Tuesday 24 January 2023

Maresco, Soho

Shall we get the inevitable comparisons out of the way first? Yes, there's more than a little influence from the Hart Bros' Barrafina group of restaurants on display here at Maresco, a bright and bustling new arrival on the streets of Soho. There's a raw bar groaning with oysters, razor clams and mussels, the best seats are at the bar, and there are almost as many staff manning the open kitchen as there are customers, at least at the beginning of the evening before the room filled up. And of course, the shortish pan-Spanish menu is tastefully and attractively written, good British Isles ingredients jostling with to Iberian treats of various kinds. There's a lot to like.

And like it I did, very much in fact, because it's not difficult to enjoy food like this, especially when served with such style. Oysters from Loch Broom were the first to arrive, dressed in what they called "gaspacho" (presumably something involving garlic and pepper), topped with dill and trout roe. Attempting to posh-up raw oysters can go one of two ways, but these worked beautifully, the flavour of the oysters only being enhanced by the gaspacho. And who doesn't like salty, poppy trout roe?

Razors were, like the oysters, simply but intelligently dressed in garlic, oil and herbs and were marvellous thick, meaty things. I would go so far as to call them a must-order but of course given the nature of raw bars in seafood restaurants, there's no guarantee they'll always be available. So make the most of it when they are.

Chiperones are a long-standing obsession of mine, and I have unfailingly ordered them whenever I see them on a menu ever since childhood holidays in Catalonia back when - ahem - you still paid in pesos. Coated in a delicate thin but crisp batter, and seasoned robustly, they were right up there with the best versions I've tried over the years and I polished off this generous amount in a worryingly short amount of time.

Salmon tartare was ordered not so much for the main ingredient (though the Loch Duart fish was top-notch), but for the accompanying ajoblanco, another thing I would cross continents to eat. Here it was thick and rich and packed full of garlic and almond flavours, another intelligent pairing with seafood.

In another slice of childhood memories, charred leeks in romesco sauce did a very decent job of replicating the Catalan speciality cal├žots, and who knows maybe the real things will appear on the Maresco menu at some point - I believe the season has just started. Toasted almonds provided crunch at the same time as a neat reflection of the romesco sauce, and it was - again - all seasoned beautifully.

Obviously we had to order the presa iberica, which came arranged on top of a hot escalivada (Spanish roasted vegetable dish traditionally made in the embers of the fire). The escalivada was slippery and satisfying, with lots of smokey roast vegetables bound with oil, but of course it was the pork that was the real star here, cooked medium rare and almost dissolving in the mouth it was so tender.

Everything had been so consistently excellent up to this point we didn't hesitate to continue on to desserts, so this is crema Catalana ice cream, lovely and smooth and served with biscuit and crumbs...

...and this is Basque cheesecake, a fine example of its kind with a nice rich texture just the right side of moist.

So, a Barrafina-beater? Why not. Where it could be argued that Barrafina (usually) has a more varied selection of seafood to choose from, you certainly pay for it, while the prices at Maresco (assuming they don't do that annoying thing of getting all the early reviews in before hiking the numbers up) are eminently reasonable. Our decently boozy dinner for two cost about £60pp according to a quick tot up of the menu, which is something approaching a bargain for fresh seafood in cost-of-living-crisis-London in 2023. Add on top of that the pleasure of dining in this lovely room, served by staff so enthusiastic about the menu it's a delight to have a conversation with them about it, and you have all the ingredients for a real Spanish star.


I was invited to Maresco and didn't see a bill. Apologies for the terrible photos, I'm currently "between cameras".


Anonymous said...

Please don't apologise about the photos. The nice thing with these photos are that you're using a larger depth of field, which means that more of the actual food is in focus (rather than just being blurry). This is a good thing, please continue to do this with your new camera!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful review as always and the restaurant looks totally up my street.

I too have very fond childhood memories of trips to Catalonia every summer, we used to pay for our chipirones in pesetas though!