Sola underwent a major refurbishment in late 2023, with the restaurant expanding to include the basement and a floor above the dining room. The ground floor dining room now has 32 seats with additional seating in the downstairs private dining room and at a chef’s table. The kitchen is four times its previous size and the wine storage capacity has been dramatically increased. The dining room itself seems to me much classier in terms of design. The tasting menu was £139 or £199 and there was additionally a shorter lunch menu at £59. Service is set at an American level of 20%.
The almost entirely American wine list had 57 labels and ranged in price from £55 to £1,400, with a median price of £120 and an average markup to retail price of 3.1 times, which is not unreasonable these days in London. Sample references were Channing Daughters Pinot Grigio 2019 at £57 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £18, Keep Wines Albarino Napa 2019 at £75 compared to its retail price of £31, and Presquile Winery Pinot Noir2021 at £88 for a wine that will set you back £30 in the high street. For those with the means there was the excellent Ashes and Diamonds Rancho Pequeno Vineyard 2016 at £450 compared to its retail price of £169, and Kistler Natalie Pinot Noir 2012 at £520 for a wine whose current market value is £181. There were several choices of mineral water including Hallstein Austrian alpine water, which has an extensive back story and a price to match.
The meal began with a lengthy sequence of canapes. Devilled egg had a hollowed out boiled egg with smoked sturgeon mousse and sauce gribiche, a cold egg sauce made by emulsifying hard-boiled egg yolks and mustard with a neutral oil and then combined with chopped capers, pickled cucumbers and some finely chopped chervil parsley and tarragon. The gribiche was further enhanced with smoked vinegar gel, espelette pepper and toasted pumpkin seeds. This was certainly a sophisticated version of the traditional devilled egg recipe with mayonaisse and mustard. The next canape was vodka-cured wild salmon with fresh wasabi, red onion escabeche, crispy sweet potato and dill. This was a well-established canape at Sola and is lovely, the gentle spice of the wasabi nicely enlivening the salmon. A further canape was tartare of smoked eel, foie gras, aubergine cooked in elderflower miso, yuzu and anise hyssop. The contrast of the eel with the rich foie gras worked very well indeed. There was then an interesting take on the humble sardine, a fish that I feel is underused in London restaurants. There was a sardine croustade made from pressed baby sardines that are crisped, with a delicate pastry base. On this is fresh Cornish sardine tartare with roasted almond bavarois, a flamed and smoked sardine fillet and grape jelly. This was a very effective combination of textures and treatments of the sardine. A chicken waffle had chicken liver parfait fortified with Jack Daniels whiskey, sherry vinegar and maple syrup gastrique, roast chicken skin all in a waffle tuile. The final canape was a take on pork and apple sauce, with French suckling pig braised slowly for 72 hours then roasted and glazed with sarsaparilla (made from birch oil), pickled Pink Lady apple, wasabi, jasmine foam and nasturtium. The pork had excellent flavour. This was an elaborate and original set of canapes (18/20).
Three different breads were offered: brioche, sourdough and flatbread. The bread is made by Emily Sander-David, formerly head baker at The Dusty Knuckle bakery in Dalston. San Francisco sourdough was good, sprouted sesame and miso flatbread was pleasant and the star of the trio was a thyme & rosemary flavoured laminated brioche sphere. This came with whipped butter from Les Vieux Puits.
The first formal course of the meal was based on Kindai farmed bluefin tuna. This tuna, originally from Kindai University in Japan and exported to Spain, is raised from the egg stage rather than capturing young wild tuna and transferring them to large holding pens where they grow, as some notionally farmed tuna is produced. The lean akami tuna was served raw as a pair of slabs of tuna with a roll of chutoro (semi fatty) tuna as well as a quenelle of avocado mousse, tosazu black vinegar and shimeji mushrooms. The dish has changed a little from earlier versions, as it now has a white soy sauce. The tuna had silky texture and the oriental flavours work very well indeed with this magnificent fish (between 17/20 and 18/20).
The next course is a well-established one at Sola. Large langoustines are flambeed tableside and served on hot rocks alongside a bowl containing dashi broth in which rests tortellini of duck liver, cavalo nero, onsen quail egg (quail egg cooked in spring water) and ginger. This is a very effective combination of flavours, the dashi broth in particular being lovely, with the duck liver pasta an interesting combination with the shellfish. The hot rocks used today are different to the ones I had encountered previously here and apparently retain their heat better. This may have inadvertently caused a small issue as the langoustines today were just a fraction overcooked, and I suspect this may be from the extra heat of the new rocks. Nonetheless, this was still a most enjoyable dish (17/20).
