Tuesday, 8 September 2015
It makes sense that a restaurant built around the concept of extreme specialisation, that focuses on just one or two dishes and nothing else, fails or succeeds on the basis of those one or two dishes being any good. When it works, specialisation allows a kitchen to focus on refining and improving the food to the point where you end up with something as glorious as Kanada-Ya's tonkotsu ramen, or the lobster roll from Burger & Lobster. When it doesn't, you end up with any number of lazy burger joints that have no greater ambition than to copy what someone else is doing only worse and for more money. And God knows we've got enough of those already.
Lurra, it should be made clear, is not an extreme specialisation restaurant. There's a decent, medium-sized menu of attractive Basque dishes, a wine list, nicely spaced tables in a clean and bright room, everything you might expect from the team behind Donostia over the road which is another very nice mid-range Spanish restaurant. And yet if you followed the buildup to Lurra's opening over the last few weeks on Twitter you'd be forgiven for thinking that they just sold one dish - steak - because that seemed to be all everyone talked about. Not just any steak of course, 14-year Rubia Gallega "Galician Blond" Prime Rib, grade 9 at £65/kilo, but steak all the same.
Now, the last thing I want to be is deliberately controversial, but I may as well get this out of the way - I didn't think much of That Steak. It looked the part, smelled great, and was cooked perfectly, but this was definitely a cow that had lived a life - the texture ranged from chewy to "shoe leather" and there was only the faintest hint of the deep, minerally beefy loveliness that I've had from, say, Hereford cattle from Goodman, or even the best USDA. Having said that though, I've eaten enough steaks in my life to know that they vary wildly from animal to animal - even from the same farmer from the same herd - and so I'm quite prepared to admit that I've been unlucky.
And anyway it doesn't matter, because - as I say - Lurra is not an extreme specialisation restaurant; there's plenty of other lovely things to eat. We started with two types of fried peppers, juicy, chunky Gernika and some spicy lean Guindilla, each named after the town in the Basque country where they come from. They disappeared completely over the course of the meal, my own favourite being the Guindilla which a gentle citrus flavour as well as more of a chilli kick.
Cobia is apparently a type of fish from South America, and its firm, buttery flesh was very well served in this tartare, seasoned by salty trout caviar. In fact this was almost our favourite dish of the evening. Who needs beef?
Heritage tomato salad has almost become a cliché in London but I will never get tired of it as long as the tomatoes look at taste this good, coated in a lovely salty dressing.
Fries were OK - the strange orange colour was hopefully mainly from the paprika and not from them soaking up too much cold oil, but the aioli was good. I don't think I've ever had brilliant chips in a Spanish restaurant, so to that end I suppose they were quite authentic.
2 red mullet for £7 is a pretty good deal I think, simply fried and presented with a little house tartare sauce. There was none of that offputting 'fishyness' that you sometimes get from mullet, and the flesh inside the crisp skin was solid and bright white.
A bottle of Portuguese white had its desired effect by this point, and not wanting the evening to end we started on desserts. Which, somewhat surprisingly for a Spanish restaurant, were both superb. House ice cream came in two flavours, a dark and juicy blackberry and an earthy, creamy walnut which were both hugely enjoyable.
And chocolate fondant doesn't sound like the most 2015 of restaurant desserts but it was seriously good. Perfectly gooey inside with bags of chocolate flavour, it was so addictive it was only the shame of having left so much of the beef (it's OK, they bagged it up for me to take home) that stopped us ordering another.
So, who cares about beef? Yes, Lurra did probably need at least one tentpole dish to get the sad foodies talking (that would be me, then) but you'd be doing them a great injustice to focus on that at the expense of the rest of the menu, which is exciting, cooked incredibly well and for not a huge amount of money. The bill came to just under £120 but would have been a bit more representative (and sensible) had we left the £26 steak off and just focussed on the seafood. Speaking of which, they do a whole grilled turbot for £60/kilo. Maybe next time...
This is a part of town blessed with great restaurants. Use my app to find them all!