Sola is the reincarnation of the tapas restaurant Rambla, set in busy Dean Street in the heart of Soho. Chef/owner Victor Garvey was born in Spain but has American parents, and has cooked in some interesting kitchens in his time. He spent several years at Picasso in Las Vegas, was head chef of Blakes in Kensington and worked for over a year at Noma (as a paid chef rather than a stagiaire). He previously ran Sibarita and Barullo. Sola offers Californian cooking, and is a more culinarily ambitious restaurant than Rambla. This can be seen by the quality of the ingredients: Landes chicken, three-year aged Bernard Antony Comte, the same foie gras (Andignac) as is used at The Ritz. The tastefully decorated dining room is quite small, with perhaps two dozen customers able to be seated at one time, though tables are well spaced. There was a full a la carte selection, as well as a twelve-course tasting menu at £97. . The kitchen is open and diners can watch as the chefs go about their work.
The short wine list was entirely made up of US wines, mostly from California, selected by wine consultant Zeren Wilson. The list had 35 labels and ranged in price from £28 to £130, with a median price of £51 and an average markup to retail price of just 2.2 times, which is an absolute steal by London standards. Sample references were Riverview Vineyard Chardonnay Metz Road 2015 at £38 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £24, Michael Klouda Desolate 2016 at £51 compared to its retail price of £28, and Littorai Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2017 at a kindly £76 for a wine that will set you back £60 in the high street. At the posh end of the list there was Failla Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir 2016 at £99 compared to its retail price of £53, and Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 at £130 for a wine whose current market value is £124.
The meal began with a canape of an egg shell containing Yukon Gold potato that was roasted then smoked, and finally pureed with crème fraiche. This came with a sabayon made from egg yolk, Anaheim chilli and Chardonnay vinegar that was cooked over a double boiler, the dish finished with slowly fried shallots. This was a warm, comforting dish with good balance (15/20). Devilled eggs were filled with togarashi (a Japanese red chilli pepper condiment) sauce with lemon, mustard and toasted pumpkin seeds. This was a simple but enjoyable dish, the pumpkin seeds providing a textural contrast and the spicing level nicely judged (15/20).
Dungeness crab was free of shell and tasted very fresh, served with green apple, caviar, a cold almond soup and a seaweed waffle on the side. The apple’s acidity went well with the natural sweetness of the crab and the brininess of the caviar, and the seaweed flavour was mercifully restrained. This was a well-balanced and pleasurable dish (15/20). I can never resist smiling when I see “Dungeness crab” on a menu. It is a well-regarded luxury brand in the US, a species of crab living off the north west coast of the USA, with Dungeness Bay being in Washington State northwest of Seattle. However, I always associate the name with the nuclear power station in Kent, rather as if they had called it “Three Mile Island crab”. Not knowing the origin of the name, I recall bursting out laughing in a US restaurant many years ago when I first encountered it, much to the bewilderment of our waiter.
“Spago pizza” is named after a dish from a famous Los Angeles restaurant run by Wolfgang Puck that is much beloved of Hollywood celebrities. Here a crisp bread base was covered with smoked salmon (the excellent Goldstein salmon from Stanmore, supplied by Chelsea fishmonger Rex Goldsmith) and topped with dill, marinated keta caviar, crème fraiche and salmon roe. Although the toppings were good, especially the smoked salmon, the base was not quite right, I think this was because the oven was not really hot enough. It is tricky to really get a pizza base right without a specialist wood-fired pizza oven. The roe also added a little too much salinity to the dish to my taste (12/20).
Cardoons are artichoke thistles, here served as a gratin and topped with shavings of white truffles from Abruzzo. This was a star dish, the cardoons having very good texture (I recall eating some sadly soggy ones at Piazza Duomo in Alba) and a hint of natural bitterness that went really well with the melted cheese. This was a hearty and thoroughly comforting winter dish (16/20).
Lobster was cooked with cipollini onions and a lobster bisque made with vadouvan spice mix and sambuca liqueur, along with carrots and peas. The lobster was tender, the flavour nicely lifted by the gentle touch of spice. I was very impressed by the quality of the puff pastry, which is made from scratch and the kitchen and was very light indeed. The dish could have been improved by a touch more sauce, but for me the puff pastry was the star element (15/20).
Landes chicken was served as both breast and a croquette of the leg. This came with a rich mash made from Yukon Gold potatoes, and a green salad with a sharp dressing that nicely cut through the richness of the other dish elements. The croquette was very good but the breast was just a touch overcooked, which was a pity as this is a top-notch product. Landes chicken from the south west of France has lovely flavour that I personally prefer to the more famous Bresse chicken from near Lyon (14/20 overall).
Dessert of caramelised Granny Smith apple came with pancake, almond millefeuille, and tonka bean and buckwheat ice cream. For me there was not quite enough sharpness to the apple to balance the pancake and millefeuille, though again the pastry itself was very good indeed (14/20). Pistachio semifreddo came with sorbet of Cavaillon melon from Provence, calamansi (a Philippine citrus fruit) and lemon verbena. This was a light and refreshing dessert, the sharpness of the calamansi working well with the aromatic pistachio (15/20).
Coffee was from a company called Vichel in The Netherlands and had a mild, pleasant flavour. The bill came to £115 a person with one of the better bottles of wine and more food than a sensible person would order. If you shared a modest bottle of wine and ordered more abstemiously from the carte menu then a typical cost per person might be around £75, though obviously the cost would rise if you went for the long tasting menu. Service was pleasant, though wine topping up could have been a little sharper. Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, with an interesting menu and generally well executed dishes. There was a little unevenness in the standard of dishes, but this was just days after the restaurant opened, and it is good to see a chef in London working with genuinely high-quality ingredients.