instantly comfortable.
For drinks (which we manage to pick for ourselves) we decide on a Bloody Mary and a sake-based cocktail (£8 each). The Bloody Mary is well spiced, balanced and light, just as it should be. The second cocktail, a mixture of sake, pink grapefruit, pickled lime and soda is amazingly refreshing, with a fruity grapefruit aftertaste but the mellow heat of sake.
The chefs start us off with a selection of snacks: carrot, endive and turnip pickles with house crème fraiche (£4) and pork, pistachio and black garlic terrine (£4.50), served with homemade sourdough and butter. The pickles, for me, are nothing to write home about. The vegetables are still crunchy but have lost their wonderful taste in favour of one of subtle vinegar pickle, which is not helped at all by coupling with the subtle flavours of crème fraiche.
The terrine, on the other hand, is sublime. The texture is almost one of a delightful homemade sausage roll, and the addition of the pistachio crunch is simply inspired. Here, pickled celeriac finds its place, the slight acidity cutting through the richness of the terrine. Together with fluffy, freshly baked sourdough and a little salty butter – this is a match that shouldn’t be missed. Next: small plates and pastas. We’re presented with beetroot, house yoghurt and brazil nut, wood-grilled and pickled swede, pink pepper and mustard greens (£6 each) and bucatini pasta with ‘nduja butter, black mustard and stracciatella.
The swede holds its shape, but is definitely on the soft side, with earthy flavours from the greens and a wonderful heat from chili flakes. The beetroot dish is excellent: the homemade yoghurt almost has the texture of goat’s cheese and a similar intensity. Fresh sage adds a wonderful heartiness and the smoky brazil nuts elevate the dish to dizzying heights.
I would return to Carousel just for that beetroot, but then the pasta arrives. The bucatini is perfectly al dente with the stracciatella cheese slowly melting, oozing into the sauce. The ‘nduja (an Italian spreadable salami) butter is slightly salty, luxurious and completely moreish. This dish is like a decadent chocolate cake: your first thought is of the small portion size, but with the first bite, you understand. This is something that should be savoured.
We finish with steamed cod, pil pil and more pickled celeriac (£14) and a side of crispy ratte potatoes with ranch powder (£3.50). The cod is properly cooked and falls apart at the lightest touch. Together with slightly crispy hassleback potatoes and a powder evocative of salt and vinegar crisps: they’re a great pair. Unfortunately, I can’t stop thinking of that pasta.
As we leave, we overhear our neighbours enquiring about the possibility of hosting their upcoming wedding reception at Carousel. Is there any bigger compliment than that?
Carousel can be found at 71 Blandford Street, London, W1U 8AB.
Far removed from the chaos of Marylebone Road, Carousel serves a brilliant seasonal menu of ‘homemade crowd-pleasing dishes’.