Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Perilla, Newington Green

If this endless Game of Thrones winter is getting you down and you pine for the long, hazy days of summer then spare a thought for the food bloggers amongst us, and this one in particular, who last took an evening photo of something even vaguely recognisable as food some time back in about September 2017. You can blame my rubbish camera skills if you like (plenty do), but surely some responsibility lies with restaurants whose lighting schemes range from "romantic" to "Dans le Noir" and in which not only is photography impossible but even figuring out what you're eating is a bit of a challenge.

But as April rolls on, the evenings get lighter and the chances of my photos not looking like evidence from a crime scene, and diners being able to fully appreciate the effort that goes into the presentation of their food, increases exponentially. We had a good hour or two at Perilla, light streaming through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows into that beautiful dining room, when my photos did something approaching justice to the extraordinary quality of food served there. Then some time about 7pm the sun went down and it all went to pot again. But hopefully you'll have got the gist by that point.

The bank holiday weekend started, as I always try to ensure they do, with a martini. Icy cold, served in freeze-frosted glass and costing an eminently reasonable £9, it was the perfect introduction to the way they do things at Perilla - tasteful, elegant, and with an absolute confidence that this is the best way of doing things. Which, of course, it is. Anyone serving martinis in glasses quick-chilled with crushed ice are missing a vital stage in the process.

As for the food, well, it's mostly brilliant, or rather apart from one minor misstep it was all brilliant, but more on that later. First we have "Yesterday's bread soaked in fish soup", which as well as being something I was determined to order as soon as I spotted it on the menu, presumably helps Perilla's green waste-free credentials into the bargain. Neat fingers of sourdough dotted with orange and pine nuts came soaked in the most unbelievably intense liquid - in fact closer in style and substance to a seafood bisque, the kind of thing restaurants charging many times the prices at Perilla would be very proud of.

These are rump of beef on laverbread, half Sunday roast half seafood nigiri, a clever combination of flavours and textures quite unlike anything I'd tried before. Part of the joy of eating somewhere like Perilla is to have your expectations exceeded, but to start with two "snacks" that so completely took me by surprise is something else entirely.

To prove that the triumphal first course was no fluke, another soup was every bit as spectacular. Served in a large hollowed-out white onion, the outside charred from close contact with the coals and with a heady smoked aroma, it contained a silky-smooth, light broth of creamed onion studded with delicately toasted hazelnuts, and is absolutely everything I want a soup to be. This dish alone is worth a meal at Perilla.

"Squid Bolognese" has apparently become somewhat of a signature dish on Newington Green, and you can see why - it's a very clever thing, colourful shoreside succulents (shoots of monksbeard taking the place of spaghetti) and winter herbs are topped with minced cuttlefish, producing a wonderful light seafood salad.

Sometime between the Squid Bolognese and the next dish of calves' liver, the sun dropped down over the horizon, and so I'm afraid from this point on you'll have to use your imagination, and take my word for it, that only the lighting levels decreased, not the care and attention taken in presentation. This neatly folded parcel of cabbage leaf opened to reveal discs of potato chips, fried onions and yes, generous slices of liver cooked to a delightful medium-rare.

Given the technical skill, invention and risk-taking on display up to this point of the meal, Perilla could probably have served something genuinely inedible and I'd still be happy to recommend the place. "Baron Bigod stuffed with braised pine nuts" wasn't a complete disaster, it was just a nice enough cheese pointlessly stuffed with nuts, which neither enhanced the cheese or made you particularly excited about the idea of eating nuts. Still, you never know if you don't try.

Dessert was a herb and honey creme caramel, again showing a willingness to play with accepted notions of savoury and sweet but backing it all up with a proper technical ability where it counts. There's something faintly "healthy-foody" about honey and herbs on their own, but topping a nice rich, creamy custard with it made all the sense in the world.

So yes, as you may have gathered, I had an absolute riot of a time at Perilla. To serve an enjoyable, competently cooked meal seems to be the very least restaurants are able to get away with in these troubled times, though of course if that was your level of expectation you'd certainly come away giddy. On every inch of the menu, though, the kitchen seems to go out of their way to surprise and impress, often thorough spectacular presentations to inventive flavour combinations, such as the fish soup or beef and laverbread, but also just through presenting familar flavours and concepts incredibly well (liver and onions).

Everyone, at least everyone I know, will enjoy a meal at Perilla, but perhaps that's not news - they've been around two and a half years now and judging by the crowds on a weekday evening (as I'm reliably informed by a friend who lives just over the road) word has most certainly got out. But whatever they originally set out to achieve in this pretty corner of North London, Perilla is far more than just a good local restaurant - in serving one of London's most exciting sub-£50 tasting menus they should be nothing less than a destination, and deserve to be spoken about in amongst the very best the city has to offer. Didn't see that coming? No, me neither. And I can't blame the low lighting for that.


I was invited to Perilla and didn't see a bill, though I imagine it would have been about £70/head once booze and service is factored in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I quite like your photography.

The only criticism I would have is that you use a very wide aperture which means that part of the food you're wanting people to concentrate on is partially out of focus (the photo of the cheese is a good example).

If you can increase your f-stop a step or two (you may need to increase your ISO to keep the shutter speed up when the light is low) then that would get the whole plate of food in focus whilst still keeping the background a softer focus.

Hope that helps :)