Tag Archive for: London

Last summer I wrote a love letter to Soho, reflecting both the louche legend and its current crisis of identity. During that June visit I lingered over lunch or dinner at the likes of Quo Vadis, Mountain, Noble Rot and 64 Goodge Street (in adjacent Fitzrovia). Enough said. And all within easy reach of my habitual Soho base camp, the Z Hotel at the end of raucous Old Compton Street.

A recent return was similarly gastronomically reassuring with forays to old fave Kiln and newcomers The Portrait by Richard Corrigan, the all-conquering Devonshire gastropub and Filipino standard bearer Donia, my most exciting destination of the year so far. 

A further spice hit was tagged on with an expedition to champion of the Sri Lankan diaspora, Rambutan, out at Borough Market. There was a tentative Soho connection even here; the plan had been to investigate neighbouring Camille, from the same small plates and natural wine stable as laid-back Ducksoup in Dean Street. But, once down by London Bridge, I couldn’t resist the Tamil-influenced treats of chef patron Cynthia Shanmugalingam, who I‘ve written about before she opened up on Stoney Street a year ago.

But back to my Soho jaunt… and a Sunday evening just off Carnaby Street. Kingly Court at first glance is just an atrium of bland offerings, but the Top Floor has been the spawning ground for some laudable food – Indian served up by the all women brigade of Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express and the cuisine in exile of Imad’s Syrian Kitchen. Now they are joined by Donia, open for just 10 weeks. 

It is an ambitious offshoot of a London-based Filipino food group, defined previously by their bakery and ice cream specialities. I really can’t gauge the ‘authenticity’ of the Donia menu. My conception of Filipino food is of a melting pot of south-east Asian, Chinese and Spanish culinary influences; my only real experience a street food tub of national dish adobo, a stew featuring marinated meat and vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper and bay leaves. 

This is on a thrillingly different level. Maybe I did over-order, Blame it on the covert grande dame of food reviewers, Marina O’Loughlin, whose adulatory Instagram post first alerted me to Donia’s delights. She described the lobster ginataan as “so sweet and rich with coconut milk we basically had it for dessert.” After that I couldn’t resist. As a solo diner I restrained myself to just the half-crustacean (still £42), after which I hug on in in for the real signature pudding. The ube choux (£12) is a crunchy craquelin pastry with coconut chantilly and an initially off-putting cream made from purple sweet potato. Be brave. It might be a contender for London’s best dessert de jour.

Then again the large house pie (£27, main image), made for sharing really (heroically I had to go it alone), is also a triumph. Traditionally caldereta is a Filipino goat meat and liver spread stew. Donia’s version encased in pithivier-style pastry is altogether more refined, but both the lamb shoulder filling and the stew ‘jus’ pack a chilli kick.

Offal is very much a Filipino thing. The meal gets off to a blazing start with a £3.50 chicken heart skewer, six smoky nuggets perched on an adobo sauce. The dish that follows is a more elaborate culinary statement. Brown butter lime sauce is the base, on top lashings  of roseate white crab mayo and a crumb crowning a trio of prawn and pork wontons. £15 and worth every penny.

I enjoyed a glass of my favourite French rose, Triennes,  with this hugely impressive procession, but I’d suggest cocktails are the way to go in this joyous, simple dining room, First a palate cleansing ‘Pipino’ (£12, cucumber, sesame, gin, lime, coconut), then a ‘Plum’ (for a quid more a potent Negroni where mezcal replaces the gin and the Japanese plum wine umeshu supplements the vermouth).

Denman Street is just a five minute walk away from Kingly Court. En route, you’ll find my Soho ‘local’, The Lyric. I couldn’t resist a pint of the regular Harvey’s Sussex Bitter. That stalwart real ale pub was heaving but tumbleweed compared with much hyped newcomer The Devonshire, which is shifting Guinness at, well, a Guinness Book of Records level. Co-founder Oisin Rogers is from Dublin and particularly proud of his keeping of the black stuff. He’s convinced the punters. They were six deep outside a rammed downstairs bar. 

