Hot Stuff: Vibrant Meze At Sunny Ceru
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
It was pissing it down on the day we chose to visit Ceru, and our walk through Fitzrovia to its Rathbone Place site was a soggy one. It might sound like we’re oversharing, but this is important information. Even in this weather, Ceru was sunny.
Like a dine-in lightbox, Ceru is the antithesis of grey. Its bright yellow walls are makeshift sunshine, tightly-packed counters and a close-quarters kitchen offer a humid microclimate, and its prettily presented meze dishes are fifty shades of bright. Even the staff are bronzed and relaxed in the way that Londoners usually aren’t.
It deals in flavours of the Levant and eastern Mediterranean, meaning there are influences from Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey as well as other parts of the Middle East. This equates to zesty herb-laden salads, spiced grilled meats and fish, vivid dips and fresh-from-the oven breads.
The dishes — created by executive chef Tom Kime, who worked at River Café near Hammersmith as well as with Rick Stein in Cornwall — are all meze-sized with three recommended per person. They’re made for sharing and are brought out in waves, as and when they’re ready.
A plated dip selection (£6.50) looks like an artist’s palette with its brightly coloured dollops of pancar (a sweet and earthy mix of beetroot, yoghurt, garlic and pistachios); fadi (a sprightly citrusy courgette purée); a spicy roasted red pepper dip given a sweet-sour edge by the addition of pomegranate molasses; and a classic (but especially tahini-rich and excellent) hummus topped with fresh green chilli. Accompanying flat bread is fresh enough to still be squidgy.
Simplicity and vibrancy are partners in many of the dishes that follow. A salad of crushed white beans and parsley (£4.75) is enlivened by a fleck of chilli and a generous splosh of peppery olive oil. Slow-roast lamb shoulder (£9) melts seductively into its sharp pomegranate dressing — a triumphant marriage of fat and time. Three chunks of grilled halloumi (£5.50) are crisp around the edges but soft and yielding within, and almost runny at their epicentre. It’s a different species entirely to the kind that squeaks when you eat it. Spiced squid with a harissa yoghurt dip (£7.95) is calamari at its very best — the batter is crisp, the squid soft and creamy. Again, we’re grateful for lack of squeak.
To end, a bowl of heavily-flavoured (but not lurid green) pistachio ice-cream with nut brittle and crunchy burnt honey caramel (£5.50) is a take on baklava, but much more refreshing. It’s just what’s needed in such hot, sunny climes.
In terms of drink, we’re disappointed to see no Middle Eastern wine on the list but there’s an otherwise diverse and affordable selection starting at £13.50 a bottle. There’s also a range of classic and Middle Eastern-inspired cocktails — such as a pomegranate margarita — as well as beers, ciders and basic spirits. In line with its Middle Eastern offering, there’s more attention paid to non-alcoholic drinks than in many restaurants — choose from fresh juices, mocktails and Turkish teas.
The menu names one section ‘veggie heaven’, and indeed there is an abundance of vibrant vegetarian offerings beyond what we sampled — the sort that just happen to not be made with meat rather than feel like substitutes. It also clearly lists the allergens which are included in each dish, making it an accommodating option for those who can’t eat dairy, eggs, gluten or nuts, with plentiful options for avoiders of each.
The restaurant also offers takeaway, and opens for breakfast when dishes include a merguez lamb sausage wrap.
There’s just one catch: Ceru isn’t permanent — yet. It can call this site home just until the end of April, by which time the team hope to have located somewhere lasting. Down the line they’d like to have more than one site, they tell us. Good luck to them
In the meantime, we’d recommend this pop-up to anyone who likes bright flavours, is yearning for the summer, or isn’t particularly keen on the rain. You might not come out with a tan but we bet you’ll be smiling.
Ceru is at 29 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JG.
Last Updated 18 February 2015