Anthony Huckstep rises above Embla for the delights of its more sophisticated sibling, Lesa. Now, if only Lesa would learn to share.
Is Lesa the place to gather?
I RECENTLY DISCOVERED
something about a friend that made me wonder how we ever became friends in the first place. Turns out she hates sharing food. She prefers her own pile on a plate because, otherwise, she never gets her share. Now, I could suggest she gets new friends, but that may jeopardise our friendship.
To break bread together is at the core
of many cultures. It’s why I’m surprised that at new venture Lesa, the team behind The Town Mouse (RIP) and Embla, restaurants all about shared plates, are offering an à la
carte menu where guests get their own dish. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The only problem, though, is that chef and co-owner Dave Verheul’s dishes demand to be shared – which is what we ended up doing with each course. A little rebellious, I know, but the staff obliged. You see, Lesa (‘to gather’ in Old Norse) is the grown-up sibling of wine-slinging saloon Embla – where you can get a good feed, but the wine is really the skew.
While downstairs Embla bursts with youthful energy, one storey up, Lesa is calm and worldly – though it’s still just as easygoing. Amid exposed brick walls, vintage furniture and a small open kitchen, co-owner Christian McCabe leads a team delivering solid, affable service. His wine list pushes the new frontier of wine without forgetting the Old World.
Verheul’s food relies on best-in-class produce cooked over fire, fermented, aged, or simply left to tell its own tale – and it yearns to be shared. But diners can select two or four courses, with up to three dishes in each course to choose from.
Before you start, order the doughy delight of house-baked fermented potato flatbread served with macadamia cream and shiitake oil. It’s that good. Then comes purple and thinly sliced Chioggia beetroot, layered to create a terrine with olive and salted elderberry. It’s visually exquisite, and lovely to eat. And while hazelnut and green almond are a bit dull with diced raw flounder, the natural sweetness of grilled leeks shines with horseradish and the acidic panache of goat’s milk.
Of course, the penny dropped once I placed a slice of pork loin in my pie hole. Cooked slowly above charcoal, the pink flesh is delightfully delicate, the glassy crackling terribly addictive. It’s served so simply next to a fried kale leaf hiding sautéed kale, pickled walnut and buckwheat miso. Too rich to not share, but too good to miss out on. Suddenly everything about Lesa made sense, or at least within this one dish; everything Verheul is trying to achieve on the plate was manifested in a few mouthfuls. Lesa has all the hallmarks of great sharing feasts, and I wonder how long before they give in and just let people graze – because they’re sure to gather for it.
FROM LEFT: take flight to Lesa; the decor is warm and inviting; salted bergamot meringue, koji, walnut and quince.