Housed on a trendy corner in North London in Newington Green – and with backing from industry big hitters Phil Howard of Elystan Street, Martyn Nail of Claridge’s and Thomas Kochs of Café Royal – Perilla’s got good foundations.
Young chef Ben Marks, who’s from this neck of the woods, has cooked at Claridge’s, The Square and Noma, while Matt Emmerson out front has served his time at Polpo and Polpetto. Together they’ve made a name at residences in Clapham and Dulwich, and after spending an evening at Perilla, it’s easy to see why.
The team took the space (a former nursery, of sorts) and completely pared it back for its opening in November. Brick walls have been stripped bare, the original yellow black terrazzo floor has been exposed, while the tall windows that wrap around its triangular frame look out onto the green and pour light onto wine cages and a mix of tactile wooden and marble-topped tables. A peak-through-pass behind the bar shines a spotlight on chef as he calmly plates up. It feels reclaimed – even the loos were “picked up from a scrapyard in Norwich” – and loved, if a little cold. Industrial chic comes at a price.
Just down from Green Lanes, famed for its Turkishrestaurants, Perilla’s short but confident menu is a stark contrast for the area. A six course tasting menu is a mere £38 but, if you’re as greedy as we were, you might want to simply order everything off the a la carte (which is only 10-dishes-long itself) and share. There’s the odd unnecessary flourish – roasted lamb fat was “brushed” onto (very good) seaweed bread, crusty, chewy and quartered into hand-sized hunks alongside some dreamy whipped butter seasoned with yet more seaweed. Yogurt, served with the dish of the night (more on that later), was “hung”, which with further investigation is what you might recognise as labneh. But otherwise not much is given away.
Fried duck egg, with its creamy sunshine yolk, was topped with a rubble of chopped mussels and herbs and a final slosh of grassy, vivid-green parsley sauce. It’s unlike anything we’ve eaten in London, which is one of the things that makes Perilla great. This is a menu that surprises, often in its simplicity. Grilled romaine lettuce sat in a puddle of a light pecorino liquor, sour with lemon, and punctuated with green dots of parsley oil. With stalks of sorrel, too, it was sharp and intensely savoury – a wonderful balance of flavours. That, and the ‘pot-roast’ broccoli were enough to prove that this is a kitchen that knows what it’s doing. Vegetables sing.
While the latter could cause gulps for its £13 price tag, this brassica punches above its weight. Hung yogurt, hiding amongst the florets, creamy and sharp, was rejoined by yogurt whey (separated during the straining), and little green blobs of yet more broccoli, puréed with garlic, onion and seaweed. Intensely umami. Cavolo nero crisps are a middle class guilty pleasure for a reason and provided a welcome break in texture here. It’s the best plate of broccoli I’ve ever had, by a mile. (Sorry mum.)
The wine list is as succinct as the main menu, pleasingly, focussing on quirky bottles from Europe (including good ol’ Blighty) – a fruity German silvaner was seriously easy drinking, particularly with red mullet. Tender and milky but intense in flavour, the fish had a delicate wrap of melting lardo, and a bitter hit from leaves of pretty radicchio. It wasn’t my favourite of the night but my second opinion lapped it up – “it tastes of the sea” he assured me.
Short rib was, somehow, made delicate and pretty with a medley of radishes – some pink and petal-like, others (mouli?) were shredded, each peppery and fresh in contrast to the sticky, rich beef that pulled apart as willingly as you could hope for. A grilled “pluma” of pork was daringly pink and all the juicier for it, and refreshingly partnered with parcels of hispi cabbage, stuffed with tangy sauerkraut and little pockets of pork liver parfait delivering yet more savoury goodness.
A dessert (if you can call it that) of walnut custard – thick, buttery yellow and peppered with young sweet, slightly bitter nuts – was topped with pale, peeled sultana grapes that looked more like a leftover party dish from Halloween. It’s hardly sweet and a gentle finish to a well-paced savoury meal.
Team Perilla couldn’t be more accommodating (I was nearly an hour late thanks to some ill-timed Arsenal traffic) and warm, and the food couldn’t be more exciting. With a daily changing menu to explore, it’s the kind of restaurant every neighbourhood should have. Lucky Newington Green.
Laura Rowe has been editor of olive magazine since 2015 and writing about food for well over a decade. She's a phobia of baked beans, is addicted to Percy Pigs and is also author of Taste: the Infographic Book of Food.