82 Kennington Rd, Lambeth, London SE11 6NL www.seveni.co.uk
Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing. The menu at Seveni is certainly challenging, so it’s perhaps not a place to take your vegan friends.
I jest, of course. Those of you with O-Level English will recognise those ingredients as ones from Nigellata, the cooking witch, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Even so, there are plenty of real things on Seveni’s menu to make even the most hardened carnivore pause for thought.
Chicken gizzard, chicken heart, lamb brain, pork intestine, bovine tendon and beef tongue. If you were so inclined you could probably build your very own monster from the components on offer.
Of course, this all points up how seriously they take food at Seveni seldom does anything go to waste in their cuisine. And they are adamant that these bits often taste the best.
Perhaps they do, but I am not a big, butch, restaurant writer with something to prove. I’m sticking to meats I recognise and can think about without gagging. So sue me.
It’s a funny place all round, Seveni Handily close to the stop for the 159 bus that brought us from Brixton, it’s a glass box at the base of a tower block that may once have been a hotel. Perhaps it still is.
Inside you have to press on a symbol on a door that responds by swooshing open like the ones in the original Star Trek TV series.
This reveals a brightly lit, rather futuristic, room filled with what looks like Chinese diners. Is that a good sign for a Chinese restaurant? In my experience, it usually is. I’d certainly be worried if it was full of Polynesians.
Around the perimeter are tables with built-in BBQs, a mysterious fitting hanging over the table turns out to not be a light for Instagrammers, as I suspected, but actually a chimney to suck away BBQ smoke.
That’s because Severin offers, rather uniquely, four different types of cuisine – Traditional Chinese Food, Dongbei BBQ, Old Beijing Copper Hot Pot and Table BBQ.
The menu is consequently massive, and while there are English translations (sort of) for most things, you’re left not much the wiser.However, each has a photo, which helps (sort of).
The wildly enthusiastic waitress is keen to aid us. A lovely person, her English does not match her enthusiasm, but between us we get by and get the orders in.
The aromas in the place are wonderful and I get the feeling, my spidey-sense, that we are going to enjoy this a lot.
It turns out we wildly over ordered. Not wishing to miss anything, we’d nodded cheerfully at all of the waitress’s suggestions and ended up with a three-figure bill.
What we had would have easily fed four, we ate a bit of everything but didn’t eat it all. Caveat emptor.
The skewers, which are cooked in the kitchen Dongbei BBQ style, and of which there are around sixty choices, can also vary by spice and salt levels, it’s your choice. All you choose is logged by the waitress into an iPad which somehow keeps track
We had fish tofu, some beef and some skewered slices of lotus root. All were remarkably good, the fish tofu bouncy and light, the beef butter-soft and the root sweet and delicious. Just spicy enough to let the main flavours sidle through.
From the kitchen came a man labouring under the weight of a pan of red-hot charcoal. This he tipped into the centre of our table and positioned a grill plate over the top.
It’s Japanese high-end charcoal, long hexagons drilled through the middle. They burn evenly and for a long time.
And they put out some serious heat; I had to quickly move my chair back to avoid being added to the menu.
Following the waitress’s mimed instructions, we laid out razor thin slivers of marinated beef on the fine mesh grill, along with sliced pork belly (you could call it bacon), marinated chicken pieces and whole garlic-sauced prawns split down one side.
A trolley by the table holds all the platters of meat and fish.These we eat as and when they come ready, it’s easy to tell when they are done.
They are all superb, the pork pieces we wrap in the supplied lettuce leaves and add a bit of chilli sauce garnish to taste. The combination of grilled pork, cold crisp lettuce and spicy sauce is wonderful.
We alternated with fishing around in a bowl of Sichuan fried chicken. Our waitress had looked a bit suspicious when we ordered that one”Is very spicy’, she warned. Hah! We said, bring it on.
I love Sichuan fried chicken, the trick is to brush off the dried chili pieces that are covering it like an autumn leaf fall. You want to keep a couple per bite, but need to be careful.
The combo of crisp fried chicken, garlic, Sichuan pepper and chilli is powerfully addictive. We just kept on eating it between BBQ meat nibbles, constantly umming and ahhing as we did so.
As an extra we had recklessly ordered some hot pot. You have in this whatever you want from the many choices on offer – we had potato, black ear fungus (not a disease, by the way), squid tentacles, fat wide noodles, spring onion and many other delights.
This too was Sichuan style. Hot and numbing and the squid tentacles rich with sauce and just bouncy enough. This really was Sichuan heaven in a bowl and I was shovelling it in like a man possessed.
Well time passed, we slumped. The pile of meat ready to BBQ didn’t seem to have reduced appreciably. It was time to throw in the napkin.
The waitress asked if we would like to take the raw meat away with us, but you’re only allowed to eat fried chicken on the 159, or so it seems to me, so I said no thanks.
I bitterly regretted that decision the next day when it came to making dinner.
SAfter all that savoury we had to have some sweet and the deep-fried milk pudding was perfect.
Coconut milk, milk, cornstarch and sugar that’s all been cooked, cooled, cut into strips coated in egg and flour and deep-fried. It’s probably very bad for you; it’s so satisfying it has to be.
We had a bit of a gulp at the bill, it was rather a shock. It pointed up that this is the kind of place you really need to go into mob-handed if you want to try a load of things and not spend too much.
Apart from that it had been a real feast of flavours with expertly cooked food, and not just the food cooked by us.
You won’t find much like this outside, perhaps, of the East End, so Seveni is a real find for South Londoners and for those brave enough to venture south to Lambeth North tube.
And brave enough to perhaps embrace a gizzard or two.