The next dish was calf sweetbreads from Limousin in south-central France. The sweetbreads were glazed in bourbon & truffle juice, and served with roasted Hokkaido pumpkin, Piedmontese hazelnuts, pickled red endive, and glazed baby Cevennes onions. It came with an emulsion of aged Monterrey jack cheese and freshly grated black truffle from Perigord. The sweetbreads themselves were high quality produce and I particularly liked the sweet Cevennes onions (the “poor man’s truffle”, grown in the mountains of the south of France). The pumpkin puree was fine but I was less sure about the cheese emulsion, which for me was an element too far (16/20).
The final savoury course was pigeonneau royale, no ordinary pigeon. This was imported directly from France and is a premium product, with only around 3% of pigeons reaching this top grade. The bird was marinated in a mix of soy, Xiao Shing wine, red yeasted rice, maltose, star anise, clove, and oak smoked water for 24 hours. It is then dried while hung in front of a fan in the fridge for another 24 hours to cure, which concentrates its flavour. The pigeon is then cooked on low heat on one side to brown and is finished in a pan with butter. This was served with Kalamata olive praliné, kinome leaves and a sauce made from the roasted pigeon bones flavoured with more of the red yeasted rice, sansho pepper and whole grain mustard. This is finished with an aerated emulsion of oxidised Chardonnay infused with sansho pepper and crème cru. The pigeon leg was stuffed with lap Cheong sausage and brandied chicken mousse and braised for 24 hours wrapped in caul fat before being roasted. This was a really top-notch dish, for me the best of the meal. The only thing that I would observe was that it was a very rich dish and that something like a bed of spinach would usefully balance this richness (strong 18/20).
It is rare to see a cheese trolley in a London restaurant these days, so it was comforting to see this one hove into view. The cheese was supplied from La Fromagerie in Marylebone. There was Yarlington from King Stone Dairy near Cheltenham, Gruyere, unpasteurised Alpine Fontina, Gouda, Brie de Meaux, a French goat cheese, Le Barisien triple cream cows milk cheese and Oregon Blue from Rogue Creamery, which is reminiscent of Roquefort. These were all in good condition, offered with either crackers or bread.
There were three desserts. The first showcased grapefruit in several forms. Grapefruit jelly and sorbet came with grapefruit consommé and confit grapefruit, as well as meringue flavoured with flavoured with lime, basil and vanilla. This was a refreshing dish, the bitterness of the grapefruit balanced by just enough sugar. It is rare to see grapefruit on a menu, with the exception of the restaurants where Christian LeSquer has been head chef in Paris (Ledoyen and now Le Cinq). It seems like an almost ideal candidate for a pre-dessert (18/20). Pear financier (almond cake flavoured with beurre noisette) came with pear and vanilla compote, confit pear, almond and whipped egg white, vanilla and black truffle ice cream, balsamic vinegar caramel and shaved truffle. The financier had delicate texture and the (17/20).
Pairing chocolate with caviar is a notion invented, or at least popularised, by Bruno Verjus in Paris. Salted caramel is a well-established idea, so it seems reasonable to try chocolate and caviar. The whipped chocolate ganache using 80% Valrhona Mayan Red chocolate came with Isigny crème fraiche, caramel, crisp puffed brown rice croustillant and was topped with Kaluga reserve caviar from supplier N25. This had a pleasingly silky texture and plenty of chocolate flavour (17/20).
Coffee was the sublime Panama Gesha from Difference Coffee. This came with a set of petit fours that are now made from scratch in the kitchen, with a theme around classic American candy bars. There was blackcurrant pate de fruit with sumac sugar, a tonka & Cointreau canelé, and yuzu and chestnut tonka bean with a garnish of marron glacé. A nod to a Twix bar was salted caramel ganache and crunchy pearls in Xoco 48% milk chocolate. A take on a “Charleston Chew” was strawberry marshmallow with strawberry gel in Xoco 48% milk chocolate. There was also white chocolate and coconut ganache with coconut inside Xoco 80% dark chocolate. Finally, there was toasted peanut praline and chocolate praline in Xoco 80% dark chocolate. This was a classy set of petit fours.
Service was generally good during the meal, though drinks topping up could have been improved. The bill came to £202 per person. If you went for the shorter tasting menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical price per person might be around £200. Of course, your bill might be higher with the full tasting menu and better wine, or lower with the £59 set lunch option. The refurbishment has definitely been a success, with a much more attractive dining room. The cooking continues to deliver some genuinely original dishes, with an emphasis on genuinely top class produce that is sadly all too rare in central London these days.