I’ve passed Nutshell a few times since it opened in August. Situated at the bottom end of St Martin’s Lane it’s right in the heart of Theatreland and as a regular theatregoer, I’m often in the area. It’s also very close to the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s-in-the-Fields and the London Coliseum, so potentially a very useful find.
I love middle eastern food and the prospect of some good Iranian food was irresistibly tempting and thus when I unexpectedly found myself with a free day today due to a change of plans, I decided to head to the National Gallery to see the Gauguin exhibition that’s just opened, and take the opportunity to try out Nutshell. To make sure I got a table, I even booked!
Nutshell is owned by a husband and wife team – Mohammed Paknejad (who was born in Tehran) and Marwa Alkhalaf (formerly a chef at The Greenhouse). Head Chef is Jeremy Borrow, ex-The Palomar. So a fine pedigree!
I went in slightly early to escape the rain outside and received a warm welcome. A carafe of water came almost immediately with the menu. The decor was nicely intimate; simple but sophisticated with its soft colours.
I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy (£6 for 125ml), which was very good. (I only wanted a small glass at lunchtime so 125ml was fine, but there wasn’t a larger glass option; only bottles instead.)
My plan had been to have two or three mezze as a light lunch but then I wasn’t quite so sure once I looked at the menu, and with the inclement weather outside, my decision turned towards something hot as a main. I ordered some bread to have first – Bazaar Bread (£3.50) – instead of a starter. I’d read it was unmissable and comes freshly baked to order. The waitress suggested I ordered a dip to go with it and as it turned out, that was a good plan.
There are just a couple of dips to choose from and I had Caspian Olive Tapenade with rainbow radish, walnut and pomegranate (£4.50). When the bread and dip were put before me, it was a ‘wow’ moment for they looked really good.
The bread was hot as it was freshly baked, slightly crispy at its thinner centre, nicely doughy at the end. Scattered with black and white sesame seeds, it was a lovely thing to scoop up the tapenade with. This had a glorious topping of the radishes, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, mint and some pomegranate molasses.
If the starter was an impressive ‘wow’, the main was a rather disappointed ‘oh’. I’d ordered Kofte Tabrizi – lamb meatball, dried fruit, walnut (£12.50). Just one – albeit very large – kofta in the middle of a bowl wasn’t what I’d expected. It also didn’t look a lot of food for £12.50 and I was glad I still had some bread left to go with it.
I think of kofte as being delicious spicy, meaty morsels but this one contained a lot of fruit and nuts, making it a coarse mix. It was OK but a little bland.
I didn’t have dessert or coffee. In the end it was a mixed experience. I liked the ambiance, the service was excellent and friendly; my ‘starter’ was gorgeous … but my main was disappointing. I also thought it expensive for what I had. The final bill with a tip included was £29.81; not quite in line with the light lunch I’d planned – although it was light in terms of quantity. I liked Nutshell enough to feel I’ll give it another try sometime, especially given its location, but I won’t necessarily be rushing back. It’s certainly not in the same league as the wonderful Palomar.