Spear’s checks out the new Greek restaurant from Arjun and Peter Waney – famed for The Arts Club, Zuma and Roka and finds they still have the magic touch, writes Rasika Sittamparam
Restaurateur brothers Arjun and Peter Waney have had their fair share of fame in London’s Japanese scene with Zuma and Roka’s success. And happy news is upon us: the duo has now gone Greek with the opening of Meraki on Great Titchfield Street, a place inspired by some of their favourite holiday destinations.
We are welcomed into Meraki’s modern taverna-style interior by a multitude of smiles full of Mediterranean warmth – in fact, I would not have been surprised if one of the waiters had air-kissed me before seating me at the terrace bar. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, where the mixologists seem unhurried, meticulously stirring fumy concoctions. Two of these Greek cocktails were delicious: the Coral, a turquoise drink topped with citrusy foam whisked me in mind to a reverie of Cretan islands, but I was awoken by the whisky punch of the follow-up, whose power was somewhat hidden in its quaint name – a Mediterranean Old Fashioned.
And so on to the food. We were compelled to admit the smallness of the portions: indeed there was the suspicion that once again the doctrine of nouveau cuisine might be about to deny two young people in the prime of life a proper dinner. But when the food came our suspicions were allayed. The bites were moreish and refreshing.
We started with a creamy vial of taramasalata. Served with miniature pita triangles, I am happy to report that here I experienced a conversion: hitherto not a fan of this dish, these were examples of isoscelean happiness. We also had a dense tomatoey meatball, known as sountzoukakia; three skewers of succulent lamb souvlakia; prawns wrapped in pastry nest with a red pepper sauce; and an okay ricotta and spinach filo pastry.
But largely pleasurable though this was, my personal favourite was the smoked eel – this was a fine dish with the salty, slightly sweet and velvety meat contrasting with the tangy crisped chickpea. Meanwhile, my dining partner instantly fell in love with the sea bream carpaccio. And tasting it slightly against his wishes, I could see why: it had a pleasantly spicy kick thanks to the kerato pepper dressing, adorning the already flavourful meat. The physics of it all was confusing: how could so much flavour find its way onto such a small surface area? And the ensuing tuna tartare, probably a charismatic cousin of the bream, was likewise delicious.
Frankly, all that mezze – hot and cold – had more or less filled us up. But we were sufficiently persuaded by what we had already eaten, to brave more food: accompanied by a nectary Assyrtiko 2016 Santorini, the langoustine kritharoto lathered in tomato sauce came with a hint of lemon verbena. This was my favourite dish of the night: I began to plot ways to get hold of the recipe for myself as I negotiated my final mouthful.
But the human stomach, though it has its elastic properties, also has its limits: the ox cheek tagliatelle – delicious as it was – was beginning to signal the end of our appetite. The food had done its good work; I could eat no more. We decided to console ourselves for the huge amount we had eaten with a terrace cigarette with a view, alas, of some scaffolding.
Back inside, the thought of dessert had the feel of an upcoming trial of the will: but I perused the menu anyway. And here I was confronted by another quirk of appetite: you might think you’re full savoury-wise but still have that little bit of room for dessert. Sighing wearily, I decided I could after all, and contrary to all common sense, accommodate a daintily plated circle of walnut cake and a rich chocolate oblong with berry compote.
But after that, we really were finished. And you have to hand it to the Waneys – with Meraki, they’ve done it again. ‘Most people use restaurants as a platform for ego – I don’t really give a damn,’ as Arjun Waney once said.
And it’s no wonder he’s so blasé about it: the Waneys have that rare thing – the magic touch. And here it is again, I thought, as I wobbled out.