Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the founders of Frieze Art Festival, opened their first restaurant, Toklas, at 180 The Strand to much fanfare late last year. Having heard lots of good things (particularly about the bakery) we finally got around to checking it out on a recent Saturday night.
Taking over one ground floor section of the huge 180 The Strand building (home to the Frieze offices as well as a number of other creative organisations), Toklas’ entrance is halfway down Surrey Street and has a pretty awesome outdoor terrace which is going to be an amazing spot come spring/summer. Inside, the large space is roughly split in two, with a casual bar area and lounge seating at the front, transitioning to more of a sit-down dining area in front of the semi-open kitchen at the back. The Frieze connection clearly pulls a certain clientele – neighbouring tables were filled with brightly coloured groups, freshly arrived from galleries discussing their favourite finds.
Restaurant-lovers might just as easily be drawn by the impressive kitchen team as the founders – head chef Martin Lyons has worked at Moro, Spring and Dabbous, while the bakery team is led by Janine Edwards of Little Bread Pedlar and Rye by the Water. Food is loosely described as modern European, with a mix of Italian, Spanish and French influences.
We began with some golden slabs of panisse (fried chickpea flour) with crisp sage leaves and healthy dusting of parmesan, plus slices of wafer thin ham from the short snacks menu. Next up were two superb starters – a winter tomato salad with sheep’s curd, capers, oregano, and chunks of bread soaked though with all the juices; and buffalo mozzarella with fresh green puntarelle, anchovy and mint. Mains included a very special chicken dish, grilled over charcoal and served simply with courgettes and preserved lemon aioli, plus spinach and ricotta ‘rotolo’, best described as a sort of pasta Swiss roll – no, really, it’s layers of thin pasta rolled up with a spinach and ricotta stuffing and then cut into slices. A lovely dish but we could have done with a touch more of the buttery sauce. Please do order the incredible chips too.
With a dedicated bakery, dessert here was always going to be a big part of the experience and Toklas doesn’t disappoint. There is a frankly insanely rich gooey chocolate cake that you won’t want to miss, plus a sticky, crumbly almond tart with bitter orange and creme fraiche that we absolutely loved. You could do as we did, and take some pastries home from the bakery for breakfast the next morning too…
We were big fans of Toklas – great food, lovely natural wines, and a buzzy little room. With the terrace in full use this summer, it’s really going to be a top choice for us in central London.
1 Surrey Street, London WC2R 2ND