Neil Sowerby finds an amicable marriage of Med and Middle Eastern at this sunny newcomer
Hard to credit a time before Yotam Ottolenghi. Yet it’s hardly a decade since the British-Israeli chef, with his first cookbook, transformed the way the chattering classes supper. In the same way a Delia mention made Maldon sea salt into a craze, so the Jerusalem-born promoter of Levantine cuisine with a Western twist has established on adventurous kitchen shelves the likes of sumac, tahini, za’tar, pomegranate molasses and labneh.
A continuing Guardian column has helped the cause, Ottolenghi’s clutch of London delis the crucible for his culinary shape-shifting. Others have followed, sharing with us the dream love affair of Mediterranean and Middle East: Sabrina Ghayour with bestseller Persiana and speedy spin-off Sirocco, London restaurant Honey & Co’s brace of cookbooks and - my Theatreland fave - Palomar serving modern Jerusalem on a plate with a rock and roll vibe.
Chuck in Tony Kitous’ Comptoir Libanais brand - now expanded to several restaurants, including a colourful branch in Spinningfields, and a popular cookbook (which I often use myself) - and there’s a whole raft of ras el hanout and rosewater-bespattered recipes out there.
All this is a heavy comparison chart for city centre newcomer Suri, which wears those Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences on its spangled sleeve. The rather lovely name means ‘red rose’ in Persian: Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes gave it to their daughter, which we won’t let detain us.
Does Suri possess its own star quality then? Well, yes and no. It took over the large, raven-themed penumbral interior that was so fleetingly Quill - for whose technically ambitious food I retain a certain fondness - and has magicked it into a jolly, sunny expanse.
All the sadder then how quiet it was on the evening we dined. So quiet that all those equally sunny grazing plates arrived at our table like a bustling caravan of camels hitting the oasis all at once. My fault perhaps; I should have pleaded for even pacing. A breathless hour and a bit and we were back out on King Street.
The food - divided into five categories: Graze, Fields, Farm, Waves and Enjoy (you get the drift) - perhaps suffered in all this haste. Persian spiced bread, fragrant textures with smashed veg and chickpeas (£4) was a dull, claggy start but two veggie dishes, each £6.50, felt more authentically, spicily Levantine. Cauli florets roasted with sesame and peppery ajvar and, even better, smoky slices of aubergine from the charcoal oven ticked all the boxes - with sumac, za’tar and sesame in the mix. It looked pretty too, decked with tahini yoghurt sauce and shiny pomegranate arils.
Give me lamb cutlets, cumin-sprinkled and charred on the grill with a garlicky tzatziki, and I’m in Lebanese heaven - that’s the case here (for £14.50). Beautifully done and savoured by us. Which meant that a dish of ox cheek (£11), slow-braised in Pedro Ximenez with its own cumin stash, that arrived at the same time was lukewarm by the time we got to it. Over-sticky and under-spiced, nevertheless. Hanout split prawns definitely delivered the heat (although there weren’t enough of them), though the smashed avocado accompaniment was unadventurous.
With all this we drank a French regional wine with surprising bottle age: Chateau de Sabazan Saint Mont 1999, from the South-western Plaimont co-op, all smooth dark fruit with a whack of liquorice, good value at £37 a bottle.
Puddings, a predilection for shredded filo aside, are less Med-centric. We went for the ‘Epic’ chocolate brownie with orange syrup and sweet whipped mascarpone and - much more enticing - cardamom-infused panna cotta, trifle-like with rose-scented compote and ground ginger nuts.
Service throughout had a certain eager-to-please but anxious edge, as if the ghost of the doomed Quill hangs over the site. You can pour on the decorative sunshine and populate the menu with the attractive flavours of the Middle East, but perhaps persuading the punters such food is special occasion fodder may prove harder. Which is a shame because this is a likeable independent newcomer. Perhaps it should be more daring with the spices and herbs. Dream love affair? Consummate it.
Suri, 22 King Street, M2 6AG. T: 0161 641 7700
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself)
Persian bread 5, cauliflower 6, aubergine 7, lamb 8, ox cheek 7, split prawns 7, brownie 6, panna cotta 7
Attractive but quiet
Welcoming but no idea how they’d handle a hectic night