Sola, located in the heart of Soho, has earned a Michelin star for its French/Californian food with an emphasis on luxurious ingredients. The small dining room went through a refurbishment in early 2023 and now has a sommelier station in the centre of the room. I have written previously about the mostly Californian wine list.
The tasting menu was priced at £179 per person. This began with three canapes. The best of the trio was tartlet of eel and teardrop pea bavarois, pea jelly, pea sorbet and bonito jelly with sanbaizu (rice vinegar flavoured with bonito flakes and soy). Teardrop peas are a highly prized and rare variety grown near Getaria in the Basque region, available from March to June and can sell for up to £640 a kilo. They have remarkable flavour, which shone through here. The combination of textures from the different pea elements was really impressive. Mackerel tartlet with myoga, ponzu pudding, kohlrabi and Granny Smith apple was enjoyable but for me needed a bit more tartness from fruit to balance the naturally oily fish. The final canape was smoked and aged beef tartare tartlet with roasted tomatillo jam, goat curd mousse and powdered cep. For me the seasoning could have been more pronounced, which is not usually an issue in the kitchen here. Canapes averaged 17/20, the score pulled up by the stunning pea canape, which was genuinely top class.
In an eggshell was coddled free range egg yolk with roasted artichoke gastrique, Parmesan praline, egg white “okonomiyaki” using chive-infused creme fraiche and truffle. This was very pleasant (16/20). Kindai bluefin tuna, farmed in the sea off Spain, was served as a slab of akami tuna and a roll of chutoro tuna, along with avocado mousse, tosazu (black vinegar) and shimeji mushrooms. This was a pretty dish and the tuna was exceptionally good today (18/20).
Langoustines were flambeed and served on a rock, accompanied by a dashi broth with foie gras, ginger and cavolo nero. I have had this dish several times before and love the clean flavour of the broth. However today I suspect that the shellfish had been allowed to cook a bit too long, as the texture of the langoustines that I had was flabby. These Scottish langoustines are from an impeccable supplier and so this wasn’t an issue with the produce. When I mentioned this the chef returned shortly afterwards with a langoustine he has just cooked, and this one was absolutely fine. I won’t score this dish as it was flawed but then corrected.
Next was a new dish, a kind of mussel curry. Yellow curry and mussel bavarois came in an edible squid ink shell with Isigny crème fraiche and N25 caviar. Alongside was a seafood chwanmushi that used the roasted langoustine heads, scallop skirts and mussel broth. This was topped with a scrambled langoustine claw, confit celery and a coconut, lemongrass and curry leaf emulsion. This was very successful, the curry flavour nicely controlled and not dominating the mussels, the texture of the savoury custard being lovely. The texture contrast with the edible “mussel shells” was a nice touch. The final element was an unusually large and very sweet scallop flavoured with vadouvan spice mix and potimarron (a French heirloom squash) soubise with a “matelot” red wine sauce made with smoked eel and scallop roe. The scallops were lightly cooked and the gentle spices worked nicely with the delicate flavour of the scallops (between 17/20 and 18/20).
Three meat courses followed. Porcelet (milk fed suckling pig) from the south west of France was cured in sarsaparilla and then smoked and cooked for 48 hours. It was roasted and served with oyster stuffed morel mushrooms, pickled quince, N25 Beluga reserve caviar, jasmine and mustard. The pork had unusually good flavour and went well with the new season morels, the dish completed by a rich demi-glace made from the cooking juices and fortified with Calvados and whole grain mustard (18/20).
Next was a technically interesting dish that looked like a wine cork. This comprised a roll of goose liver parfait with preserved blackcurrant jelly, wrapped in a spiced sponge flavoured with Panama Gesha coffee powder. The natural richness of the goose was somewhat balanced by the hint of bitterness of the high-grade coffee, though the dish could have perhaps had an element of acidity to give greater balance (16/20).
The final savoury dish was a consommé of duck with voatisperifery pepper (from Madagascar) and French pigeon Rossini with chervil root soubise, seared foie gras, Jerusalem artichoke escabeche, and a demi glace of black truffle and yuzu koshu, a Japanese condiment. The consommé was clear and had lovely flavour balance, while the pigeon with the foie gras had its richness just about balanced by the chervil root (16/20).
We then moved on the dessert stage of the meal. I was particularly taken by grapefruit jelly and sorbet with grapefruit consommé and confit grapefruit and a meringue flavoured with flavoured with lime, basil and vanilla. This was really refreshing, the slight bitterness of the grapefruit carefully balanced by just enough sugar. It is rare to see grapefruit on a menu, with the exception of Christian LeSquer in Paris, and this dish shows that it is a much-overlooked opportunity (easily 18/20).
Blood orange cremeux with blood orange gelee came with clementine marmalade, olive oil ice cream and focaccia crystallised in honey and blood orange foam. This was an enjoyable dessert, the blood oranges in season at the moment, though the olive oil ice cream would not have been my choice (16/20).
Chocolate with caviar was an unusual idea that worked quite well. The whipped chocolate ganache of 80% Valrhona Mayan Red chocolate came with Isigny crème fraiche, caramel, crisp puffed brown rice croustillant and was topped with Kaluga reserve caviar. This dessert had silky texture and excellent chocolate flavour and the dish was less rich than I had expected. Salted caramel is a well-established idea, so why not chocolate and caviar, an idea previously done by Bruno Verjus in Paris in his chocolate tart with caviar (17/20). Pastry chef Megan Stafford is clearly very talented.
Coffee was Panama Gesha from Difference Coffee. This coffee fetches over $1,000 a pound in the international coffee auction, a remarkable 500 times pricier than regular arabica beans. Service was very good, and the bill came to £236 per person. Sola is unusual in London in seeking out really top-notch ingredients, at a time when a worrying number of multi-starred restaurants are serving distinctly humble ingredients on their menus and yet still charging high prices. The teardrop peas are a good example of that, and it is refreshing to see a kitchen not compromising on ingredient quality.