Ceru in South Kensington
South Kensington has, in its recent history, seen a complete refresh of its restaurant scene, quickly becoming a hot spot for West Londoners looking for something more substantial than a quick bite to eat at the local delicatessens and sandwich shops. Its most recent addition, Ceru, can be found on Bute Street, and it’s the kind of place that will undoubtedly make itself known as a fierce competitor to the eating establishments that have been there for many years.
Inspired by owners Barry and Patricia Hilton’s extensive travels around the Levant (think Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon), Ceru’s menu celebrates the region’s vibrant flavours, cooking techniques and extensive use of spices, with a selection of dishes that use nearly 100 ingredients and over 20 spices.
The place itself is thoughtful in its execution, with tea light holders fashioned out of spice-filled jars, which, upon warming, permeate the restaurant to create a lovely aroma throughout. Banquette seating both inside and out the front is made with vibrant, colourful weaves giving off an Arabian feel, while weathered yellow walls and low-hanging copper lampshades encourage a soft glow that is cosy and welcoming.
Taking the classic lemon and mint lemonade and revamping it with blackcurrant, the result is a refreshingly sweet drink that still has the distinct sharpness of the original. On the punchier side, the Virgin Bloody Mary is spicy and well-seasoned, with plenty of Worcestershire sauce. These drinks are served alongside our starter, Pancar, a dip made with roasted beetroot, yoghurt and pistachios. This little bowl of earthy hues quickly sets the standard for the level of flavours present on the menu, with tangy notes, which goes very well with crunchy, fresh-baked pitta bread, sprinkled with fine green Za’atar.
Ceru also promotes the sharing style of eating, which is the standard in places like Syria and Lebanon, with dishes arriving thick and fast and resulting in a beautiful spread of food on the table, ready for the taking.
Proteins excel in a big way here. Lamb Shoulder arrives as a beautifully adorned piece of meat, covered in a rich coating of shawarma spices and topped with fresh pomegranate jewels and chopped pistachio. Five hours of slow roasting affords the meat a butter-soft texture, which breaks apart without hesitation. A delicate fillet of sea bream, served with paper-thin shavings of crunchy garlic is tender and aromatic, with herby notes from fresh oregano leaves, while the Shish Taouk, despite having a Tandoori chicken feel about it, is impeccably cooked and succulent, we suspect from cooking sous-vide, with a generous char on the outside from the griddle.
On a fussier note, the Karides (whole grilled garlic prawns) are less well-delivered, their texture not quite as firm as we would like. The labneh dip with which it is served sings with punchy dried lime, but seems a slightly unusual accompaniment. Similarly, the cauliflower is just a little too heavy on the cumin, with not enough textural differentiation between crunchy florets, walnuts and pomegranate.
After something sweet, we opt for the Dark Chocolate Mousse. Topped with a pistachio crumb and hiding sour cherries within, its texture is silky and light, while not being cloying as mousses can often be. The Flavours of Baklava carries a serious hit of cardamom, which, for those who are not a fan, could be a little potent. We love it though, especially with the added crunch from a generous slab of almond praline.
With a production site in Bermondsey, the team behind Ceru have it nailed, ensuring top-notch quality and consistency in all the food served up, with dishes having just their final touches added at the Bute Street restaurant. This is certainly a clever and unusual approach, but one that works by ensuring a seamless and stress-free experience in the kitchen, which appears to be running like a well-oiled machine, despite only being for a few days.
This latest spot in South Kensington is a refreshing take on Levantine cooking, celebrating the beautiful flavours of the region while bringing classic dishes bang up to date. With a lunch menu on offer providing platters of grilled meats, dips and vegetarian options, we are certain that this place will become a firm favourite in the area for both lunch and dinner, especially amongst those looking for truly flavoursome, yet unfussy foods.
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To book a table at Ceru, 7-9 Bute Street, South Kensington, London SW7 3EY, call 020 3195 3001 or enquire here.