Upstairs across two floors of dining rooms is where the food action is with tables being snapped up a month ahead. First floor is home to the Grill, furnace-like pumping out the heat. No charcoal used; it’s all embers of kiln-dried oak, I’m told as I gingerly inspect the operation and feel for the rosy-faced team loading beef steaks from their own ageing room and iberico pork from equally  impeccable sources. It all looked amazing and so I regretted having already ordered beef cheek and Guinness suet pudding for my main (check out that encounter here).

I dined in the top floor Claret Rooms, as atmospheric as if Dr Johnson or that hyperactive   Mr Dickens were expected imminently. Solo, resisting an inviting wine list, I stuck with a couple of pints of Guinness. The stout was particularly suited to accompany a crab salad that spoke of the team’s commitment to the freshest of produce served simply. So worth all the hype? Positive vibes, but perhaps It needs to settle into its skin perhaps.

Oisin’s compatriot, Richard Corrigan, is a chef/restaurateur long settled into his own skin and his latest venture puts to bed the old stereotype: you’ll never handsomely dine in a major public museum or gallery.

The Portrait is pretty as a picture (sic), on the top floor of the magnificently refurbished and recently re-opened National Portrait Gallery, just above Trafalgar Square. The rooftop views from the dining room are spectacular, but would that also be the case with the £39 set lunch? Fear not, it may be a definite downsizing from the a la carte but it is a canny offering matched by a consummately smooth service. Corrigan is class. Each ingredient speaking for itself. A slice of romaine lettuce on a slick of romesco, wrapped in pale, subtle Bayonne ham, then conchigliette pasta with rosemary infused braised rabbit and a flurry of pecorino, blood orange sorbet with the fruit both softly sliced and and stiffly confited. 

Kiln, in Soho proper, is a far different beast, its gap year inspiration some uncompromising food shack in North East Thailand. Primitive fire and smoke applied to almost feral ingredients in clay pots and iron woks as you sit mesmerised at the walk-in counter, it was a game changer when it arrived in Brewer Street back in 2016. 

The formula remains the same. With an hour to spare mid-afternoon I revisited old favourites – raw mutton laap (£12.50) and clay pot based glass noodles (£7.85). The hand-chopped laap, a kind of Northern Thai tartare, is spiced with makhwaen, garlic, star anise, coriander seed and dried chillies and served in cups of radicchio.

The glass noodles are simmered with slivers of rare breed Tamworth pork belly and brown crab, both UK sourced, with the boost of pungent fish sauce and soy. After which, yes, I did require a further Harvey’s quencher at The Lyric. So easy to become a Soho flaneur.

Harvey’s is also a fixture in another fine old London boozer, the Market Porter, cheek by jowl with Borough Market. It’s my usual refuge from the multitudes swamping this foodie magnet. 

On this occasion I walked past 50 metres to the very different Rambutan. Set across two floors, it is a casual, almost canteen-like dining space specialising in the cuisine of northern Sri Lanka, though the first dish I order, a green mango and yoghurt pachadi (£6.70) is the kind of raita you’d also find across the water in Kerala. It is a cooling antidote to a red northern prawn curry (£17.40), dense with tamarind, that ratchets up the scoville count (to nowhere near Kiln levels) after a subtler starter of gundu dosa (three for ££5.30). 

These are nothing like the now ubiquitous dosas of India (or Drummond Street next to Euston Station), similarly made from fermented rice-lentil batter but more akin to mini doughnuts. You bite through the crisp exterior and encounter a soft texture spiced with chilli and mustard seed. Extra oomph comes when you dip them in a jungle-green chilli  and coriander chutney. Rice and a flakey, paratha-like roti completed the good value lunch order. And so back to my Soho manor.


Donia Restaurant, 2.14, Top Floor, Kingly Ct, Carnaby St, Carnaby, London W1B 5PW.

The Devonshire, 17 Denman St, London W1D 7H.

The Portrait by Richard Corrigan, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE.

