When a certain Thomas Shelby is sat on the table next to you know it’s going to be a good night. Celeb spots aside, Cillian Murphy wasn’t the dreamiest thing about my meal last week at Carousel, the Marylebone foodie hotspot that I’ve been aching to try for years.
Started by four cousins, it’s never really solidified itself as a restaurant per se, more of an event space-cum-supperclub venue-cum-gallery, or more diplomatically put by the Carousel team, a “creative hub”, which bridges a multitude of its incarnations.
That explains the interiors too, which feel a little unfinished but in the coolest way possible – all high ceilings, stark white walls juxtaposed with Spanish-style taverna tiles and NYC-esque exposed brick. Banquet tables and rustic crockery finish off the nonchalant, pared back look, allowing the real reason we came to shine through; the food.
There’s not really a cuisine that the Carousel bunch subscribe to, but rather a revolving door of chefs from all over the world who take up residency in the restaurant to create limited-run menus and events with one thing in mind: seriously good grub.
This summer is no different, with the launch of their Greatest Hits season, a glorious bounce back from five months of lockdown. The series comprises a selection of innovative feasting menus influenced by favourite dishes from the former 150 plus Carousel guest chefs that have graced the kitchen over the years, from the warm, blue waters of the Mediterranean to the umami flavours of Japan and the wild produce of Scotland. I was there to check out the Mediterranean offering which, if you’re quick, will be on offer until 29th August.
The menu works its way through the Med, from the salty, volcanic edges of Vesuvius to the spice markets of the Middle East, in a five-part menu coming in at a very reasonable £39.50 (a tenner knocked off if you book on Eat Out To Help Out days).
To start, I had warm, fresh flatbreads with labneh, tahini and grated tomatoes – the tomatoes being so juicy that they literally tasted like holiday, not like the subpar, poor British tomatoes we’re used to, and they weren’t, Chef Mark Tuttiett told us these particular ones had come from the slopes of the Campania region in Italy and a little closer, from Brittany.
Dish two was the star of the show: cured bream buried beneath a herby salad with a refreshing yogurt and sour sumac.
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Quite literally fresh off the boat (apart from the chef’s brief curing process), it was as fresh as you’d expect from a menu inspired by the sea. And no wonder seeing as the fish comes straight from their fishermen down in Cornwall (no middleman or market is used) and driven up to London, arriving at 1am ready for the day’s service.
The kind of pasta you slurp down, juices flying leaving a ring of orangey red around your lips and ruined white napkins but, because you’re on holiday, who cares?
Onto Italy and the streets of Naples for the next course and a gloriously silky bowl of bucatini pasta, oiled up with ‘nduja butter. Packed with red chilli , the heat built up as the bowl went down but was softened with stringy stracciatella cheese. This is the kind of pasta you slurp down, juices flying leaving a ring of orangey red around your lips and ruined white napkins but, because you’re on holiday, who cares?
Three courses in, two of which consisted of bread and pasta, this was turning out to be a Mediterranean feast. The lamb was excellent however, and although the cut was shoulder, it was grilled rather than cooked low and slow as you’d expect, but surprisingly tender nonetheless.
The chef explained that they buy the whole animal when it comes to their meat, not only to make it more sustainable but to keep the menu varied. This particular dish will stay on the menu until the Med menu’s run is done, but one day it might be with lamb leg, the next shoulder or neck, and so on. It also makes the chefs really “look after the meat,” as he explained. In the case of shoulder, cutting out the sinuet, taking time over it and putting love into the dish – as is the Mediterranean way.
A trio of sides accompanied the plate – a simple tomato and garlic salad made excellent with the sheer quality of produce; a green salad; and an epic aubergine parmigiana so good and meaty it could have been a dish all on its own.
Dessert on the Med menu is the holiday classic of churros. Essentially just dough deep fried, it’s so simple but when done well, I couldn’t think of a better way to top off a meal. Tuttiett served his with whipped cream and dulce de leech, proving that sometimes the most uncomplicated of dishes, like those you’ll fine in the Med, really are the best.
Carousel’s Greatest Hits menu will be available until the end of the summer, Tuesday-Saturday. Vol 3. THE MEDITERRANEAN is on until 29th August priced at £39.50 per head.