Jorge Baumhauer da Silva's ‘London-curated Nikkei cuisine' is delighting guests at St Clair in London's Clapham. Jennie Milsom pays a visit
St Clair was set originally to be a fishmongers by day, a Champagne and oyster bar by night. However, by the time St Clair opened in December, the concept had evolved into a "fish boutique and cevicheria", with Brazilian-born Jorge Baumhauer da Silva at the helm, delivering Nikkei cuisine.
Given Baumhauer da Silva's background, his interest in Nikkei – "the Japanese discipline with South American ingredients" – is unsurprising. In 2012, working with Martin Morales in launching Ceviche's Soho site, his mission was to bring Peruvian food to London. "I'm from the Amazon region, so we share the climate of Peru. The ingredients were familiar to me," he says.
At St Clair, he is continuing to draw on his culinary heritage and expertise. "Nikkei is always evolving. We are proposing elegance and daring, with a responsibility to our suppliers, producers, the country and, most importantly, the seasons." The "clean, clinical" fit-out of the outlet boasts a marble bar seating six and tables for 30. The site's limitations – tight storage and no gas – have been a learning curve for the team, inspiring a menu that promotes ancient preservation techniques such as dehydration, pickling and fermentation.
The wine list is French-driven and ventures into Italy and Spain, but it's Champagnes and sparklings that are in demand; the house is Gruet (from £70) and there's a "crisp and biscuity" English Blanc de Noirs by Exton Park (£84), along with five sakes to be enjoyed across the menu. Even loose-leaf teas by Newby get the star treatment, presented with an hourglass timer for brewing precision.
Fish, supplied by Capital Seafoods, features throughout the menu and is also on display to take away. "We aim to cater for locals who can give us a call and see what we have in the window," says Baumhauer da Silva.
Other ingredients are British where possible: micro-greens come from Growing Underground, from tunnels beneath the Clapham streets; and the samphire in the crab cake benedict (£13.25) is from Cornwall.
A small kitchen downstairs is for prep and cooking (for the menu's ‘hot dishes' section) but most of the action happens in view behind the bar. Here, dishes, which are mostly designed to share, are assembled à la minute: ingredients must be marinated only briefly in traditional Peruvian ‘tiger's milk', so-called because of its fortifying energy and acidic properties that turn the fish white. As Baumhauer da Silva puts it: "The cooking is taking place in front of you."
From the ceviche bar, The Caterer sampled Baumhauer da Silva's favourite dish, vegan nashi pears ceviche (£7.75), featuring South Asian chow chow [chayote] squash. Here the tiger's milk base is tamarillo (tree tomato) and gloriously pink. "Chow chow receives flavours like a sponge. It has texture and the flavour is from all its neighbours," he says.
Such attention to detail is apparent throughout the menu. The potatoes in the beetroot and ginger potato salad (£6.50) have been steamed not boiled ("we want as little moisture here as possible") before being puréed, seasoned and topped with avocado mousse and ginger-spiked beetroot. Finished with sliced pickled beetroot and radish, it's a beauty.
So too is St Clair ceviche (£14.25): fish (sea bass, on our visit) bathed in tiger's milk – this one lime-based and vibrant yellow from amarillo chilli – and topped with a crunchy curl of the fish's skin, dehydrated then deep-fried, designed to shatter in the mouth.
Among ‘bowls and plates' is a dish of lemongrass-infused noodle broth mohinga (£8.50), flecked with whisked egg whites for body and topped with a beetroot-pickled, soft-boiled egg. It's a double whammy of eggs, an "international breakfast" originating from Myanmar that is, apparently, the perfect hangover cure.
Baumhauer da Silva and his brigade of nine are serving up to 60 in the evening, plus walk-ins at the bar and, despite its recent opening, St Clair, like Nikkei, is already evolving: the marble is being extended to create an oyster bar; outdoor seating is planned; and the deli area – shelves displaying South American condiments for guests to try at home – will tower upwards. Says Baumhauer da Silva: "We want to offer independent vinegar makers, oils, spices, compotes and chillies that you won't find in supermarkets. I try to have all the ingredients that we use in the menu, so people can try them themselves."
From the menu
Half a dozen Belon oysters £25
Nikkei mochi cheese bread £3.30
Confit pork belly chashu £13.70
Roasted duck leg and yuzu glaze £14.70
Green rice £3.50
New potatoes and karasumi £3.60
Avocado and dark chocolate mousse with beetroot sponge £9.50
Mochi trio with yuzu, mango and passion fruit ice-cream £7.40
22 The Pavement, London SW4 0HY (020 7498 2636; www.stclairuk.com
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