Kiln, 58 Brewer St, London W1F 9TL.

Rambutan, 10 Stoney St, London SE1 9AD.

• I paid for my meals at all five restaurants with Donia kindly on the night offering me a ‘friends and family’ discount.

I stayed at Z Hotels Soho, 17 Moor Street, London W1D 5AP. This is a bargain lodging for somewhere so central and handy; it’s best to  book well in advance. Claustrophobes take note: some of the rooms lack a window. Pay a bit more and land lucky, like I did this time, and you get a wizard view over Cambridge Circus and the the Palace Theatre, currently hosting Harry Potter & The Cursed Child. The Z Hotels group have 10 further hotels in London and three others – in Bath, Liverpool and Glasgow.

We each have our own private Soho. For the long of tooth it may well be Paul Raymond’s Revue Bar and the nudge nudge of sleaze or Jeffrey Bernard regaling his reprobate chums slouched across lunchtimes that never ended. Perhaps Gaston Berlemont’s French House and Muriel Belcher’s Colony Club, L’Escargot with Elena Salvoni at the helm or Victor Sassie’s goose-fattened politico haunt, The Gay Hussar. So many ghosts. Even a near contemporary of mine, Alastair Little, whose eponymous restaurant brought a blast of fresh culinary air to Frith Street in the Eighties, is no more (my tribute).

Northern-based, I’ve only had the tiniest of bit parts in the pulsating Square Mile of Sin, much sanitised these days, of course. Maybe, on a flying visit, a café au lait and croissant at Maison Bertaux before stocking up on Italian essentials at I Camisa & Son (recently granted a two year stay of execution; its drab rival around the corner, Lina Stores, has now swollen to a glossy five-strong chain). For cocktails it still has to be tiny Bar Termini on Old Compton Street. And if we ate in in Soho it would inevitably be at Andrew Edmunds in Lexington Street, an 18th century townhouse that for four decades has combined being dog-friendly with offering a remarkably affordable fine wine list, well matched with the game it regularly serves. Alas, Andrew, too, died last year at 80, another key figure in ‘Old Soho’ departed.

There were occasionally more flamboyant experiences. A random invitation, by his biographer, to the funeral of Sebastian Horsley, the Last Dandy of Soho, where to a Marc Bolan soundtrack the horse-drawn hearse delivered his heroin-ravaged body to St James’s Piccadilly, Stephen Fry delivering the eulogy.

Another time I lingered into the early hours in the Groucho Club in the company of Lembit Öpik, Liberal Democrat MP, I’m A Celebrity contestant and Cheeky Girls squeeze, and one Ron Brand, dad of Russell (whatever happened to him?).

Quo Vadis – no wriggling out of Jeremy’s eel sandwich

The Groucho Club is a homage to the wittiest of the Marx Brothers, but it was the former home of a more seismic Marx  – Karl – that hosted us on a recent return to Soho. Once also a brothel, Quo Vadis in Dean Street is definitely ‘Old Soho’, launched as a restaurant in 1926, one year before L’Escargot (Camisa arrived two years later). It has enjoyed a resurgence over the last decade under the stewardship of the Hart Brothers, whose neighbouring Barrafina is definitely a standard bearer for the ‘New Soho’.

The Quo Vadis kitchen is in the hands of national treasure Jeremy Lee, whose Cooking Simply and Well, for One or Many (Fourth Estate, £30) has just won Best General Cookbook in the 2023 Guild of Food Writers Awards. I wrote about his championing of salsify here a year ago. That root vegetable wasn’t on the menu on the Monday evening we dined there, but his signature starter was – the smoked eel sandwich. I’ve tried to replicate at home several times, quite recently with in-house prepared eel from Upton Smokery in the Cotswolds, but the restaurant version was miffingly superior. At £14.50 a tranche it had to be.

Amazingly, it was pipped by the other starter we shared in the cosy, quirky dining room –the best terrine I’ve had in years. A quid cheaper, it was a master class in the charcutier’s art. Tender tiles of compressed chicken, grouted with a moist blend of ceps, savoy cabbage and bacon, accompanied by fresh figs. 

