Bringing Sunshine to a Chilly February Evening – Ceru, Fitzrovia:
According to Wikipedia the Levant
is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in Southwest Asia bounded by the Taurus Mountains of Anatolia in the North, the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and the north Arabian Desert and Mesopotamia in the east.
It includes parts of Cyprus, Hatay, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria – so the resulting cuisine is a whole mix of middle eastern and Mediterranean dishes, perfectly suited to the sharing plates and informal dining offered at Ceru, a pop-up in the heart of Fitzrovia at 29 Rathbone Place. With seats for just 20 diners sitting round a rustic central bar area or to the side at high tables, it’s a vibrant, warm environment and a perfect escape on a wet February evening.
Executive chef Tom Kime has an illustrious heritage from The River Cafe, Le Pont de la Tour and Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant. I’m hooked on the concept and keen to try the food. We start with cocktails – a pomegranate margarita that is just a little sweeter than I’d personally choose but nevertheless delicious, and a beautiful slightly frothy passionista with vanilla infused vodka, fresh passion fruit and kaffir lime syrup. The passionista suits my palate better, though it belongs to The-Hedonist who is sharing this invitation to review and dining with me. I barely get a sip.
With the cocktails comes a plate of dips and freshly baked Greek pita bread. Pancar is roast beetroot, yoghurt, garlic and pistachio nuts, a sweet tangy mixture, vibrantly coloured from the beet. Spicy roast red pepper is made with chilli, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. The result is richer than normal pepper dip with a bitter sweet taste. I’m new to ‘fadi’ a fried baby courgette puree with tahini, roast garlic, yoghurt and lemon. And I’m off in search of the recipe because I can’t think of a better way to deal with the inevitable glut of autumn courgettes. Finally, a classic houmous is topped with chickpease, green chilli and lemon. Each dip complements the others – the plate is wiped clean.
Perversely, when dining with a vegetarian or pescatarian I always crave a meat dish. Especially if the dining concept is meant to be sharing plates. What self respecting carnivore could resist Ceru’s signature ‘slow roast lamb shoulder with shawarma spices’ though? Certainly not me, so I indulge myself and am rewarded with a hearty portion of deliciously tender spicy lamb topped with pomegranate, pistachio and mint.
We order plenty of dishes that we can share though – a fresh and delicious salad of baby spinach with labne, delicious roasted baby aubergines with tomato, chilli and herbed yoghurt that would make a meal in their own right and a klimt-like plate seared sea-bream with oregano and chilli, a warm lemon dressing and fried garlic.
Since the menu dish of crispy spiced squid is not ready we are offered a dish of plump prawns with feta not unlike the version I was taught to cook by Cypriot chef Tonia Buxton. I’m feeling guilty about the generous portion of lamb so taste, rather than devour the prawns and sea-bream. Both are delicious though and I’m wishing I had the appetite to eat two meals by this stage. Everything on the menu is under £10, it’s possible to have an excellent feast here at a price that will leave change in your wallet.
Wine is a bottle of Lebanese Ixsir Grande Reserve white (£26.50), a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon and Chardonnay with a very fresh mouth feel, floral and apricot complemented by a light oak. I’m pleasantly suprised, I’d have picked a red for myself but the wealth of veggie and fish dishes meant the white was a better choice.
Dessert, when we’ve had a chance to catch our breath and get a bit of appetite back is spice roast pears with cinnamon and orange zest served with sweet labne and a portion of yoghurt, walnut and pistachio cake with vanilla poached apricots. I’m rather taken with the sweet labne and would happily have devoured a plate of that with a few pistachios. But I’m sure the pears are a healthier option. The cake is nicely moist and nutty, great with my coffee.
If you’d like to learn more, then pop along to the supper club on 25 February. The event includes a talk on Middle Eastern cooking from founder Bary Hilton and if I wasn’t in Umbria, I’d definitely be making space in my diary. For £25 a person, you’ll be treated to a feast of sharing dishes, a welcome cocktail and wine.
If you can’t make the 25th, then do make time to try out Ceru. This particular venue is only in place till the end of April. It’s open from 8am to midnight Monday through Friday and 10am til midnight on Saturdays. Where next I wonder? On my doorstep in Kennington would be fine by me;)
29 Rathbone Place