Nutshell: Smoky Aubergine, Saffron Negronis And Sour Cherry Pasta Arrive In Trafalgar Square

Nutshell, Covent Garden ★★★★☆

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Nutshell: Smoky Aubergine, Saffron Negronis And Sour Cherry Pasta Arrive In Trafalgar Square Nutshell, Covent Garden 4

Trafalgar Square's good at galleries and statuary and pigeons, and it's rich in okay chain restaurants and pre-theatre menu deals. It's not, historically, been great at creative food or long, sprawling dinners, leaving that sort of fancy business to Covent Garden and Soho.

The last few years have seen that change a bit, but slowly, the Barrafinas and Tandoor Chop Houses still outnumbered by the Prets, Prezzos and Pizza Huts. But here, into the void, comes Nutshell, an Iranian restaurant boasting an ex-Palomar head chef (great sign), and the smell of warm brick-oven bread filling the restaurant, sweeping over you like a welcome hug when you step through the door (even better sign).

There's more to love about Nutshell than just the improbably exotic figure it cuts, smack in the middle of tourist central. The room's scattered with moss-green velvets and dusty pinks, trailing plants and warm lighting; the menu's scattered with Persian-flavoured poetry, with khoresht and limoo, sour cherry and tahdig. And there's a cocktail list that coaxes the classics into a more Persian-slanted, sour-sweet shape: the negroni Irani — sour cherry wine, spiced campari, saffron gin — is a jewel-toned beauty, mellower-edged from the spices than its Italian source material, more slow bloom of sourness than kick of bitterness.

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Nothing that we order is less than very good, nothing that we wouldn't happily solely eat three of in a sitting and call that a win. But the hero dishes on the menu are frontloaded into the Mazze section. The Bazaar bread — long, knobbly batons, fresh from the oven and huffing out hot, fragrant air — is bread so perfectly hot/cloud-like it deserves to be eaten on its own, probably; the smoky aubergine mazze dish with feta, mint, walnut and blackberries is the reason the bread'll never get a chance to shine alone because this is a limelight-stealing aubergine.

From the main courses, the joosh pareh's a standout — small oxtail and saffron tortellini, in a sour cherry and chickpea gravy — meaty slickness cut through with the grit of the chickpeas. The khoresht bademjan — a fairly great aubergine-tomato-chickpea mash-up that suffers from coming hot on the heels of the massive flavours packed by the mazze and the joosh pareh — feels underpowered in comparison.  

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After big hopes for the tahdig chips, because we see them turning up in golden, slabby glory to a neighbouring table, they're less of a revelation than they sound. Compressed layers of potato, something like a pave, they're nice, fat, layered chips, but missing the scorched crunch the tahdig name promised.

This is all, though, just differing degrees of medium-enchanting through to very enchanting. Service is as warm as the Bazaar bread, the Persian Sundae's as brilliant (lemon ice cream, basil, pomegranate, spiky with shards of brittle) as it is beautiful, so: very brilliant. And, though Nutshell absolutely justifies a long evening devoted to Nutshell alone, the bread/aubergine double act also deserves to be top of every theatregoer's pre-show plans.

Pretty great, in a nutshell.

Nutshell, 30 St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4ER.

Last Updated 02 March 2020