Sola is a small tasting menu based restaurant serving Californian cuisine in the heart of Soho. Owner and executive chef Victor Garvey was born in Barcelona but has American heritage, and worked for some years in California, after stints at Ryugin and Noma, amongst other places. His head chef was Andy Parker, supported by pastry chef Megan Stafford, who was head pastry chef at Frenchie in Paris and was also head pastry chef of Galvin La Chapelle. The tasting menu was priced at £139 per person.
The meal began with some canapes. One dish introduced as a “hangover cure” was a cornet of tomatoes, using high quality Jouno tomatoes from Provence. Nestling inside the red pepper cornet was a Blood Mary sorbet, tomato water, confit cherry tomatoes and freeze-dried Bloody Mary. This was very refreshing and the Jouno tomatoes had deep flavour. Alongside this was a take on the “Philadelphia cheesesteak”, a popular fast food dish from Pennsylvania that in its original form involves beef, onions and cheese in a small bread loaf. The version here was more refined, a gougere of smoked Cheddar topped with kitchen-cured A4 Kagoshima wagyu bresaola (air dried, salted beef). This quite rich dish was thoroughly enjoyable. Even better was a taco made from spinach and shiso containing tartare of 28-day aged Hereford beef with smoked eel and grilled bone marrow dressing. This combination was topped with kaboso koshu, the kaboso citrus fruit enlivened with fresh chillies, along with Isigny crème fraiche from Normandy, garnished with kaluga caviar from supplier N25 (17/20 canapes).
Two further snacks followed. A tartlet of ice wine-marinated Laifitte foie gras mousse and bacon jam was flavoured with pickled cherry, white port gastrique and foie gras snow. This was a clever way to present this high-end foie gras, as the snow had a refreshing effect that avoided the richness of a slab of foie gras. Roulade of cured and smoked wild Pacific salmon came with Roscoff onion escabeche (cooked then marinated), crisp sweet potato and spiced up a little by freshly grated wasabi root. This was a lovely combination of flavours, the spice of the wasabi nicely controlled (17/20 snacks).
The next dish was sustainably farmed Kindai bluefin tuna, sourced from a pioneering program raising bluefin tuna from egg to mature fish, a program that stemmed from research at the aquaculture institute of Kindai university in Osaka. Strips of the lean akami tuna were simply served as sashimi, alongside tartare of the richer otoro belly tuna and kama toro, the rich fatty part of the tuna around the jaw of the fish. The rich tartare was balanced by a little salad of fresh leaves, grilled baby leeks, toasted kinako (roasted soybean flour) and leek tapioca vinaigrette, avocado sorbet, pickled shimeji mushrooms and jelly of tosazu, a mild dressing of bonito dashi and sanbaizu, a seasoning of vinegar, soy and rice wine. This was a classy dish that had excellent balance, the richness of the tuna cut through by the vinegar of the pickled mushrooms and the dressing (18/20).
The next dish was the Sola signature flambeed langoustine tails. Scottish langoustines were flambeed at the table in whisky, served with a dish of wild mushroom tortellini, braised daikon, quail egg, shiso and ginger dashi. The dried bonito for the dashi was imported directly from Japan and the dashi was a delicate foil for the superb, sweet and beautifully cooked langoustine. The langoustines were a joy, sweet tasting and gorgeous, the dashi carefully balanced, the ginger a lovely complement to the shellfish (19/20).
A pair of dayboat scallops were lightly cooked and garnished with tarragon, crisp squid ink tuiles, sea herbs and a girolles fricassee ”bonnes femmes”, a classic rustic sauce more usually associated with chicken dishes and involving onions, potato and bacon and in this case freshly chopped chives. This was a lovely dish, the scallops having excellent natural sweetness, the girolles completing the shellfish nicely and the sauce having considerable depth of flavour (17/20).
The final savoury course was pigeon from the Dombes region of eastern France, the bird stuffed with ras el hanout spice mix, a Mejdool date stuffed with couscous, preserved lemon, kohlrabi that had been braised for 24 hours, and finally delicate Cevennes onions that had been caramelised in vermouth. The pigeon was top notch though for me the sweetness of the date and the richness of the meat needed more acidic balance than was provided for by the preserved lemons (16/20).
In place of a cheese board there as a cheese dish comprising Livarot cheese (a washed rind cheese using cow’s milk and produced in Normandy) with Australian black truffle and Cevennes onion jam, warm Livarot foam and shavings of black truffle. The dish was enhanced by a splash of Gold Label San Giacamo 25-year aged balsamic vinegar. The nutty, slightly citrus flavour of the Livarot went well with the earthy scent of truffle and the sweetness of the Cevennes onion jam (16/20).
An initial dessert had a sorbet and cremeux (an emulsified crème anglaise) of raspberry using a type of raspberry called Rose de Cote d’Or. This was served with a Isigny crème fraiche, bavarois of chamomile and sansho pepper, a garnish of fresh sansho leaves as well as fresh British raspberries with crisp raspberry croquanter (a crispy sheet of fruit using a Ferran Adria technique involving dehydration of the fruit) and sansho meringue, all resting on a bed of raspberry coulis. This was a pleasing combination of textures, the fruit excellent and the overall effect refreshing (17/20). The final dessert was a take on the classic Black Forest gateau. This version involved mousse of Red Mayan chocolate, using a rare cocoa tree from Honduras, with tonka bean creme patissiere, cherry compote, chocolate sable Breton (essentially shortbread but with more egg yolks), cherries poached in sweet Pedro Ximines sherry, along with sour cherry sorbet with crisp caramelised chocolate. This was a lovely combination of flavours, the cherry and chocolate flavours in excellent balance (18/20).
Coffee was the sublime Panama Gesha from Difference Coffee. Gesha (also marketed as Geisha) is named after the Gori Gesha forest in Ethiopia where the variety was found, the seeds collected in the 1930s by the British consul and sent abroad (initially to Uganda and Tanzania), eventually making their way to Costa Rica and then Panama, where the variety achieved fame in international coffee competitions. The gesha from Hacienda La Esmeralda farm was sold for a (then) record $21 a pound in 2004 in the Best of Panama Coffee Competition. The same coffee now sells for more than a hundred times that price as its reputation has grown. It was certainly a nice note to finish on, Panama gesha tasting bright and aromatic, with a long finish. Service was very good, and the bill came to £160 a head. Sola offers an appealing tasting menu of dishes using genuinely top-notch ingredients, the cooking having steadily matured since its opening. There are plenty of worse multi-starred restaurants than this.