Pan-Asian cuisine has become so oversaturated in London, it’s often distinguish between the bad and the utterly atrocious. With the opening of so many restaurants serving a mix of Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese and Laotian food, a great deal have roots far more British than the menus may suggest. Of these, though, chef Chris Denney’s experimental creations are some of London’s few wholly enjoyable examples.
When 108 Garage opened last year, the restaurant was quickly met with rapturous critical acclaim. Chris Denney’s menu (shrouded in mystery during the launch) showcased a multitude of Eastern influences, namely Japanese, permeating the broader ‘Modern British’ label. Those glimmers have now been broadened with the opening of Southam Street – a brand new restaurant from the team behind 108 Garage, literally just down the road. At the foot of Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower, Southam Street has an air of insouciance similar to 108 Garage. Inside, however, the restaurant is far more polished, placated by an open kitchen and marble bar counter that stretches around the loftier dining space.
Here, the menu is decidedly Pan-Asian, split into a cornucopia of dishes intended to be shared. Four to five dishes are recommended for two people, but it’s impossible to choose just five from such an intriguing menu. First, a selection of house pickles features paper-thin daikon, carrot and gherkin, laced with a slightly sweet pickling liquor; kimchi is necessarily fiery and shards of wonton skin are simple yet comforting. From the menu’s ‘small plates’ section, a simple dish of Heritage tomatoes (£7.50) is particularly ingredient-led. Vividly colourful, the tomatoes aren’t interfered with, but convoyed by a generous smear of complimentary mascarpone cheese whipped with horseradish.
Soft shell crab harumaki spring rolls (£8) are far removed from classic Anglo-Chinese iterations. Instead, these particular interpretations are similar to Vietnamese summer rolls, translucent, uncooked and stuffed with herbs and well-seasoned soft shell crab. An undertone of mint is refreshing in contrast with the deep-fried crab, but nothing manages to overpower the crustacean’s delicate flavour, quite remarkably. Better still are steamed bao buns stuffed with Korean fried chicken (£4), pickled vegetables and a smattering of sesame seeds. Some of the best bao I’ve eaten in London, the buns are pillowy and the chicken bracingly piquant. Order at least one each and thank me later.
Of seven main courses, three are steak (two favour USDA cattle, bafflingly). Whole sea bass (£16) is rubbed with yuzu koshu – fermented chilli, yuzu peel and salt – and grilled. Butterflied across the plate, the fish cookery is superlative: crisp skin and soft, flaky flesh. Iberico pork pluma (£17), cut from the end of the pig’s loin, is heavily charred on the outside, but its core is pink, as it should be. Simplicity is key with this dish, allowing the breed’s acorn-rich diet to manifest on the palate, modestly served with pickled slivers of Japanese nashi pear. On the side, fries with curry sauce and cheese (£5) evokes deep nostalgia. A refined take on a meagre chip shop dish, fries are topped with very subtle katsu curry sauce and restrained portion of cheese, demonstrating a precise understanding of flavours and balance. Unsurprisingly, the dish is one of the restaurant’s most popular.
We finish with strawberry chawan mushi (£6) – a Japanese savoury custard, here embellished with strawberry gel and fresh berries. The custard has incongruous lactic twang, but the accompanying ‘cashew and sesame crunch’ is a glorious cereal bar harbouring two of my all-time favourite flavours. Chocolate moelleux (£10), on the other hand, will please chocolate lovers with its molten centre that floods the plate. An extension of the culinary brilliance showcased at 108 Garage, Southam Street is an essential one to watch for 2018.
Southam Street can be found at 36 Golborne Road, London, W10 5PR.