Nutshell, London WC2: restaurant review
Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Critic Laura Rowe and olive reader Alexandra Boyle compare notes on Covent Garden’s new modern Iranian
About Nutshell, London
Anticipation began building for the opening of Nutshell back in May, with the birth of its colourful Instagram account. Pictures of golden “bazaar bread” (baked to order in the brick oven), freshly picked and fire-roasted pistachios, and trays piled with sour cornelian cherries gave an indication of the restaurant to come.
Inspired by the dishes co-owner Mohammad Paknejad grew up eating in Tehran, head chef Jeremy Borrow, previously of The Palomar, has created a menu of modern small plates. Ghormeh sabzi, a fragrant herb stew, is translated into grilled octopus with sabzi salsa, butter beans and grated Persian lime. Fesenjan, a pomegranate and walnut stew often served with chicken, here arrives with a head of charred cauliflower.
Jonas Stern (formerly of Pollen Street Social) has worked up the drinks lists, inspired by the sweet sherbet traditionally offered to visitors in Iranian homes. Mexican in Tehran sees tequila infused with dried lime and served with apricot, lime, sumac and salt. There’s also mocktails nodding to the classic sekanjabin (cordial made with honey and vinegar), iced tea and kombucha; as well as a range of ‘spiced up’ gins and a wine list championing organic, biodynamic and minimal-intervention bottles from the Middle East and the Caucasus.
Interior design fans might recognise the décor as from the same designers that worked on Lyle’s and Gymkhana – the space has looked to Persian patterns, and the pink and green hues of a pistachio, for its inspiration.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Our editor Laura Rowe has reviewed restaurants for more than a decade. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lauraroweeats.
The punter restaurant reviewer
Alexandra Boyle lives in London. Her best dining experience was eating bourbon bread and butter pudding at Mission Ranch in Carmel, California, but she’s also partial to chip sandwiches.
Our pro's Nutshell, London restaurant review…
The décor at Nutshell looks like the regurgitation of a millennial’s Pinterest board, with pink velvet and brass chairs, marble and dark-wood table tops, and #Ihavethisthingwithfloors tiles by the open kitchen. *I wasn’t recognised.
Cocktails get us in the mood, with sour cherry wine, spiced Campari and saffron gin making a fine Persian negroni. Shame we can’t hear each other over the loud music, though.
The menu of small plates is designed to be shared – we order six, plus saffron rice between two of us. My other half in this scenario is second-gen Iranian Assyrian and agreed that all her Persian friends had come to the party – pistachio, pomegranate, sumac, yogurt, aubergine and saffron rice – but not in their usual garb.
Mast-o khiar and smoky aubergine are as delicious as they are pretty – the former featuring diced cucumber, dried mint and yogurt, topped with pearls of pomegranate, pistachio studs, rose petals and soft herbs; the latter bejewelled with creamy feta, juicy blackcurrants, more pomegranate and crispy onions. Jojeh poussin, marinated in saffron, lemon and yogurt, is skilfully grilled over coals and tender as a result. Khoresht bademjan (a stew of tomatoes, onions, aubergines and split chickpeas) has comforting depth, while charred cauliflower meets its match with moody sweet and sour fesenjan stew with whole walnuts, pomegranate and barberries.
Service was slow and sometimes forgetful, but joyful. Pauline, our server, was the highlight of the meal – taking service with a smile to a whole new level – even if her suggestion of Persian sundae was a dud note.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Go for the smoky aubergine meze and an Iranian negroni, and stay for Pauline. A good, albeit rowdy, spot for drinks and a few small plates before the theatre, perhaps.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £123
Our punter's Nutshell, London restaurant review…
Blush-pink velvet stools at the bar, the gentle perfume of spices in the air, and the warmest greeting at the door; welcome to Nutshell, a place that revels in being beautiful and inviting. From the chef talking us through the menu and recommending his favourites, to a kind and attentive maître d’, it’s evident that the passionate team understands that eating out is never just about the food.
All dishes were well-balanced with several vegetarian options – this is a sharing menu immaculately designed for enthusiastic ordering. Sesame-speckled bazaar bread was light, golden and perfect for scooping up olive-radish tapenade, rose-pistachio yogurt and smoked aubergine purée with blackcurrants alongside salty feta and chunky walnuts. Iran’s take on the samosa arrived piping hot and packed with a turmeric potato mix, refreshingly accompanied by the Caspian Sea cocktail, a blend of watermelon and sweet amaretto.
Meaty oxtail dumplings swam in a silky broth laden with sour cherries and chickpeas, and the heft of a single lamb meatball disguised a delightfully light texture with sharp fruit cutting through rich meat. Charred cauliflower was tender yet firm under the blanket of a traditional Iranian walnut sauce, with barberries and pomegranate adding zing.
Deep-fried coils of zulbia pastry were a feather-light, blank canvas that allowed pillowy mounds of fig cream to shine, but the hero of the night was the picture-perfect chocolate and roses, a slab of ganache with pistachio and cardamom. This sadly defeated us but we’ll be back to try again!
THE BOTTOM LINE
In a city that demands something special to turn a restaurant from a one-off visit to a long-term love affair, Nutshell may well be on its way to doing just that.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £96.50