Recently Ms B & I were invited to check out restaurant Beso (Spanish for ‘kiss’) in Covent Garden, a fairly new (July 2018) opening which has already made it to roughly #200 out of 20,000 London restaurants on Tripadvisor. This casual neighbourhood diner serves modern, Moorish inspired, Mediterranean cuisine.
We were immediately taken in by the good vibes when we entered. Warm, friendly colours and lighting, plenty of space, and comparatively modern design and art such as an imitation of Peter Behrens’ famous “Kiss” mixed with rustic elements slightly reminiscent of the colours and materials found in a Moroccan medina. The large and very decorative 9-seater table next to the window front is ideal if you’re enjoying a meal on your own. Like everyone else we’re also great fans of open kitchens, where you can watch the fine-tuned crew go about their business. The Beatles used to compose songs in the basement, which is now serving as additional dining area.
(c) Beso, all following photos and feature photo (c) BSqB
Ms B & I largely followed the recommendations of our friendly and knowledgeable waiter: green pea and herbs hummus with crudités (£8), and ‘crispy south coast squid’ from Cornwall, toasted in light semolina flour and served with citrus crème fraîche (£8) for starters. As mains we went for the steamed fillet of hake, slow cooked Swiss chard, baby spinach, and wild sorrel cream (£16), and the ras el hanout confit duck leg on buttered bulgur wheat with caramelized prunes and toasted sesame seeds (£16), cumin-roasted carrots, yoghurt, and fresh coriander (£4) as a side to share (the mains already include sides). To finish it all off, we opted for white chocolate panna cotta, Yorkshire rhubarb (£7), and the Dulce de Leche cheesecake with flaked almonds and praline (£7).
It took a mere ten minutes and our lovely starters arrived. It’s rather shameful, but we’ve only started to pick up on the hummus craze during the last few months. However, we could already say that this specimen sitting there on our plate was a very fine one. Light but at the same time rich in flavours and of perfect texture. I was particularly fond of the grilled squid. It nearly melted on your tongue, which is unusual for something that often turns out a tad too chewy.
Ms B was very pleased with her confit duck leg, which was pleasantly light and lean (as far as duck confits go) and went well with the buttered bulgur wheat and prunes, an excellent mix of sweet and savoury. The ras el hanout, a tradtional mix of Moroccan spices (usually containing all or most of the following: cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, coriander seed, nutmeg, pepper, chili peppers and various other ingredients, plus ginger & turmeric; check out our post about ginger plants here) was pleasantly mild.
I thoroughly enjoyed my hake fillet, which had been steamed for precisely the right amount of time, leaving it with a beautifully-defined texture. No wonder this fish is held in the highest esteem in Spain, I’ve always preferred the taste to its sibling, the cod. The presentation, with folded, waver-thin, grilled slices of courgette, was equally impressive. I grew up with wild sorrel. My parents regularly collected some when out for a walk and then used it as an ingredient. The acidity of the sorrel combined well with the other flavours and added some zing.
Desserts followed quickly. A friend of mine, Nils (who also wrote a couple of guest posts here and here), lived in Buenos Aires for some time and introduced Dulce de Leche into my life many moons ago. This caramelly substance derived from sweetened milk is so sinfully rich it’s almost absurd, but what an intense, delicious taste it has (and I’m not even normally much into sweets)! As expected, the Dulce de Leche cheesecake was to die for. My favourite was the panna cotta, though. Much lighter, and I am a huge fan of rhubarb, which my family used to grow in the garden.
Ms B & I visited Morocco (blog post here) and greatly enjoyed the local food. Having lived in Spain for nearly a year, I had also come across the Arab influences on Spanish cuisine and many of the marvellous dishes stemming from that forced marriage. Was the cuisine what I expected, when I had heard the label “Moorish”? No, not at all.
Moroccan-born chef Khalid Dahbi, who worked at various Michelin-starred venues, including Claridge’s restaurant (our review here) under Ramsay, and who owns Beso together with Turkish-born, award-winning journalist Eyup Can Saglik, describes his approach to food as based on seasonality, elegance and flavours (not traditions). He effortlessly combines elements of Mediterranean and Moroccan cuisine into a flavoursome, but relatively light and mild fusion cuisine that speaks to everyone, not just the adventurous culinary explorer.
Eyup very kindly sat down with us at our table after we had finished our meal and we had some wine together while he told us a bit about his life (how he had had a distance relationship for years just like the Barbarians did), his collaboration with Khalid (the different but complementary skill sets, Khalid’s many other business interests, including a Paris-style London bistro, fashion, and caviar import), how Beso came about last year and the journey since inception. It is not difficult to guess that Eyup is a journalist. He’s clearly a born story-teller.
What stuck most with me is the sense of energy, quiet ambition, devotion to the cause, and the willingness to constantly adjust the business (for example, they significantly increased the size of their dishes a little while back, following customer feedback, and they keep a very close eye on what their competitors are doing). While Eyup comes across as the most humble, gentle guy you can imagine, just casually mentoining that he was a journalist in a previous life, I have the utmost respect for someone who ran a newspaper in a country known to be a ‘difficult’ environment for the media, to say the least.
We will be back as paying customers very soon. 5 out of 5 in our book.