The announcement of a new, multimillion-pound restaurant development rarely quickens The Gannet’s pulse: “Old wine in new bottles” is the phrase that invariably springs to mind. The City’s new Bloomberg Arcade, however, features some gratifyingly unusual suspects. There are new additions to familiar, high-quality groups (Vinoteca and Caravan), new restaurants from the critically acclaimed Koya and A Wong, and a couple of exciting one-offs.
Take Ekte: a new Nordic restaurant from Danish owner of 1 Lombard Street Søren Jessen, its menu straddles the classic (smørrebrød, herring, smoked fish) and contemporary, reflecting the vogue for “New Nordic” cuisine that René Redzepi and his ilk have made a global phenomenon.
Any Scandinavian worth their salted liquorice will tell you the key part of smørrebrød is not the topping but the bread, and Ekte’s is excellent: dense, chewy, nutty rye bread, baked in-house and smothered with impeccable ingredients. There is curried herring, for example, fat and sweet, with boiled egg, tomato and dill; fried plaice with a Nordic remoulade, a kind of mayo-with-pickles; or rare roast beef with a French-style celeriac remoulade, horseradish, fried onions and capers.
On the rest of the menu, chef Robin Freeman – a Swede – expertly treads the fine line between traditional and modern. Creamy, yielding veal sweetbreads are tossed in brown butter and partnered with cauliflower purée, scattered with toasted almonds and fragrant with juniper oil; richly meaty, gently smoked slices of ox tongue are sharpened with the bracing, astringent acidity of sea buckthorn; lamb, classically paired with anchovies, is instead anointed with an emulsion made from sandalwood-marinated sprats. Order a glass of snaps and enjoy the ride: Ekte, with its long, open kitchen bar, high ceiling and artfully curved, dark-wood banquettes, is a handsome place with terrific food.
As is Brigadiers: the latest venture from Karim Sethi and his JKS restaurant group (Trishna, Hoppers, Gymkhana) has a pleasingly playful quality, confidently fusing the crunch of Indian street food with the subtle layers of spice inherent in classic Indian cuisine. Deliberately clubby – live sports on several screens, a pool room, card tables and great cocktails – it offers an easy-going menu of moreish bar snacks and reworked classics.
Pork scratchings are served with chilli-spiked taramasalata; samosas encase tender ox-cheek vindaloo; luscious, ghee-rich chicken wings (Sethi’s favourite, so I am told) are bathed in cashew cream. A whole turbot is just visible under a thick layer of samphire and moong dal, its flesh faintly smoky from the wood oven; fat, pink, juicy goat chops arrive richly basted with warm spices and more ghee.
To succeed, the arcade needs to attract evening and weekend trade, traditionally slow in the City. But with such talent and originality, it has every chance: for an adventurous palate, it is an arcade that offers much amusement.