It always saddens me when a restaurant I like closes down after just a few months. This was the fate of Londrino. Barely in nappies, its life was tragically cut short when it went into liquidation in early 2019. Unfazed, Leandro Carreira then went on to open seafood deli The Sea, The Sea and is soon opening Portuguese taberna Claro in Soho.
In Londrino’s place is Trivet – the brainchild of Fat Duck alumni Isa Bal and Jonny Lake – and I really hope it doesn’t suffer the same fate as the previous tenants of no.36 Snowfields.
The ghosts of the recently-departed Londrino are still there in some of the furniture and the accessible wine bar but otherwise Bal and Lake have firmly put their own stamp on it, including a far more visible kitchen (I highly recommend sitting near the pass if you can).
Bal and Lake, or Lake and Bal, sound almost like an ice skating duo. In some ways hospitality is like a dance: it requires careful co-ordination and grace without stepping on each other’s toes. Many of the best restaurants are run by a double act – take St John for instance. Bal and Lake aren’t quite so gregarious and eccentric as Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver but are just as complementary: Bal handles front of house whilst Jonny cooks. Upon arrival, Bal presented my companion and I with the bible of wine. This mystical tome looks like something Indiana Jones might have retrieved from Petra. The wine selection starts where wine began, before the Old World, tracing wine production’s roots back to Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, and then the Middle East, before moving on to the present day and even the future (Martian wine anyone?). There’s also a cocktail page comprising a small roster of classics with no accompanying description, which is always refreshing to see. (True story: I once went to a bar in Brexitland and asked for a Negroni. The barman had no idea what it was, saying “our customers don’t usually ask for those kind of drinks, they just have beer.” Trivet is not for them. This is for citizens of the world).
Jonny Lake has a calm and observant temperament – a crucial attribute to have when leading a brigade of chefs in full view of the whole restaurant. From our table near the pass I marvelled at the serenity of the kitchen and his quiet authority. Talking to customers probably doesn’t come naturally to Jonny but he was a pleasure to chat with as he explained their partnerships with their bread producer and how the butter is cultured with kefir. (Divine, since you asked. That sourdough bread and butter could make a very satisfying lunch by itself).
Having been under Heston Blumenthal’s thumb for so long, I wondered if there would be unnecessary wizardry and mind games, but there was no need to worry. Surprisingly, Lake’s cuisine is rather ‘safe’ but by no means boring. Besides, does food always need to challenge? The most important thing is that it makes you happy. The veal sweetbreads and cumin certainly made my companion happy. Meanwhile, I started with a vegetarian dish of artichoke with sourdough broth – essentially a consommé that had the clarity of Archimedes’ mind when he discovered displacement of water. The dish with its salsify and truffle shavings had a pleasing pungency, acidity and bitterness that could be over-powering for some (Lake doesn’t do flavours by halves), though it could’ve benefitted from some crunchy texture for contrast.
The crunchy nuttiness came in the scene-stealing main course. Duck poached and then pan fried was served on a bed of puntarella and accompanied by a Swiss chard envelope containing meat from the duck’s leg and heart. It was a delicious, no holds barred hearty dish (almost literally) with a red wine reduction that wasn’t overly sticky, a decoration of toasted rice and a piece of confit melon that was almost a caricature of itself, such was the intensity of the flavour. I was astonished by how a dish that looked relatively simple had so much flavour packed into it. It was all washed down extremely well by a glass of old world Cote Rotie, which had all the grip and attack you expect.
Switching veggie/meat roles, my companion went for the grilled celeriac with freekeh and dill – a vegetarian dish that made no apologies for its uncompromising flavour, and the freekeh (an ancient Levantine grain) complemented Isa Bal’s time-travelling wine list.
To finish, an almond and cherry tart was a masterclass in pastry work. This was served with cardamom ice cream which added an unusual Indian edge to the dessert but didn’t overpower it with its fragrance. We were too stuffed for any more but next time I’ve ear-marked the ‘Hokkaido Potato’ (yes, a potato dessert, in the form of a millefeuille with sake and white chocolate mousse).
It was a bold move for Bal and Lake to leave The Fat Duck after a 12 year tenure but their first restaurant together is pretty much everything I hoped for. A single meal took inspiration from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia yet didn’t seem over-worked, overly fussy or wacky. For cooking at this level and near-perfect service I didn’t begrudge a bill of £90 per head – indeed, you would pay three times that at their ‘alma mater’.
Trivet deserves success and you deserve a good meal so get yourself down to Bermondsey as soon as you can.
by J A Smith