The scene was set. The extended, enhanced ground floor restaurant looked a treat, as did arguably London’s most beautiful paper menu. Alas, the mains didn’t match all  this level of excitement. A case of NOFOM? (never order fish on Mondays)? I’d like to think that wouldn’t apply to a place, whose rigorous standards are apparent from Jeremy’s gloriously written book, but my wife’s hake with clams dish (£32.50) was dull and over-beaned, while my skate with tartare sauce (£34.50) smelt too much of the pan and felt tired. And yes, I am allowing for skate being a fish actively benefiting from a few days’ ageing. Neither dish was done any flavours by a timid Rousette de Savoie Cru Frangy Domaine Lupin, which cost £50. Our jolly neighbours were knocking back their white, a Puligny Montrachet at thrice that price, and we were so jealous.

Ain’t no Mountain high enough?

So a certain disappointment at Dean Street’s old stager, made up for thrillingly by new arrival Mountain in Beak Street. I vaguely remember the corner site being occupied by a Byron Burgers, but there’s also a louche Soho legacy, naturally. From 1913 it was home to  Murray’s Cabaret Club; in the Fifties Ruth Ellis danced in the club before murdering her husband, in the Sixties hostess Christine Keeler met Stephen Ward here before embarking on the Profumo Affair. 

These days it would be a scandal not to make the pilgrimage to taste the latest manifestation of Tomos Parry’s genius. His Michelin-starred Brat in Shoreditch (former strip club premises, a theme developing) set the bar high for the ‘Welsh Wizard Who Cooks With Fire’. The restaurant name? His inspiration has always been the ‘mar y montaña’ cooking (sea and mountain inspired) along Basque and Catalan coasts. Tast Catala in Manchester nods to that same culinary philosophy through its Costa Blanca-based exec chef, Paco Pérez.

Big investment has gone into the two floors occupied by Mountain, each boasting a state of the art Gozeney wood-burning oven, losing some of the hipster vibe along the way, but the food offering has suffered no identity crisis on the evidence of our early evening walk-in. Tables are currently booked out for weeks after the metropolitan critics swooped with their ‘already a candidate for restaurant of the year’ snap judgements. 

They might well prove right. We just loved everything about the place as we perched at the counter and wanted to order all of the menu. With a train to catch we settled for half a dozen treats, small plates except for a spectacular loin of fallow deer on the bone (£40) – dark char giving way to perfect saignant flesh. Like some Game of Thrones hero emerging from battle. Alongside, a squad of Parry’s signature smoked potatoes, even better than their equivalent at Yorkshire’s legendary Moorcock at Norland.

The supporting cast was equally impressive. A plate of home-cured ex-dairy beef (£12.50, fanned out wafer thin (the meat slicer is as much in evidence here as at Brat’s Shoreditch rival Manteca), then substantial chunks of raw sobrasada (£6.50), doused in honey. on their own wood-fired bread, topped with squiggles of guindilla pepper. Apparently this spicy, spreadable sausage is sourced from an organic Mallorcan farmer called Luis Cirera. 

Such attention to detail is everywhere. Wines show a Noble Rot influence. Where else might you encounter that delicate North Italian white, Nosiola? At £8 a sizeable glass, it had been our welcome drink, to be followed by a 500ml carafe of a Portuguese bulk tinto that was remarkable, fruity value for £20. It handled the spice of the chorizo we ordered in envy of our neighbours on the counter because of the balloon-light flatbread they also got.

Returning another time then to dig deep into a no-compromise menu offering beef sweetbreads, tripe, turbot head and, for three or more to share (£90-£120), a whole lobster caldereta (one pot stew) that may prove to be the peak signature dish for Mountain. Aiming to scale it one day.

