Suchef in St Pauls
The 60s have a lot to answer for. The world is still reeling from the horrors of paisley, Coronation Street and tasteless pre-sliced bread, but its worst crime was the invention of “boil in a bag” technology. Pushed to the point of utter ubiquity, the public quickly became sick of it. These days, the very idea is regarded by most with a sneer of barely veiled snobbery. This is rather a shame, because it’s actually a legitimate form of cooking. Don’t believe us? Then ask the multitude of Michelin starred chefs that have been using sous-vide in their kitchen for decades. The basic concept is to seal ingredients in an airtight bag, then immerse them in a controlled water bath and cook them very slowly. That way, the food’s inherent moisture and nutrition remain sealed inside.
So it was with great interest that we headed to Suchef in St Pauls, the first store in a growing franchise of restaurants that will use the sous-vide as their main method of cooking. Serving hot and cold food, aimed at the lunch market and comprised mainly of healthy options for working professionals, it’s fair to say that Suchef is largely going to be fighting Pret, Eat and Pod for the city crowd. The store’s interior is rather reminiscent of them as well: a counter for hot food and a set of chillers for cold salads, desserts and side dishes. We took a mayonnaise-free coleslaw, a smoothie, and a rice pudding with chili infused pineapple from the latter and turned to the menu.
The basic concept is simple: choose a source of protein, pick a carb, decide on a veg option and top it all off with a sauce. In theory, each of the elements is versatile enough to work in almost any combination. We opted for a chicken breast and the mixed green veg, both with have been cooked in a sous-vide, with brown rice and the mushroom sauce. The veg was delicious and intensely fresh, a definite highlight of the meal and a clear champion for this method of cooking. The chicken was meltingly soft, if perhaps a little too moist for our tastes. Plain brown rice was plain brown rice, unassuming and inoffensive. The addition of the mushroom and tarragon sauce tied everything together, and the aforementioned coleslaw was tart and crisp, offered a much needed change in texture. It was all washed down with a gorgeous black carrot and pomegranate smoothie that was bursting with intense flavour.
The rice pudding that finished our meal should have been delicious; it was our indulgent treat after a very healthy lunch. The rice should have offered the tiniest hint of resistance to the bite as it swum in a sea of silky smooth cream. The pineapple should have been the perfect accompaniment: a blend of caramel tones and citric freshness finished with a strong chili kick. It should have cut through the sweetness with marked decisiveness, making for a simple but utterly delicious finale. Full of expectation we delved in, and the result was not pretty. The pineapple itself was limp and its chili non-existent, save for a few specks of red. Worse still, the juice from the fruit had leaked into every inch of the pudding, itself a claggy lump, leading to an unpleasant taste that hinted at curdling.
The feeling of regret we felt at our meal’s conclusion is perhaps a little disproportionate. After all, the core of the business: the sauces and the sous-vide dishes, are of the standard you would expect at this price range (£7-9) and full of nutrition that their competitors can’t offer. Rice pudding aside, it’s a solid effort from a difficult angle. Yet, we were disappointed all the same. Solid isn’t enough in a lunch market as saturated at this and, as commendable as the concept is, sous-vide alone will not carry this fledgling enterprise against the consistent excellence of their competitors. We will watch its planned expansion with interest, because behind the teething problems and the slightly meek flavours, there lies a core of potential that has only been semi-realised.
Suchef is at 5 Dean’s Court London EC4V 5AA, for further information call 020 7332 0858 or visit here.