Exploiting the gastronomic popularity of all things Nordic, Andrei Lesment's new London restaurant Verru mixes classic Scandinavian flavours and ingredients with a refined edge.Tom Vaughanreports
For a man who has been in London for 15 years, chef-patron Andrei Lesment, admits that it is a timely moment to open Verru, his first restaurant. "We are absolutely in the right time and in the right place," he says. Over the last five years, the René Redzepi-led rise of Scandinavian cuisine has vanquished perceptions of braised, unsophisticated dishes, which many international diners might have held of Nordic cooking. And it's an image that Verru helps to further dispel.
The diminutive 26-seat site opened in Marylebone last month and the menu is still, admits the Estonian-born Lesment, in something of a teething stage - constantly changing and updating. What is for certain, however, is Lesment's touch in the kitchen. "It's all based on a lighter, healthier style of cooking," he says. "There is less oil, less butter, less grease." The influence of the Nordic and Baltic countries in the menu is also a driving force. "Every dish we do has influences of Scandinavia, everything is correct to Scandinavia."
Take the main course, pork with braised sauerkraut, cabanos, barley and caraway (£16.50), a rustic, classically Baltic dish, where the pork is cooked on the bone, but elevated to fine-dining standards. A starter of Scandinavian bouillabaisse with a sweet onion tart (£5.50) reflects the dedication to seafood that Lesment wants to encapsulate the menu, with a 60-40 split of seafood and meat.
Icelandic cod with braised endive, blood orange and cavelo nero (£16.50) is another showcase for Lesment's culinary ethos. The country's famous sustainable-caught fish is a perfectly meaty accompaniment for the hearty braised endive and winter's ruby ray of sunshine, blood orange. Elsewhere, Norwegian cold-smoked salmon, potato blinis, horseradish cream and caviar (£6.50) is as Scandinavian as a lake-swim-finished sauna.
That element, now almost synonymous with new Scandinavian cuisine - the fruits of the forage basket - are not used with the frequency that some may have come to expect. But, just as a diner in a tapas restaurant shouldn't expect Ferran Adrià's creations to appear, so Nordic cooking should be separated in part from Redzepi. "It is fantastic what he is doing at Noma," says Lesment. "But it is his own thing and it should be thought of like that."
Desserts are a work in progress, says Lesment, and are currently being refined. Using a mix of Nordic ingredients, alongside some classical techniques, expect the likes of custard tart with golden sultanas, Clementine and pine nuts; or elderflower cheesecake with poached rhubarb (both £5).
While dinner might see a very reasonable average spend of £45, it is the lunch menu that stands out as exceptional value. Costing £10.95 for two courses or £12.95 for three, it competes with mid-market chains in terms of pricing. The food, of course, is head-and-shoulders above, and keeps true to the restaurant's Scandinavian and Baltic influences ethos. A quick-fire set lunch might include Swedish meatballs with cream sauce, followed by pork schnitzel with potato and smoked bacon, then elderflower cheesecake. Great value and fashionable Nordic cooking - Verru's biggest strengths in a nutshell.
Sample dishes from the menu
Seared tuna belly, red radish, pickled shimeji, skansk mustard mayonnaise £6.50
Roasted quail, boudin noir, mandarin and almond £5.50
Warm salad of roast beetroots, dried fruit paste, fresh goats' curd, grapes and quince £5.50
Grilled rib of grass-fed beef, spruce roast shallot, dauphinoise and peppercorn sauce £17.50
Slow-cooked Elwy rump of lamb, lamb manto, aubergine sandwich, roasted cumin £16.50
Sea bream, horseradish potato cake, leeks and mussels £16.50
Poached pear, chocolate mousse, lemon Chantilly £5
Praline millefeuille, apples and vanilla £5
Rhubarb charlotte £5
Verru 69 Marylebone Lane, London W1U 2PH
Tel: 020 7935 0858