Finally, a satisfying foray into Fitzrovia

We were staying in the Treehouse Hotel in Langham Place, , which has a Mexican restaurant Madera on its 15th floor, where we sampled assorted seafood ceviches and organic, grass-fed carne asada served over hot lava stones. Alas, Madera won’t be accompanying Treehouse when it opens in Manchester next year; consolation, head chef at the main restaurant there will be the remarkable Mary-Ellen McTague (ex- Aumbry, Creameries and The Fat Duck). 

The London hotel is opposite the BBC and John Nash’s All Saints Church on the edge of Marylebone and Fitzrovia, both exceptional districts to dine out in these days. The latter is home to the Sicilian food of Norma on Charlotte Street, which I have previously reviewed.

This time 64 Goodge Street was our destination. In its few weeks of existence it has been garnering plaudits akin to Mountain for its retro French bistro looks and menu. A new venture by the Woodhead Restaurant Group, creators of The Quality Chop House, Portland and Clipstone, it’s a handsome fallback destination for those who can’t squeeze out an advance booking for equally francophile Bouchon Racine in Farringdon (read my review) I dined in the shadow of a dark oak armoire in the intimately lit bottle green interior. I half expected Inspector to Maigret to sidle in out of the Fitzrovia dusk.

The ‘Famous Belgian’ would certainly have relished my amuse bouche, a truffled Comté gougère and my hors d’oeuvre, a duo of snail, bacon and garlic bon bons – a cute, deep-fried take on classic escargots à l’ail.

Starters were a litany of Gallicness. What to choose from soupe au pistou; Morteau sausage, walnut and Morbier tourte (a homage to my beloved Jura); scallops, lentils and beurre blanc and a rabbit Niçoise. The latter won the day and there were enough olives, capers, tomatoes and basil to justify the substitution of blander bunny for the regulation tuna.

That dish cost £16. My main was £36. Like virtually everywhere of quality in London and other cities, even with modest wine, bills are now regularly topping £100 a head for three courses. No matter, if they get the details right From another well-judged wine list, a carafe of Austrian Blaufränkisch did the trick, its black fruits and whack of acidity a perfect match for the myrtille compote that underpinned squab pigeon two ways, breast seared, leg stuffed with Lyonnaise sausage. Perhaps a substantial addition of beetroot and chanterelles tipped the dish towards excess, but chef Stuart Andrew’s menu is built on richness. Comforting in discomforting times. Let me confess then. I wish, for therapy’s sake, I’d splashed out an extra £4 and gone for the lobster vol-au-vent with a cream/brandy infused sauce Américaine.

For 2023’s critical kitchen darlings the world appears to be their lobster.

Fish heads? I have form for devouring them. Witness the board below at the late, lamented Umezushi in Manchester. That was 2018 (note the prices) and I went for the hamachi. So the dish-determined-to-surprise on the menu at Fallow held no fears. Dowsed in a sriracha emulsion, the smoked cod’s head held plenty of crannies from which to prise collagen-rich morsels. Crumbled charcuterie adding an extra swoosh of umami. Messy, mind, but they reportedly sold 10,000 in their first five months of Fallow’s meteoric rise.

More a dish the likes of which you might find a short walk away in London’s Chinatown. Definitely not one for the pre-theatre crowd en route to Phantom of the Opera further down Haymarket. In that context this all-day restaurant/bar, created by two Heston Blumenthal alumni, should feel like a fish out of water (sic). Especially since it flaunts a sustainability ethos that’s as brazen as its prices. Given all this, it possesses a flamboyant yet democratic buzz. 

Not what you’d always expect from a joint perched at No.13 in the Estella Damm Top 50 Restaurants list. That’s a place behind my beloved Angel at Hetton, though its sense of theatre leans towards numero uno Ynyshir.

I had a front row seat for all this – at the Chef’s Counter, the hectic pass just to my right. None of your The Bear/Boiling Point chaos, though,about this operation, which started in 2020 as a residency at 10 Heddon Street, off Regent Street, before moving to St James’s this year. It was a bold move, smacking of serious investment at a time when the hospitality industry is facing horrendous challenges. Even so this week, hearteningly, its trade body reaffirmed its commitment to sustainability and reducing food waste with a 10 point plan. Fallow is already an object lesson in combining such principles with top quality dining. Their website calls it ‘conscious gastronomy’. Nothing gets thrown away and ‘nose to tail’ ‘farm to fork guides everything they cook.

