Beso Covent Garden
190 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JL
Like many others I first became aware of Moorish food through Sam and Sam Clark’s restaurant Moro in Exmouth Market. They blazed a trail with their approach to grilled food and use of spicing and ingredients- yes there was a time when smoked paprika was exotic – introducing flavours and cooking techniques that caused a stir of excitement amongst even the most jaded of London palates. So I was really interested to be asked to review Moroccan chef Khalid Dahbis’ new restaurant at the Covent Garden end of Shaftesbury Avenue. He is taking culinary influences ‘from the colourful streets of Marrakech and Andalucía’ mediated through his own experience and creativity to create a contemporary but authentic take on Moorish cuisine. Talking with Khalid it becomes clear how passionate he is about the food and the space he has created, but will that enthusiasm transfer to the plate?I liked the interior at Beso a lot. It’s dark and sexy, channeling the mysterious North African Medinas, and has three distinct areas – The stunning mosaic Majorelle Garden table influenced by the exquisite Yves Saint-Laurent designed garden in Marrakesh which is perfect for a small party.Then there is the ground floor bar and 30 seater restaurant where you can walk in for cocktails and bites or a full meal in the presence of the androgynous kissing lovers from Peter Behrens’ painting “The Kiss”. And finally downstairs lie the ‘hidden’ caves and wine cellar – perfect for a romantic assignation…but I mustn’t get carried away as I’m meant to be reviewing the food.We started with a deliciously mineral bottle of Organic Sicilian 2017 Cantine Rallo Grillo (£37) that counterpointed the sweet, sour and spicy flavours of the food perfectly. First up from the Moorish Tapas menu was some sourdough bread with a herby, spicy Harissa butter (£3.50).Marinated anchovies with caper berries (£5.50) were the best I’ve had, a slippery fusion of sweetness and spice. Crispy squid with an intense smoked crème fraiche sauce & lime (£7) were super dry and hot from the fryer; but the highlight of the starters was the smoked mackerel pâté served with apple and walnuts and Melba toast (£8) which was fresh and citrusy.From the Earth – Land & Sea section of the menu came the chermoula hake (a steal at £12). Chermoula is a sauce verte with added cumin which combined with a wild sorrel cream created a stunningly fragrant sauce that contrasted beautifully with the charred courgettes. A perfect summer dish!Tender poussin chicken (£10.50) was full flavoured, here served with cauliflower, whipped yoghurt, sumac and the sweet-sour crunch of pomegranate seeds. From the sides menu I was really impressed with a bowl of Taktouka fine beans (£4), served with grated goat’s cheese and tomatoes - a great way to pimp up a simple dish of beans. The white chocolate pannacotta was suitably wobbly and just rich enough..a bit like how I aspire to be…I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beso but found a restaurant with real character, integrity and soul which has a very individual food offer delivered at a very high level. With Soho so overcrowded Beso is a great West End option and deserves to succeed.