Nutshell Restaurant Soft Launch Review
When the bread arrives and makes you swoon, you know that something good is happening. But when you rip a chunk off and it tears away with a satisfying fluffy yield, like a salty golden crusted cloud, and you dunk it into a Tapenade that exists solely to please you – with an aesthetic as pretty as any Hepburn and a flavour so complex it begs for repeat dunking – you know you’ve found something very special indeed.
In a nutshell…
No, such platitudes won’t work here.
Nutshell is a joyous little place. Beautifully appointed interiors filled with plants and pretty, Sketch-like seating provide a wonderfully chic, yet laidback setting to devour what is at its core, beautiful, aesthetically stunning and modern Iranian food that is filled with layers of expertly crafted flavours. It’s enough to whisk you from the grim tourist-filled streets of Covent Garden to the achingly pretty arched bridges of the Zayanderud in a mouthful or two.
But it all begins with the bazaar bread. And the Bazaar Bread is perfect. There I said it. It is perfect. I wouldn’t have changed anything. No. No I would. I would have ordered two. I should have ordered two. I will order two next time.
But that’s against the spirit of Nutshell. Nutshell is about sharing. Grab the bread and tear into it, sweep it through smokey aubergine mezze and delight in a suggestion of shallot and mint, spoon a heap of Caspian Olive Tapenade onto a freshly torn chunk of bread, and lick the flavour of walnuts and pomegranate with a hint of salt from your lips afterwards. I could write an ode to this bread but let me say simply that it is the best bread in Soho.… maybe even London. It is salty and golden on the outside, and it is white, fluffy and spongey on the inside. It is as perfect as bread can be.
But Nutshell isn’t a one trick pony. It’s not all bread and stuff that one dips bread into. No. Take the Brik Sambusach for example. It’s a simple enough dish. But they arrive as pristine little pouches of potato encased in batter, perfectly fried, with a golden casing and a fluffy filling of potato and turmeric. Beautiful when dipped into a side of tomato but even better eaten alone to allow ample space for the delicate spices to dance along your tongue.
The Kofte Tabrizi, or lamb meatball is up there with the bread and offers a veritable bomb of flavour. It arrives large and round and much like a bomb from an old comic book, and is sat in a thick gooey pool of delicious sauce spiked with dried fruits. When you cut into it, it crumbles slightly revealing layers of meat and lentils, but it feels surprisingly fleeting considering the sheer size of the thing. But it is oh so satisfying.
The Josh Pareh (oxtail dumplings) is delivered in a lush pool of deep sour cherry sauce scattered with delicous chickpeas. The dumplings are firm and the filling mouthwatering. The dish is spiced and herbed as though cooked along a kitchen line on the silk road, creating subtle flavours that change slightly with every mouthful, and divine aromatics that call to mind deepest, most beautiful Persia.
From the grill, the internet is ablaze of reports of an otherworldly octopus whose beauty is beyond comparison. Alas we didn’t try the octopus (though one arrived at our table as though sent by some anxious God willing us to try everything the kitchen could throw at us) but it is beautiful to behold, grilled to an eye-catching deep purple colour and curved elegantly around a bed of white beans.
Our order was a touch more pedestrian as we took the poussin (above), that comes dressed with a smattering of rose petals and a charred half of lime. The skin of the poussin is delivered to us with a perfect sear, offering concentrated flavour and a delightful fresh from the flame perfume that ignited my already sated appetite over and over again. The skin conceals thick cuts of juicy, incredibly soft meat that I think in hindsight was one of the most satisfying dishes of the night. If only for the achingly good preparation that left everything to wonderful ingredients and simple but highly skilled technique.
We had a long night ahead of us so we skipped dessert in favour of a couple of drinks and found the Espresso Martini to be a delightful contender for best Espresso Martini in London. It is made with Espresso, vodka, and a drink-changing pistachio sharbat that elevates the concoction far beyond the regular.
In short Nutshell is really quite fantastic. A nice change from the current crop of restaurants in and around Soho, and I believe it is going to quickly become the goto spot in Covent Garden for modern Iranian food in a fun yet elegant setting – and probably the most interesting pre-theatre option that exists. In fact while writing this review I completey forgot that we visited Nutshell during its soft launch. Everything on the night just seemed in synch. Any small issues were cleared up quickly and without fuss, staff were knowledgeable and friendly, on the surface everything ticked over like a well oiled machine. It was the way I imagine most restaurants want their soft launches to go… but very few do.
Nutshell is cool, it’s chic, it’s friendly, and the food is honest and accessible, and quite simply some of the best Persian cuisine, nay some of the best cuisine currently available in this part of London.