All of which I contemplate as I gaze up at the hand foraged seaweed, dried flowers and recycled paper decorations dangling from the ceiling, a decor of repurposed materials including mussel and oyster shells and consider the provenance of my mushroom parfait, created from fungi farmed in the basement.

Originally co-founders Will Murray and Jack Croft would buy wonky mushrooms from their suppliers; now they use their own in-house lion’s mane along with smoked shitake. They caramelise them down, adding mirin and tamari. Puréed, butter and eggs are mixed in to create a sustainable mirror image of a classic liver parfait (with further mushrooms draped over. Not dissimilar really, at a fraction of the cost, to the booze and foie-gras laden Meat Fruit, at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, where the two young chefs met.

There’s a similar decadent aura from frugal ingredients about my next, equally glorious course, where a fatty salmon belly cut has been whipped into a mousse. It is served in a marrow bone, whose dripping contents add the ooze factor to an accompanying brioche bun. What a belting dish.

This is undoubtedly rich, quite heavy food. Even the corn ribs ‘pop-up signature dish’ I snaffle with an aperitif of Guinness has made a big statement. Chunks of sweetcorn are first deep-fried then sprinkled with kombu. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Alternatively there is a brace of real ribs (back, dairy cow, smoked) as a heftier snack. I still eye with envy the Carlingford oysters being shucked across the counter, but £25 for half a dozen feels too much. 

If you reject the good value Monday-Friday £35 three course offer at lunch the bill can mount up (there’s a £12 truffle supplement on that £24 parfait), especially if you get stuck into the drinks list. I stay with the £8 pint of stout and add a £9 glass of Mencia for my final dish, a beef carpaccio. Fallow’s steaks and burgers are all trumpeted as 45-day aged ex-dairy cow, so I presume my generous helping of anchovy mayo-dressed carpaccio, topped with grated horseradish and gherkin, is no different. From my up-close stool I have watched the sous chef deftly assemble little ‘spoons’ of chicory leaf I am to scoop up my beef with. I was glad of them. The wild-farmed sourdough with fermented potato flour is the one disappointment of an exemplary lunch.

So where to next? A matinee of The Phantom? No. Lucian Freud: New Perspectives at the equally close National Gallery. All for the price of a half dozen Carlingfords.

Fallow, 2 St James’s Market, London, SW1Y 4RP. T Main image (with truffles) from Fallow Facebook page.

Norma, Ben Tish’s love letter to Sicilian food in Fitzrovia, reopened on May 17. This restaurant hosted the last meal I ate in London before lockdown. It was in the company of a dear friend and former colleague, Sarah Hughes, who died this April from the cancer she had endured for so long. We shared so many meals over the years. This review, which couldn’t appear at the time, is in tribute to a great writer. A charitable trust set up in her name has reached its £30,000 target.

They don’t appear to serve a Bellini at Norma, the restaurant that shares the name of that opera composer’s most famous heroine. I’m sure they’d rustle you one up, though this Venetian Prosecco creation is at odds with a cocktail list kicking off with a Saracen. 

There’s a whole North Africa meets Sicily vibe going on here in both decor and menu – in synch with the chef’s last cookbook, Moorish. That he’s no swarthy son of backstreet Palermo but a clean-cut Lincolnshire lad adds to a sense of cultural appropriation about this latest arrival in London’s old boho haunt, Fitzrovia.

Yet there are precedents for English chefs falling in love with food styles from Milan via Malaga to Marrakesh and making them their own. Witness Sam and Sam Clark at Moro or Jacob Kenedy at Bocca di Lupo. In Manchester Yorkshireman Simon Shaw has conquered Spain with El Gato Negro and skirmished into Portugal (Canto) with a Levantine foray, Habas on Brown Street his latest offering.

