Scully: intrepid eating in St James’s
Sometimes it pays not to look at the menu of a restaurant you’re thinking of going to. I was nearly discouraged from visiting Scully by the vast list of unfamiliar dishes and ingredients. Did I really want to eat puffed beef tendons or Welsh mutton with black barley and bisbas? I wasn’t sure I did.
The location too isn’t one of my favourites. St James’s Market is a bleak corporate restaurant development, a curiously deserted space to have within metres of the heaving crowds and lurid tat of Leicester Square though I guess one should be grateful for that. And it is at least an conveniently central place to meet a friend from practically any part of London rather than having to schlep over to Hackney for once.
As it was a mere 5 minutes from a nearby wine tasting and open (hooray!) on a Monday lunchtime it seemed perverse not to give it a try, particularly given the chef Ramael Scully’s pedigree. (Born in Malaysia and brought up in Sydney he has a fascinating multi-cultural background and used to be head chef at Ottolenghi’s Nopi.)
The Hackneyscenti among you will relieved to know there are pickles - a lot of them - including a highly instagrammable display as you walk through the front door. They turn up too in the slightly scary first dish we order of vegetable acha (an African grain, doncha know) which is maybe a bit hard core for anyone other than pickle aficionados.
But then things start to hot up. The arepa, eggplant sambal and bergamot labneh might sound weird but is actually quite wonderful. A light puffy warm maize bread (from Columbia and Venezuela I discover from Wikipedia) dusted with grated lime and served with a blissfully sweet, spicy heap of aubergine and dreamy, creamy labneh. The bread was too good to share - we had to have two.
I’d hesitated about ordering the early season tomato and coconut salad with green strawberries - it seemed too early for both at the unseasonably cold end of March - but it was as bright and fresh as it was beautiful. A salad of Italian spring greens red miso and sunflower seeds dusted with gherkin powder (yes, really) was probably slightly better suited to being served as a side - it was quite a lot of greens to chomp through on their own but it was our choice to go veggie, wanting to eat relatively lightly at lunch. And forbidden (black) rice with vegetable XO was deep and delicious, the sort of comforting dish you want to be able to make yourself on a wet Tuesday night.
Desserts, I feel, need a bit of finessing. They really are quite austere and I say this as someone who doesn’t have a particularly sweet tooth. The coconut and parsnip sorbet was 'nice' - maybe that's damning it with faint praise - parsnip works surprisingly well in desserts but the matcha ice cream with malt cookie and miso while striking to look at was really quite unappetisingly grainy.
Other reasons to go - there’s an interesting wine list with a good selection by the glass. We drank a refreshingly light white Hungarian field blend (a wine made from different varieties of grapes which are grown and vinified together) from a producer called Tizenhat - and shared a glass of Beaujolais and a really lovely German Lemberger (red) from Weingut Roterfaden. As off-piste as the ingredients, I admit, but spot on with the food.
I would recommend sitting the bar to get a birds eye view of the kitchen although we were told it’s going to be used as a chefs’ table which is a bit of a pain. Sometimes you just want to go and eat without having to wade through/think about/pay for multiple courses. Maybe it will be available for walk-ins like us at lunchtime.
All this must sound a bit equivocal I realise. Yet Scully is serving genuinely innovative food of the kind - pickles aside - that isn’t being done anywhere else in London that I’m aware of. If some dishes were challenging the best were sublime and for small plates, the portions were unusually generous.
In a nutshell I’d say it’s not the sort of place to take your conservative Daily Mail-reading mother-in-law whereas it’s perfect for fellow foodies, adventurous veggies and regular visitors to London who want to try somewhere new. As for me I've got to get back for that arepa.
Scully is at 4 St. James's Market, London, SW1Y 4AH. Tel: (0)20 3911 6840
We paid about £35 each including 2 glasses of wine. They treated us to a couple of other glasses, a salad and a dessert. Didn’t ask them to. Didn’t explain who we were. Just a gesture during the opening period I suspect. Expect to pay about £40-50 + wine if you have main courses.
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