db Eats: Flavour Bastard
db’s Lucy Shaw heads to the Soho provocateur for Sherry-laced cocktails, smoked goat with frankincense and one of the best whites of her life.
The concept: When most London restaurateurs worth their Maldon salt are proudly focusing on local, seasonal produce in a refreshingly non-evangelical way, along comes Flavour Bastard in Soho this September to disturb the peace.
The attention-seeking name (and concept to go with it) is the brainchild of Pratap Chahal, who has impressive culinary pedigree, having worked for Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, Chez Bruce and Cinnamon Club.
Bored of conforming to convetions, Chahal celebrates the bastardisation of flavour and takes inspiration from multiple cuisines and cultures. This is a man who has thrown out the rulebook and is attempting to re-write the script
He describes his approach to cooking as “cuisine agnostic”, which is all well and good so long as these bonkers flavour combinations and mad marriages work.
The décor: Flavour Bastard’s backers clearly have deep pockets to be able to fund such a large site in Soho. The space used to house the brilliant and beloved Arbutus, which a group of ambitious young writers enjoyed so much they went on to name their lifestyle magazine The Arbuturian in its honour.
Sharing the same interior designer as Heston’s Perfectionists Café, Dishoom, Suvlaki and Yosma, the décor is a mind-bending blend of edgy and cosy, with a seven-seater bar and counter dining up front and the main restaurant at the back.
The leather bar stools are the shade of a good Burgundy, the walls are concrete and the music is loud. Exposed bulbs hang from the industrial ceiling, and pretty artworks turn into cheeky caricatures depending on the angle you look at them.
Comfort comes from soft sofa seating and an abundance of velvet cushions. Like the food, the interiors are jarring – like vodka Redbull or going clubbing in a onesie, the environment speeds you up and slows you down at the same time.
The food: Rebelling against the locavore ethos, Flavour Bastard’s menu reads like it’s been created by a hipster with ADHD after a night on the lash.
Its wacky cross-pollination of ingredients are the kind of creations that seem like a good idea at 2am when you’re drunkenly raiding your fridge and need to fling something edible together. Sardine and banana, octopus and passion fruit, coriander ice cream – you get the idea…
Sadly there were more misses than hits. Cubes of deep-fried feta with walnuts, honey, and mint were depressingly dry; while a steamed rice cake with house kimchi and sesame looked like something you’d find in a kidney dish beside an operating table.
The steak tartare lacked seasoning and texture, the octopus with passion fruit and avocado, chipotle and kohlrabi tasted like it had been dragged from the sea a week ago, and the cold Burford brown egg lay shivering in an olive crumble garden.
Signature dishes: While many of the dishes didn’t work, there were moments of wonder during the meal. The standout dish was the ‘cloud of curds’, which had incredible depth and intensity of flavour from an aerating hit of mint and a punchy whack of chilli.
The Tandoori fried chicken served with a tangy dipping sauce was another highlight, it’s crunchy coat of armour revealing juicy, tender meat. The dishes that worked best were those that kept things simple. A salty sliver of Dingley Dell pork belly with bacon jam was delightful.
Another hit was the smoked goat with pomegranate, frankincense, orange and mooli. The feral ferocity of the goat meat won’t be for everyone, but I loved the depth of flavour, and the earthy, sweet-sour siege.
The drinks: The wine list is Flavour Bastard’s trump card. Lovingly put together by the humble but hugely talented Nick Jones, founder of Wines of Momentary Destination, this is a list for people who get geeky about grapes.
All of the wines are available by the glass, which is a joy. Sparklers hail from France, Italy, Spain, England and Germany – our meal began with a super fresh Sket from Saar producer Peter Lauer.
On the white front you’ll find a sprightly Grillo from Sicily; jasmine-scented Loureiro from Vinho Verde; stone fruited Pinot Gris from Sussex estate Stopham; and a Riesling/Muscat blend from Chile’s Itata to name but four.
My 2014 Sentits Blanc Garnacha Blanca from Bodegas Puiggros in Catalonia was one of the best whites I’ve ever tasted. It was so unexpectedly good I had a physical reaction to it and felt transported to a heavenly place.
Rich and Burgundian in style, with notes of lemon oil and toasted almonds, and effortless elegance, the tasting note on the wine list describes it as “Spain’s answer to Meursault”, and I’m inclined to agree.
As for the reds, Adi Badenhorst’s juicy Papegaai Cinsault was sadly off the menu, which also features a Mataro from McLaren Vale producer Ministry of Clouds; BK Wines’ brilliant Skin ‘n’ Bones Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills; and a Callet/Syrah blend from Mallorca producer 4 Kilos. My Cantina del Glicine Barbaresco was earthy and autumnal, with notes of red fruit, licquorice and roses.
The cocktails are interesting too. Being Flavour Bastard many include madap combinations – I’m not sure the blue cheese was necessary in my friend’s None Shall Pass sip, featuring saké, rum and fino Sherry. My Shezza Shakes meanwhile, which married fino, Maraschino, PX and pineapple juice, was the refreshing lovechild of a Mai Tai and a Sherry Cobbler.
Who to know: Informal but informative, Nick Jones is well worth seeking out. The self-appointed ‘barron of booze’ really knows his stuff, and will gladly walk you through his treasure trove of a wine list to find a drop to suit your food, or mood…
Last word: I can see what Flavour Bastard is trying to do, but I’m not sure it’s hitting the mark. They have a killer site in Soho and one of the most exciting wine lists in London, but the food is letting the side down at the moment, and it will need to up its game pretty quickly to survive in London’s increasingly Darwinian culinary landscape.
Flavour Bastard, 63-64 Frith Street, London, W1D 3JW; Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4545