Ben Tish is on love with the flavours of Sicily and North Africa

By chance Ben, above, was due shortly to appear at our own Northern Restaurant Bar trade show, postponed because of Covid (the influential event is scheduled to return to Manchester Central in March 2022).

At the NRB there would have been a chance to quiz Signor Tish on how he became besotted with the food of Sicily and the culinary tendrils that bind it to Africa’s Barbary Coast – notably through ingredients such as citrus and saffron, pine nuts and almonds, nutmeg and cinnamon. All were in evidence at that Norma dinner.

Pasta alla Norma we had to try. Sicilian in origin, its sharp topping combines tomatoes, aubergine and salted ricotta. The pasta used is negotiable; it’s chunky rigatoni at Norma, which gets its name from this dish, not the tragic opera with its cast of druids in Ancient Gaul. 

Pasta alla Norma is a take on a Sicilian classic

In concept the restaurant is a slightly oddball side project of the Stafford Hotel in St James’s. They hired Ben, once of Salt’s Yard, to cook at their exquisite in-house Game Larder and are now indulging his real food passions.

These were obvious from the first dishes that issued from Norma’s downstairs raw bar, central to the dining experience in this three-storey Georgian townhouse (the top floor is for private dining). 

Sea bream crudo had a hint of saline bottarga about it

We were already nibbling crisp yet fluffy focaccia (£2 apiece) and chickpea panelle (£4.50) – similar to Nice’s socca but with salsa verde – when the wild sea bream crudo (£10) arrived, freshest of fillets doused in a peppery olive oil, a hint of saline bottarga in there, scattered with pomegranate arils.

Creamy saltmarsh lamb crudo (£12) was equally enticing, served with lamb fat crostini and toasted pine nuts. It’s the kind of food I’d yearned for around Palermo’s frenetic Ballarò Market and been disappointed. Instead in the old country we had tackled both Pani ca’ Meusa, a sandwich of lard-fried spleen and ricotta, and grilled skewers of tough cow spleen, lung, and trachea that stink of mortality. Thankfully the Tish Sicily fixation doesn’t go that nitty gritty.

The benchmark red prawns were dense-fleshed divas

The reputation of the red prawns meant they were a must-order. At £16 for four a substantial investment but worth it, dense-fleshed divas, singing of rosemary and orange. They partner surprisingly well a duo of violet artichokes (£12), halved and seared into a deep caramelisation. Alongside a scoop of pine-nut puree for dipping.

A pretty dish, as is Norma’s take on the ubiquitous burrata (£13) that comes in a tangle of red chicory, blood orange croutons and coriander seeds, dressed with fruity vinegar and olive oil. Somewhere along the way we also hoovered up a bowl of frittered spaghettini under a snowstorm of parmesan with more of the cheese and olive oil as a dip. Norma is big on dips.

Caramelised violet artichokes were divine

It seems madness in retrospect that my guest Sarah and I ignored the cannoli option but no regrets about the house sundae for £8.50 – a homely homage to the in-season blood orange, gelato and caramelised, with whipped orange blossom ricotta and biscotta. 

It perhaps needed a Negroni to partner it, but we’d shared a bottle of Cerasuolo di Vittoria red (£42) from high profile Sicilian producer Planeta. It’s blend of Nero d’Avola and the fruitier Frappato. The name comes from the local dialect word for cherry but there’s exotic pomegranate flavours too that so match the food menu.

The Norma house sundae made a fitting finish

Voluptuous is the word for the fit-out, all marble and tiles, rich fabrics and intimate lighting, but avoiding the harem look. Downstairs at least. We explored no further, so engrossed were we in the parade of small plates. They do some obvious mains but this is the better way to explore Sicily. If ultimately the food felt more moreish than truly Moorish who cares? I wish we had its like in Manchester.

Stylish, intimate, the interior really works

Norma, 8 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2LS, 020 3995 6224. The prices are as of March 2020.