Sexy is the word head chef Elisha Carter says best describes his dishes at Lola's restaurant in Islington, north London. Pressed for a little elaboration, the 34-year-old adds: "My food has the ‘wow factor'. It's interesting and surprising. I want people to talk about what they eat here because it's different."
When Carter joined Lola's, owned by restaurateur Morfudd Richards, in January, he became its third head chef in less than a year. But, unlike his predecessors, Robert Reid, ex-head chef of Marco Pierre White's Oak Room, and Hywel Jones, formerly of Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, London, he has no intention of moving on so fast. Describing himself as an "unknown chef", he wants to make his name at the 70-seat restaurant, consolidating the skills he has acquired in his previous jobs. These include a stint at Putney Bridge and, before that, sous chef at Foliage, both in the capital.
Carter and his brigade of seven chefs, including sous Brian Spark, junior sous Jay Smith and pastry chef Iris Brown, serve about 30 diners at lunchtimes and 70 in the evenings.
For lunch there's a set menu costing £15.50 for two courses, or £26 with matching wine, rising to £18.75 for three courses, or £33.25 with wine. The same menu is available early evening for pre-theatre diners. For those eating later there's an à la carte menu, costing about £40 a head with wine.
The à la carte menu, which Carter changes regularly, comprises six or seven starters and mains, including vegetarian options, and six desserts. The best-selling starter is a dish of seared bluefin tuna, wrapped in a coat of coriander seeds, peppercorns and herbs, sliced and served with cod marinated in vodka and lemon and a ni‡oise salad (£8). Described as "light and sexy", this is one of Carter's favourites.
Moving on to the mains, popular choices include a dish of line-caught sea bass boned, rolled and braised in the oven, served with gem lettuce and a salmon tortellini, and flavoured with foie gras (£18.75). "Diners don't expect the foie gras. It gives it an exceptional flavour and adds an element of surprise," he explains.
Another top-seller, and the most expensive, is the roast grouse served with fondant potato and thyme jus (£22.50). This dish is for diners wanting "class". Here, grouse legs are braised gently in chicken stock and glazed with Madeira. They are served on a bed of red cabbage flavoured with walnut oil, and accompaniments include lentils and fondant potatoes, which "cut the sharpness of the grouse".
All desserts cost £7.25, except for the selection of artisan cheeses, served with raisin and walnut bread, for which there is a £1.50 supplement.
Sweets include a "delicate" quince lasagne, where the quince is poached, set with a raspberry jelly and served with a yogurt sorbet. A richer choice is the assiette of bananas, where the fruit is prepared in four ways: brochette, sorbet, millefeuille and parfait. It's exquisitely rich and is, Carter reckons, the ultimate temptation as far as the desserts are concerned. n
Lola's, The Mall, 359 Upper Street, London N1 0PD. Tel: 020 7359 1932, www.Lolas@lolas.co.uk
By Louise Bozec
what's on the menu
Cauliflower soup, poached quail, £6.75
Tortellini of butternut squash, pied bleu, Cabernet Sauvignon dressing, £7.50
Charlotte of ratatouille with confit potatoes, £12.50
Best end of lamb, slow-cooked leg, harissa-flavoured couscous, £18.75
Chocolate fondant, orange and thyme sorbet, £7.25
Plum tart, rosehip ice-cream, £7.25
If you need to save time during service, to crisp up skin on chicken just poach the breasts first then finish off in the pan with very hot oil when needed.