I knew where CERU was – it’s just around the corner from South Kensington Underground Station; but where was The Levant? It’s actually an historic geographic term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean. It entered the English language from the French in the late 15th century and encompasses countries such as Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon, amongst others.
CERU is a light and airy contemporary restaurant in this smart neighbourhood. It has décor accents from the region covered by the menu, but there is none of the depressing dark wood so often found in other restaurants offering food from that area. CERU is just right for its location and its clientele.
One can understand the temptation to create a ‘themed’ eatery. Perhaps a shed-load of brass, windows dimmed with coloured glass, heavy furniture, and a poster of an aged and toothless olive-picker with his threadbare donkey? Nothing like that here: CERU is a vision of Denmark meets Turkey and it’s all the better for it.
The chairs and tables, stools and benches are of light wood and attractive. I now covet a brace of those aforementioned high stools. Yes, there are decorative nods to CERU’s culinary offerings; they are kept to an appropriate minimum of kilim banquette cushions, a rather exotic wooden door, and some gilded mirrors – this is London, after all, not the back streets of Istanbul.
We settled in our booth-for-two conveniently under a shelf full of CERU’s bespoke beer – CERU 3-Grain Pale Ale, which was light and with citrus notes. There are cocktails here too and they are a reasonable price. But those who don’t want alcohol should try Turkish Apple Tea which is quite remarkable. It doesn’t have much colour but it has full-on apple flavour. It can also be served spiked with rum, but try it neat first: it could, perhaps, convert you to a more sober future …perhaps!
Unique and delicious
We started our meal with Pancar which sounded intriguing. It’s roasted beetroot, yoghurt, garlic and crushed pistachio. It’s a vibrant deep purple-red dip to be scooped with wedges of flatbread. I am, truth to tell, not normally a huge lover of beetroot, which I find has a tendency to be a bit earthy. Pancar retains all the sweetness of that root vegetable but without the aftertaste. Don’t miss this one, it’s unique and delicious.
We chose main dishes to share and they didn’t disappoint in either flavour, texture or presentation. Merguez Chicken isn’t a marriage of poultry and spiced sausages but rather some succulent meat with a crunchy coating of the seasonings used in those celebrated North African sausages. The corn-fed chicken was served atop a heap of green lentil and mint salad, and must be a signature dish here.
Lamb Shoulder is another dish that will assure a return to CERU for anyone, well, apart from a vegetarian! This meat was tender. Yes, so tender that one could cut it with a spoon. The secret must be the marinade and the 5 hours of slow roasting. Order this lamb with Orez CERU, which is flavourful Arabic-scented fried rice with crispy onions and sultanas.
Burnt honey caramel
But save room for dessert. Flavours of Baklava isn’t actually a syrup-soaked pastry but rather all those spices that one would expect in one of those traditional little sweets: cardamom in ice cream with a nut brittle and burnt honey caramel. The ice cream was outstanding but elevated still more by its garnishes.
Chocolate lovers will appreciate the Turkish coffee cup, complete with lid, filled with dark chocolate mousse, sour cherry and garnished with bright green crushed pistachio nuts. This was a real adult pleasure and a perfect end to this Levantine culinary adventure.
CERU is as far from a kebab house as one would want to go, and in my case that would be a considerable distance. Its design is thoughtful and fresh, and the menu reflects dishes from the Eastern Med, but without being slavishly bound to traditions. We will return to sample some of those cocktails, and perhaps Brunch, too.
7-9 Bute Street
Phone: 020 3195 3001
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018