CERU-sly Flavourful Food in The Heart of Soho

14 May 2019

Slap-bang in the middle of Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road station, right in the thick of PR offices and high street stores, sits the Soho branch of CERU. CERU has solidly made its mark in London, having impressed with bold Middle Eastern flavours on South Kensington’s Bute Street (one of the many reasons I wish I still lived on Bute Street), and now setting up shop in the heart of Soho on D'Arblay St. What’s even more excellent, is that the restaurant caters to on-the-go lunchers that like to eat well, with a £10 Express Lunch Platter that guarantees to have your food ready within 20 minutes of ordering or your lunch is free of charge.

My relationship with the food of the Levant is a complicated one. Having dated a Lebanese guy for 2 years who turned out to be having clandestine relations with other men, I have hence connected the cuisine to the taste of his betrayal. But THEN I remembered that food, more often than not, does not disappoint like men tend to do. Food, especially well-executed, undeniably flavourful and enticingly colourful food, will never let you down.

And so I embarked on my journey to Soho with a fresh attitude – I was ready to be floored once again by the aromatic flavours of the Levant. The space is lovely: all wooden seating and commissioned artworks, with gilded lamps hanging from the ceiling and an open kitchen that exhales mouth-watering aromas. Be sure to start with a cocktail and, if you’re a fan of rose, opt for the Black Rose cocktail. Wonderfully sweet with the distinct taste of floral roses, its delightful sweetness is combatted with blackberry liquor and gin. It was an immediate, rocket-fast flight right into the desert.

Of course, as is understood about Middle Eastern cuisine, everything is meant to be shared. There is no mine and yours… Only ours. As it was meant to be. This in itself will always curry favour with me, as food is meant to be enjoyed as a collective, with flavours and qualities unpacked and experienced alongside your companions.

With this in mind, the Three in One (£6) is a must to start off with – a combination of three dips of your choice. We opted for the Houmous, the Persian Gold and the Hamara; they arrived next to each other like a traffic light, accompanied by Fresh Baked Greek Pita Bread (£1.80 and the only thing on the menu containing Gluten). Jeez, if you’re Gluten intolerant then I’m sorry, it really does suck to be you when it comes to this pita bread. Dusted with Za’atar herbs and spices, the crunchy yet pillow-soft bread is wondrous. Out of the dips, the Persian Gold was certainly intriguing, if not a little sweet with carrot and cashew, but the Hamara stood out with punchy, tangy red pepper and a hint of heat.

The menu is cut into sections of sharing dishes, namely Dips to Start, Salads, Vegetarian, Seafood, Meat and Poultry. My advice? Get a few from each section. From the seafood, we chose the Karides (£11) – two skewers of meaty, juicy chargrilled king prawns coated with a coconutty chermoula dressing. From the poultry, the Citrus Honey Spiced Chicken Wings (£7) were crispy on the outside with steamy, soft chicken on the inside – balanced nicely with the garlic-heavy sauce it comes with.

If you’re a fan of ever-popular miso aubergine, the Sticky Roasted Baby Aubergines (£7) isn’t far off – except instead of sticky miso, it’s made with date syrup and further touches on Asian influence with soy dressing, sesame and coriander; of course, the sprinkling of pomegranate brought it firmly back into the Levant. From the meat, a no-brainer was the Lamb Shoulder, described on the menu as ‘slow roasted for 5 hours in our secret blend of 12 Shawarma spices’… How could we not? The lamb itself was masterfully flaky, it’s long-awaited potential to be super-soft after 5 hours successfully fulfilled. Offsetting the richly aromatic spices involved in the making of the lamb was the punchy mint and pomegranate sauce, solidifying this dish as probably the most eccentrically flavourful on the entire menu. My favourite dish on the menu, out of all the many that we tried and ‘mmm’-ed at, was hand-down the humble Spice Roasted Potatoes (£4). With spring onions, spices and the ideal amount of crisp on their edges, squeeze a dash of lime on those babies and they were pretty much perfect.

In my 5 years of restaurant critique, I’ve never had a dessert that actually confused me (actually, maybe once when what looked like a tomato was actually a strawberry sorbet). The Ginger and Spiced Pear Ashta got me Robert Plant-level dazed and confused. In a good way, mind you. A common creamy dessert in the Middle East, an Ashta is almost like the panna cotta of the Levant. Served in a stunning rose gold chalice-like glass, this one was hot and zesty with ginger, sweet with thick cream and fruity with pear. Sprinkled with almond flakes, pistachio crumb and edible flowers, it was as beautiful as it was delicious. Just as intriguingly served, the Dark Chocolate Mousse arrived in an ornate black tea cup and saucer with an equally as ornate lid, opening to reveal vibrant green pistachio crumb, which concealed rich dark chocolate and sour cherry buried underneath.

After my feast at CERU Soho, with its upbeat, welcoming service and punchy flavours, my interest in Middle Eastern cuisine has officially been reignited with a solid lesson learned. Never let the bad taste of lost love sully your enjoyment of life’s pleasures – especially when that pleasure is gastronomical.

Ashiana Pradhan

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