7Ã¢â‚¬â€œ9 Bute Street South Kensington London, SW7 3EY www.cerurestaurants.com
Mike goes West from South to find the Middle East in the cuisine of the Lavant.
It has only been open for two weeks, this being their first permanent base following previous iterations as pop ups or festival offerings. Inside, background Euro beats give a reminder of those festival vibes perhaps at odds with a cosy side street South Ken eatery, or is it just my old ears?
The layout immediately presents the diner with several choices, not in terms of food selection just yet, but of seating: to the left a large fixed high level thick marble table juts out from the kitchen pass with ten high stools, in the centre, a clutch of cosy booths for two or four and to the right, low tables with banquet seating for families or smaller groups, plus more high stools at a window dining shelf for solo street gazers.
Snugly boothed, we faced further options; Ceru offers dishes and drinks inspired by the flavours of The Levant, encompassing a large area of the eastern Mediterranean coast and its islands and their menu contains over a hundred ingredients with twenty different spices used in countless combinations. I should say menus – all the bases are covered with breakfast, express lunch, afternoon tea, all day or kids’ menus, and they deliver a shortened menu through Deliveroo and Uber Eats.
All the dishes are clearly described and helpfully coded for those with dietary special needs or allergies, from ubiquitous nut caveats to a more niche sulphites warning which affects the airways of a few sufferers. In the confident hope that they may contain alcohol, we began with the cocktail section.
The signature Cucumber Martini is recommended and rightly so as apart from the duel booze kick of Beefeater and Martini Bianco, it has a cute twisted sliver of cucumber, is a beautiful bright shade of green and gives pleasingly fresh extra flavours of, elderflower, lemon and mint.
Across all Ceru’s menus, traditional English nourishments are reimagined; you can have your British breakfast eggs, but baked in spicy tomato sauce to form the classic Israeli dish Shakshuka, which sounds like a superior alternative to the only other traditional middle eastern breakfast UK natives know; last night’s half eaten kebab.
Light lunch platters are so’express’ that if it’s not with you in twenty minutes it’s free, and, starting in early 2017, afternoon tea begins twisting the usual offers: tempting scones with home made jam and sweet labneh thick yoghurt in place of double cream, or lemon and rose meringue tartlets, macaroon cupcakes and sticky Baklava.
But we are here for dinner and after finally choosing our food it comes as soon as it’s cooked and in the order it’s done, so very quickly we are surrounded by numerous small plates and pots of appetizing and visually delightful treats designed for sharing.
A pistachio dusted green then purple pot of Pancar roasted beetroot dip comes with thin grilled pitta triangles for scooping. It’s velvety texture giving much more subtle flavours than the punch of raw or pickled banging beets.
Speaking of which, the Europop had now thankfully calmed and morphed into chilled out eastern rhythms more in keeping with the food experience. I may be deeply old fashioned or just deeply middle aged, but I do like a restaurant’s music to have had at least a brush with its culture.
Delicious fried Halloumi with silky roasted red peppers passes the teeth squeak test and the village salad is fresh, crunchy and nicely dressed with the extra touch of fried capers. A soft horseshoe of roasted pumpkin doesn’t overpower Sea Bream with a warm lemon dressing, fried garlic, oregano & red chilli, which is perfectly cooked.
On the side, I favoured the cinnamon rice with crispy onion strands over our pot of spicy spuds which were for me a tad overdone – my wife may tolerate a soft one but I much prefer mine hard (matron).
The star of our ensemble show makes its entrance; the Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder. It takes a full two days to create this dish which may only be marginally longer than the lamb has enjoyed gambolling in the field.
First marinated for a full twenty-four hours in Ceru’s blend of secret Shawarma spices, it is then slow cooked for six, rested, pressed, massaged*, manicured*, dressed* and shown the directors cut of Lawrence of Arabia in its hotel suite* before bathing in a fresh mint and pistachio sauce and finally being bejewelled with pink pomegranate seeds.
It practically melted on the plate never mind in the mouth and its flavours were perfectly quenched by the deeply red and robust Okuzgozu Malbec from the Gulor Estate, Turkey.
To finish my wife enjoyed an ornate lidded cup of moist Dark Chocolate Mousse with sour cherry and pistachio despite it having the full whammy of coded menu warnings: dairy, eggs, nuts and gluten. My dessert boasted’Flavours of Baklava’ and it was a delicious wedding of cardamom ice cream with nut brittles in a sticky slick of burnt honey caramel Ã¢â‚¬â€œ many of the components of Baklava without the actual Baklava.
Although our meal encompassed many such well executed and welcome artful reimaginings and I strongly recommend a visit, as we left I somehow still lusted after the textural pastry memories of Baklavas past, so perhaps not every dish needs reimagining. Or is it that my taste buds are as old fashioned as my ears?
All photos supplied by Ceru