Restaurant Review: Asian Room at Novikov
Novikov is not a Grand Slam tennis player nor a principal dancer at the Bolshoi. Both were gems offered to me by a comedic doorman at a gambling establishment on Berkeley St. In reality, he was dismissing the excitement towards the Piccadilly end of this fabled street and in fact, chucking a few red herrings my way in the hope I’d join the wheel spinners and dice throwers behind his luckless doors.
Two hours later, I left the restaurant thinking this guy’s curve ball answers weren’t far from truth. Novikov is home to an artist, a highly talented and creative gastronome who together with owner, Mr Arkady Novikov seem to possess the same drive and ambition as the great Alexander.
The Berkeley St. stage, set in one of Mayfair’s main arteries, pulses with energy, the beautiful people and London’s High Net Worth set. It’s befitting of the absurdly impressive talents of Chef Jeff Tyler, who seems to wear the youth of Alexander too.
Novikov has two contrasting offers; an Italian and Asian room. We were here to experience the Asian room – Chinese and Pan Asian cuisine and that’s a ‘project’ that I guarantee will involve a number of visits.
On entering Novikov, you are hit not by calm but ‘beats’ baby, in fact a drum sound that may appeal at the bar, pre-dinner, but will slowly interfere with any attempt at social intercourse – even if you’re on the same table. Raising your voice whilst eating is just asking for food to be projected (unintentionally I may add) onto the recipient’s clothes. Talking and eating require a certain economy. Novikov’s musical selection and volume prohibit that. There you go, we may have lost half of our readers already. No, they’re not ‘turn the volume down’ killjoys, they just enjoy the art of conversation whilst dining on the finest they can sink their forks into.
The decor at Novikov involves a chic interplay of wood, leather and cracked stone. I particularly loved the leather desk where reception lived. You can lean in and rest your elbow while they confirm your booking and direct you to the hum and activity of the bar.
Novikov is a very busy place. Tables are fairly tightly packed together and the table nearest reception would have enjoyed a better life as a display rather than a slow torture stool for the poor devil sitting there suffering a thousand ‘brushes’ and enduring a thousand apologies.
The staff encourage you to wander to the food display which neatly mimics an Asian market, where you can choose from an array of fresh produce from sizeable legumes to an impressive fish selection and a live lobster attempting a pointless escape. You are presented with an opportunity to concoct a creation using the considerable ability of the enthusiastic gastronomes in the open kitchen.
The menu is diverse and ambitious. My good friend Ben at the Federal Reserve would say ‘cut your cloth, or you won’t enjoy the ride’. And he’d be right, you have to be realistic. It’s not a case of affordability. You just can’t have it all – and by God we tried. What’s painfully absent here is a tasting menu. Glorious, subtle and mouthwatering starter dishes are inevitably sidelined and it’s almost criminal to miss out on them. We were directed to the Langoustine Tartar and Tuna Foie Gras Carpaccio and sat in silent contemplation, Buddha like, reflecting on the wonder that we’d just gorged. The gauntlet was on the floor. If you can find better in London and I want the address right now.
Other noticeable starter dishes that we had to pass up (two eyes, but only one stomach) were Crab claw tempura, Frog Legs, salt and pepper, Tuna Tartar with Oscietra Caviar (served with Fresh Buckwheat Blinis, Cream Cheese & Lemon) and an Oyster selection.
On to the main course, Sirloin Wagyu with Black Truffle and an order from the market of Sea Bream, which turned out to be another fish and despite the tender white meat sliding effortlessly off the spine, it still retained enough residual bone fragments to irritate. I’m nit picking here as Head Chef, Jeff Tyler’s Moroccan flavours were simple but stunning and the accompanying Vegetable Singapore Noodle, Pork Siu Mai Dim Sum and Spicy Prawn Dim Sum were a delight. I can’t forget the subtlety and complementary flavours of the Quail Egg Gunkan and Seared Ni O-Toro Sushi either.
New Zealander Jeff has forged quite a reputation for his creative use of structure, flavour and ingredients. Next time I will go in search of his King Crab with Penang Sauce which the couple on the next table quietly made disappear. I’m told he’s something of a master of Japanese cuisine having served an impressive apprenticeship in Tokyo and most recently was Chef de Cuisine at the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech.
In my experience Asian cuisine is prone to a wobble that never seems to trouble the Italians and French and that’s in the sweet spot – dessert. One tantalising Banana Crumble with ice cream and a fresh as spring Green Tea Crème Brûlée later, all doubts evaporated and yes we loved that glass of fruit sake to accompany it. I’m not going to touch on the Sake list or tour of world vineyards in the extensive wine list courtesy of Danilo Zilli, as I’m running out of time, suffice to say our West Coast, Pinot Noir was a worthy companion.
I’d like to say the clientele at Novikov really ‘got’ the food. I sincerely doubt it. A fair percentage of this monied crowd were there for the younger, clubby, Mayfair vibe, to see and be seen. How loyal or transitory this audience is, only time will tell. I think Novikov need to decide, is it about the ‘beats’ or the ‘eats’ ? If it’s both, please sort out the hierarchy. At the moment, I think the council’s noise pollution team will rock up before the Michelin Star assessor. That’s just as well as service is still very much ‘work in progress’.
Leaving London for the weekend, I went to Liverpool (home of football) to see my old friend Stevie (there I go, more shameless name dropping) and we conceded three, but scored four. It was amazing and exasperating at the same time. Novikov seem to be the culinary equivalent. If they’re able to shore up those deficiencies, there will be no stopping them. And well, shouldn’t the cream always rise to the top?
Lunch from £30
Dinner from £60
50 Berkeley St,