Tom Cenci, who was last cooking at Stoney Street by 26 Grains in Borough Market, has teamed up with Guy Ivesha, founder of Maslow’s (which runs Mortimer House and Mortimer House Kitchen) to open Nessa in Soho. Inspired by Vanessa Bell and other creatives of the Bohemian movement, the 98-cover restaurant is on the ground floor of the new 1 Warwick members’ house, itself taking up residence in a renovated 1910 neo-baroque building.
It’s a beaut looking space; the interiors reference the Edwardian architecture, with a plush bar featuring a horseshoe counter, lounge seating and mid-century modern vintage furniture carefully accented with coffee table books and arty lamps. The main dining room continues the theme, with lots of brushed oak, marble fixtures, buttery leather, blush pink banquette seating and an open kitchen spanning on end of the room.
Tom is cooking a seasonal modern British menu that’s rooted in the bistro tradition but with elevated dishes and plenty of twists on classics. It’s a fairly extensive menu as you’d expect from an all-day restaurant, and it does well in covering a lot of bases without losing its focus or identity, at least on paper. For us, it didn’t fully translate in real life (though we went in on only the restaurant’s second night) offering up some superb dishes and others that fell flat.
We literally started with the good stuff, with plump cheese & onion croquettes on a tangy grape mustard mayo; the excellent aged beef tartare, cut in toothsome chunks, with extra umami coming from beef fat; and what is fast becoming the signature dish, a disc of black pudding stuffed into a thick slice of buttery brioche and dressed with a brown butter noisette – yes it’s as indulgent as it sounds.
The following dishes were less successful: the wood-fired leeks needed longer on the grill to char, soften and sweeten, and the almond ricotta underneath was bland; and though the chicken cordon bleu was well made, the sauce could have been more substantial to better tie in the accompaniments of monksbeard, celery and green olives.
Like the rest of the meal, desserts went both ways. The Nessabocker glory looked a little more understated than we expected but featured two scoops of good ice cream, loaded with popcorn, pretzels, salted caramel and rum-soaked raisins adding texture and salt. The nut-studded chocolate tart however, was cakey and underwhelming – in hindsight, we should have gone for one of the more retro options, like the jam roly poly or the baked Alaska.
Although our experience was slightly uneven, there’s some standout dishes at Nessa that we’d happily eat again, and with brekkie and brunch menus on offer too, there’s potential for more of the good stuff.
86 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9UB