NoMad London, 28 Bow Street, London WC2E 7AW (020 3906 1600). Snacks and starters £9-£30, mains £27-£49, desserts £14, wines from £38
Welcome to wonderland. Or maybe, to be more precise, AdLand. Because here at NoMad London, it’s all about art within an inch of its life. The common rooms are beautiful. The food is beautiful. Therefore, I too must be beautiful. There’s hand-painted wallpaper and dark wood and plush velvet and oxblood leather and acres of marble. The shelves in the upstairs library are filled with real books, the kind you might want to read. They are an expression of literary taste, rather than something bought by the yard. The conversion of what was, until 2006, the Bow Street Magistrates Court where Oscar Wilde once stood, is magnificent.
Not that they would be awkward enough to show it. Just like in the original NoMad hotel in New York, the lighting here is moody, bordering on black, bordering on: “Oh my God, do I have macular degeneration? No, you’ve simply chosen to go out to dinner in central London in 2022. Given skyrocketing energy prices, this could be seen as an economically savvy move, disguised as a style statement. Except the economy isn’t exactly part of the mission statement. I have to say, while I’m obviously going to point fingers and laugh at various things along the way, I had a great time at NoMad. But damn it, it’s expensive. As in: who are all these other people paying their own tea and what offshore tax haven are they using? When I pick up the bill at the end of a night out and cringe at the thought of even submitting the claim, I know something is up.
I love spending time with the leather-apronized, masterfully hair-dressed bartender, who serves us a perfectly prepared frozen daiquiri for £16 and a single glass of pinot noir rosé for £15. I appreciate that he fetched us a bowl of olives from the upstairs bar as the only snacks available here are smoked trout rillettes for £16 or fried chicken for £19 and so on. I love being transported from this bar to the expansive three-story atrium that houses the restaurant. It has a touch of the French Quarter of New Orleans about it. It is bordered by a stack of colonnaded balconies from which foliage drips. Lighting comes from hanging lanterns and carefully positioned gutter candles and spotlights. There are plush velor banquettes in shades of olive and chartreuse. They are so squishy that we have to build a bedding out of the scatter cushions to raise our height to something manageable from that of the table. Oh that’s better.
I won’t go into prices except to say that starters top out at £30, mains include a roast chicken for two at £98 and there’s nothing on the wine list below £38 a bottle. It’s like that. But I detect a mismatch here. Do the people who flock to these tables really care about this serious wine list, clearly built by a total nerd, with their pronounced interest in wines in contact with the skin? And do bettors care about the serious and precise effort that has gone into the food?
Among the starters, pan-fried artichokes à la romaine, accompanied by a carefully tangy mint and pistachio sauce, turned into a velvety smoothness. Taut slivers of salted mackerel sit beneath candy-colored ribbons of pickled vegetables, so the plate looks like a seamstress blast. Crispy seaweed curls add a layer of texture, alongside toasted buckwheat pearls. It’s a real thunderbolt. Like, in its own way, are soft ricotta gnudi, runny in the middle, with freshly shelled fava beans, a purée of shiny green fava beans, all seasoned with graters of the highly prized bottarga, the salted and dried eggs of gray mule bottarga. Greedily, we disassemble the domed loaf of bouncy focaccia and use it as a vehicle for the bowl of whipped goat curd.
A rectangle of pork confit, with toffee-like crackers, and a roast chop, is advertised as coming with strawberries, the kind of innovation people shake their heads at. Except that it’s masterful, the acidity and the playing sweetness catch up. A plate of fatty grilled scallops with mashed peas, mint pea puree and carrots under mandoline slices of multicolored carrots is a study in green, orange and purple.
I look around the room, the shine of the jewelry and the shine of the leather pants. How many of these guests are here for the details on these plates and how many for the scene? The dance music echoes, gently vibrating our lower colon as if we’re trying to make room for our dinner. Most of my guests are, like me, through the first wave of youth. They have to be or they couldn’t afford it. I doubt many choose to listen to this music at home. But here they are, among all the shiny surfaces and sagging cushions, wearing the clothes of young people with wide-eyed despair.
We sighed at our side dish, a spectacularly well-made semi-circle of potato rösti, the crispy and robust exterior giving way to sweet onion innards. We frown on our desserts because the grace and technique deployed with all other dishes suddenly disappears. Part of the problem is that while they read well, they’re mostly assemblages of breaded things and glazed things. The other problem is, oddly, a heavy hand with the salt. A blood orange sorbet with slivers of meringue has a salty flavor, as does the crumbled banana and pecan cake with a milk chocolate cream. It’s just weird.
At the bottom of the dessert menu is a box that reads: “Night at NoMad. Price on request. I ask our perfectly balanced server what that means. She makes a delicate speech about the pleasure coming at the end of the meal. If the date goes really well, some of those pleasures may need to be taken off the table. She opens her eyes wide as if inviting me to finish the sentence, mentally. Ah. If you want to fuck your table companion, you can get a room, price on request. I ask: she’s going to check. It’s £495. But the bill is already £309 and our own bed is only a few miles south. It’s a menu item too far. We pay, dance up the moodily lit stairs, through the front doors once used by Oscar Wilde, and back to the real world.
The always wonderful Sonny Stores in Bristol are hosting a series of guest chef revivals. On May 17, Danny Bohan, head chef at the famed River Café in London’s Hammersmith, where Sonny Stores’ Pegs Quinn also cooked for many years. On July 12, it’s Anna Tobias, another River Café veteran, and now head of Café Deco. Finally on August 9, it was Ixta Belfrage who worked a lot with Yotam Ottolenghi. She will celebrate the launch of her new book Excite. For more information on tickets and prices, sign up for the restaurant’s mailing list at sonnystores.com.
Brighton-based restaurateur Razak Helalat, which already owns the Coal Shed, Salt Room and Burnt Orange in the city, is expanding again. In June, he will open Tutto, an Italian restaurant run by Sardinian-born chef Mirella Pau who has previously cooked at Padella and Café Murano in London.
Michael Caines is launching a second, more casual restaurant at his gleaming Devon country hotel Lympstone Manor this month. The Pool House restaurant and bar will accommodate 40 people inside and 60 outside near – as its name suggests – the swimming pool. It will offer a menu of salads, pastas, seafood and pieces of meat grilled over embers, courtesy of an outdoor kitchen. To Lympstonemanor.co.uk.