The Melusine, London E1: ‘A small kitchen turning out magic’ – restaurant review | Grace Dent – The Guardian

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The Melusine is in St Katharine Docks, close to Tower Bridge, which, for the unacquainted, is a peculiar cul-de-sac close to the Thames-side crown jewels tourist drag of the Tower of London. The docks are where Londoners end up after bumbling around aimlessly with guests from out of town who wanted to see the famous bridge and gaze at the tower and turrets, and who, having stood on the bridge in a sideways gale, now fancy something to eat.

That’s when St Katherine Docks – with its pretty marina full of swanky yachts, buggy-friendly walkways and wide choice of restaurants – feels like a great idea. But it’s not when you inevitably end up in Côte, Zizzi or Café Rouge. Or, for that matter, in Ping Pong, Strada or any number of several other local restaurants that are really just locations to be taken by a partner during the painful run-up to a judicial separation.

Luring actual Londoners to St Katharine Dock is no mean feat, then, which is why the first 11 times I mentioned The Melusine to my other half, Charles, he made a face as if I’d suggested we join the queue at Madame Tussauds to see the George Clooney waxwork that looks like a large melting pillar candle.

‘Pungent, excellent’: Taramosalata with seasonal root vegeatables at Melusine, St Katherine Dock, London.

But the Melusine, I felt strongly, had bags of promise. When its Greek chef Theodore Kyriakou opened Livebait way back in 1995, the joint was hot, hyped and swamped by media bigwigs, especially at lunchtime, yet at the same time it was also wonderful. Just a pared-back, reliable haven on The Cut near The Old Vic in Waterloo that sold oyster platters, Dover sole, sprats and posh fish and chips. No fuss, little pretension.

Soon after, Kyriakou sold the concept and left the company, only for the new owners to fritter away all Livebait’s goodwill incrementally as they tried to roll it out into a chain. Kyriakou moved on first to The Real Greek and later The Greek Larder, where he worked with manager Wade Mundford. At The Melusine, the pair have again joined forces for a small, self-effacing fish restaurant that, in their words, “embraces unpredictability”.

The Melusine’s menu shifts with the tides. On offer the day we went were fresh rock and native oysters, cherrystone clams, whopping langoustines off the plancha and mussels with wild mushrooms and lovage. Their supplier, Pesky Fish, cycles supplies of whatever has come in fresh that day to their door.

Melusine’s red mullet and chips.

“We’ve got a plaice,” our server informed us. “It’s a big one, though – 700 grams – and it came in from the Channel today from a fisherman called Dean. It comes with a caper and red pepper dressing, and it’s probably for two people.” That felt like a gauntlet being chucked down, not least because Charles is a man who is rarely happier than when covered in a makeshift bib, boning, skinning and extracting the fleshy pockets from a fish so large that, under fairer circumstances, it would have eaten him.

While we awaited the monster, we shared some small plates: a pungent, excellent taramasalata strewn with black sesame seeds and alongside a generous array of confit purple and yellow carrots (left), which, with the good sourdough bread, would have been an excellent supper on their own. I did not expect any of the small dishes to be so laboured over, but with each one, I am pleasantly surprised.

A plate of fresh, crisp squid comes with “cold-smoked rump”, the menu informs me, and before ordering I have to double-check that this means “rump” as in cow, rather than some new term the food cognoscenti have snuck in while I was asleep. Those giant langoustines turn up with a fiery, jalapeño aïoli, while the battered rock oysters are topped with lamb prosciutto.

Crisp squid, cold smoked rump steak, courgette carpaccio, cep oil – at Melusine, St Katherine Dock, London.

The plaice itself is delicious; its buttery, caper-heavy dressing elevating it with great aplomb. Pudding is blue cheese ice-cream, the sort of dessert I call “compelling”, which you stick with despite yourself, because blue cheese shouldn’t ever be made into pudding – but oh, the bowl is empty, and there we are.

This was, quite simply, a great midweek dinner in a simply furnished and decorated room – save for the enormous stencil of a skate across one wall – and with no flamboyant airs or graces. It’s a small kitchen turning out magic, with Kyriakou leading the way in the manner of a man whom I read later on was a merchant navy officer for 20 years.

When the icebergs melt and we’re all running to the lifeboats, I want to live out the great thaw on whatever ship he’s cooking on.

The Melusine Unit K, Ivory House, St Katharine Docks, London E1, 020-7702 2976. Open all week, noon-10.30pm (10pm Sun). About £35-40 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service.

Food 10/10
Atmosphere 8/10
Service 10/10

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