Levan, London SE15 (Peckham): restaurant review
We try caramelised celeriac ravioli, golden potato and vacherin cheese pie, and sherry-like Jura wines at Peckham's new-wave bistro
Looking for restaurants in Peckham? Read our review of French-style bistro Levan, and read about our favourite new restaurants in London here...
Levan in a nutshell: The trio behind Brixton Market restaurant, Salon, branch out to Peckham, focusing on rich French cooking in an ode to cheese, butter and meat.
Nicholas Balfe (previously The Clove Club, Lyle’s, Brunswick House) set up Salon in 2012, and oversees the kitchen of this new venture. Known for his commitment to sustainability and local sourcing (50% of produce comes from the team’s Dulwich allotment), Nicholas continues his ethos at Levan, with partners Mark Gurney and Matt Bushnell at his side. Mark curates the wine list at Levan, and Matt takes care of front of house in his relaxed, friendly style.
What’s the vibe?
A lick of deep blue paint, mahogany tables and twinkling tea lights add warmth to the small, industrial space. Shelves groaning with vinyl and a line-up of low-intervention wines separate the dining room from an open kitchen/bar area. If you fancy a closer view, then request one of the four seats at the counter. But beware, this may lead to being tempted by the aroma of fried butter and ordering much more than you originally set out to.
What’s the food like?
Inspired by the new-wave bistros of Paris, Levan’s short menu is split into three sections – snacks, small plates and larger sharing dishes. Start with a few snacks – skip the mushroom tempura (which has a pleasant springiness and crisp batter, but doesn’t compete with the other dishes in terms of flavour) and tuck into a unique comté panisse that’s deep-fried to produce bouncy, cheesy domino fries to dip into saffron aioli.
The highlight of the small plates is the ravioli – thick pasta parcels filled with brown butter-caramelised celeriac, accompanied by knobbly, deep-fried Jerusalem artichokes and crisp cavolo nero. All comes bathing in an umami-rich take on a beurre blanc split with grass-green lovage oil. A trusted source tells us the boudin noir with cured egg yolk and caramelised endive is epic, too.
And for mains, the vacherin pie is rich and cheesy, peppery and earthy – a shiny golden dome with frilly outer crust that collapses into layers of dauphinoise potatoes, slow-cooked black trompette and chestnut mushrooms, and, of course, melted vacherin cheese. Halibut is a lighter option, with crisp skin coating soft, white fish in a buttery vin jaune sauce (a wine variety from France’s north-eastern Jura region, with similar qualities to a dry fino sherry).
Finish with tarte tatin. The large slice may seem overwhelming on arrival after three courses, but the golden puff pastry melts away, with salted caramel-braised apple slices adding lip-smacking salty-sweetness. A dollop of raw milk crème fraîche from Hugo, a friend from Normandy, cuts through the rich tart, ensuring we’re able to finish every last buttery bite.
And the drinks?
Mark’s carefully curated wine list focuses on low-intervention and natural wines, heroing those from the Jura. This north-eastern region of France was producing organic wines long before the category became trendy, with many of its whites fermented with flor to give a unique, sherry-like quality. Jura chardonnay is super fresh with toffee notes, while vibrant trousseau makes for a light and fruity red with a hint of smoke. From other regions, there’s a slightly-sparkling Loire petnat, given a soft pink blush by gamay grapes; herbaceous and floral Austrian gruner; and for something with a bit more oomph, the graciano is a big, bold and smoky red.
In keeping with the fuss-free nature of the restaurant, there are just two cocktails, both wine-based. The simple ‘white’ mixes Tanqueray 10 with Belthasar Riesling vermouth over a large block of ice that sits snuggly in its tumbler, while the ‘red’ is served in a more elegant flute with wine-based Ciroc vodka, sweet and dry vermouth.
olive says… Levan is also open for breakfast, serving pastries and sourdough tartines topped with house-cured salmon, goat’s curd and pickled elderberries, and more.
Written by Alex Crossley
Photographs by Matt Russell Group