64 Dean Street, Soho, London
(and a half!)
California. The Golden State, the promised land, last stop on the American Dream. Go West, young man, follow the gold, to the place where the days are longer, and the nights are stronger, and you’d be safe and warm. If you were in LA. For some, a place of sun-drenched optimism, of gleaming teeth and movie stars, citrus groves, roller girls and the Pacific’s glittering allure. For others, a place where dreams and clichés come to wither and die, ‘the most of everything and the best of nothing’, in Raymond Chandler’s eternal words.
All nations are here, and all leave their culinary footprint. Add in pot-luck dinner’s worth of climates, plus an open-minded, anything-goes culinary consciousness and you end up with a fine place to be hungry. The birthplace of McDonald’s and In-N-Out burgers, of love-ins and macro-biotics and sticking it to the Man, man. Of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller. It’s also the inspiration for Sola, a new Soho restaurant from chef Victor Garvey, a man who was born in New York. But moved west, to Los Angeles, at just one month old.
Sola on Dean Street. A small, quiet, civilised Soho room, beneath hanging succulents that look like baby aliens, and oversized filament bulbs. Plants line the window, shielding one from Dean Street’s more rambunctious excess, while soft jazz softly trills
And it’s here, on the site which was formerly Ramblas, you’ll find not burritos and burgers, rather West Coast haute cuisine, in a small, quiet, civilised Soho room, beneath hanging succulents that look like baby aliens, and oversized filament bulbs. Plants line the window, shielding one from Dean Street’s more rambunctious excess, while soft jazz softly trills.
The room may feel relaxed, albeit with tables clad in thick linen cloths, but the cooking’s anything but. Garvey (who is a friend) runs his lean brigade from the minuscule open kitchen at the back. The cooking is precise, poised and delicate, the technique expert and assured. Garvey is definitely gazing at the Michelin constellation. But just like his home state, he is entirely unbound by formal convention. So a hunk of robustly exceptional focaccia, crusty and gleaming with oil and studded with plump, sweet tomatoes and crisp chewy slivers of caramelised onion, sits alongside an eggshell filled with the most delicate of smoked Yukon Gold mousselines.
Dungeness Crab, sensationally sweet and fastidiously picked, comes in a half seashell with a gently saline spoonful of caviar, a cloud of almond sabayon, sharp cubes of compressed Granny Smith and a seaweed-infused waffle. An inspired addition. Nut groves and fruit orchards meets deep ocean, with a sly, knowing nudge of Mom’s home cooking.
Two curls of langoustines, immaculately poached, perch on a hot rock. They’re scented with a whisper of Japanese whisky. And served alongside a bowl filled with a slice of magnificent seared foie gras. And an immaculate mushroom potsticker, all gently yielding chew. And a soy poached quail’s egg and a dashi broth made with roasted foie gras trimmings and ginger. But what could be culinary overkill becomes a dish of purely elegant comfort, a fusion of the French and Japanese that sits up there with the likes of Joel Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire.
The room may feel relaxed, albeit with tables clad in thick linen cloths, but the cooking’s anything but. The cooking is precise, poised and delicate, the technique expert and assured
OK, so sometimes there can be a little too much going on. Occasionally, Garvey needs to hold back, let his talent and those wonderful ingredients take the weight. Glistening fresh snapper – killed by a spike to the spine using the ikejime method, which prevents any bitter lactic acid – is so splendid that it needs no embellishment, save the ponzu and perhaps the pert bite of those pickled mushrooms on top. The roasted hazelnuts and deep-fried sage leaves are, to me, overkill. Still, a square of A5 Matsusaka wagyu with a black truffle glaze is the real thing, lusciously and lasciviously fatty, where one mouthful is just the right side of too much. The wine list (a cracker from Zeren Wilson) is fascinatingly American, and service is as warm as a Bel Air afternoon.
So a rare taste of West Coast haute cuisine in London. High end, but informal, where technical skill is matched by the sheer quality of its ingredients. There’s ambition here but talent to match it. California dreamin’ indeed.
£55 for three courses. £99 per person tasting menu