Although San Sebastián has been all the rage for some time, the food of the Basque region has been somewhat under-represented in London’s diverse dining scene. That was until Donostia came along, and now Lurra, its little sister. Located on a one way end of Seymour Place opposite traditional boozer The Carpenters Arms, Lurra forms part of a small enclave, with Donostia and a Corsican pizzeria completing the picture. London does these little pockets of independent eateries well (e.g. Exmouth Market, Borough Market, Lambs Conduit Street, etc), and it seems Seymour Place has been similarly colonised with a cluster of culinary delights. There’s a village-like familiarity about the place with the open door taking-of-liberties that this bestows on its neighbours – one waitress from across the road regularly popped in to help herself to Lurra’s espresso machine, no questions asked (the places are connected, but even still).
On arrival there were plenty of tables available and I was allowed complete choice over where to sit: a small mercy given that there was an office party making their presence known, their jovial antics just a couple of decibels too loud. Moving to a quieter quadrant of the restaurant was no drama. Gentle muzak filled the chilled air (it was too hot to sit outside in the courtyard – I needed the Greenlandish breeze from the air con). Hams sit out on the bar or in the fridge awaiting their slicing fate, their presence being the only obvious nod to the food of northern Spain on the premises. The design is all very a la mode with the same marble top tables you see everywhere at the moment, light pastel colours and staff casually dressed in khaki t-shirts, the colour of military fatigues. And indeed, on a couple of occasions it felt as if the serving staff were off duty: not only was I rushed to order as if they wanted to go home, but my waitress made things worse (and delay the proceedings they were so keen to accelerate) by trying to explain the concept of tapas to me. At first I thought this was a joke. Also, at the end, they charged me for a more expensive wine – one I hadn’t ordered (and the wines already have a Marylebone mark-up). Always check the bill, kids. Apart from these minor aberrations, service was fine.
There’s no showing off here with anything fancy or wacky – the emphasis is clearly on bold flavour
Perhaps the waitress was right to explain the notion of tapas as maybe not everyone realises this is essentially a tapassy kinda place (I abhor the expression “small plates”). And there’s no hiding it: meat dominates, often decently aged, and cooked by the wood or charcoal grill. I also spied that they have a good selection of gins and wines (do check out the cellar downstairs).
I dived in with the Solomillo Ibérico served with potatoes, egg yolk and a sprinkling of salt. It sounds so simple, and it was – at least in its conception and presentation. But oh my, the flavour was 10 times more complex than it appeared. Although the dish had gone luke-warm by the time it was plonked on the faux marble-top table, it didn’t matter: that Ibérico, seasoned with garlic, was wonderful, and the meat itself was gorgeously tender. Some really good, sensitive cookery right there. On the side came a giant portion of vibrant red peppers in paprika, just by themselves, sloppily piled on one another in a generous amount of jus, and, to complete the trio, a liberally dressed green salad with onion – a sharp and sweet marriage. There’s no showing off here with anything fancy or wacky – the emphasis is clearly on bold flavour. All delicious stuff to be sure but with all that onion and garlic a breathmint afterwards is recommended (not included).
The desserts range from the traditional puds of the Basque region, such as the Mamia (not to be confused with mamma mia) to the mind-bogglingly odd (such as the creme brûlée ice cream – how one makes a crème brulee ice cream God only knows). I stuck with traditional and went for the Mamia, served with a side order of honey for dripping comme tu veux. But I won’t honey-glaze this: it’s a bit like a panna cotta or creme caramel but made with sheep’s milk, and blander, even a bit sour. Even with the honey for drippage (making this a milk and honey combo, I suppose), it just doesn’t excite the palate. This was where the loyalty to bold flavours ended, I’m afraid, and it was a shame to close the meal on a low note.
As the threat of nuclear war resurfaces once again I’ve got my name on those hams in the fridge
On the whole, Lurra is a good place and I didn’t begrudge parting with around £55 for 4 dishes, a large glass of wine and a coffee. I would return but skip dessert in exchange for more meat. And as the threat of nuclear war resurfaces once again, with the potential post-Apocalyptic scavenging for food, I’ve got my name on those hams in the fridge.
9 Seymour Place
by J A Smith