It’s a tough old world out there, for pop-ups. New ones, er, pop up in London all the time, but only the strongest survive. The ones that do get to keep coming back, and – if they’re very lucky – take root somewhere. Ceru is a pop-up mid-way through its metamorphosis; after a successful stint last summer serving up its unique Levantine cuisine in festivals nationwide, it’s currently looking for a permanent residence. But in the meantime, it’s taken up a four-month residency in a teeny little space in Rathbone Place. (And what is Levantine, you ask? Don’t worry, I can never get the blue wedge in Trivial Pursuit either, but in short it’s a Middle-Eastern mash-up of Turkish, Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese.)
And it is little, but it doesn’t feel cramped. (Although I bet lunchtimes are mental.) That said, its size and bench-style seating makes it more suited to a nice lunch with friends than a romantic occasion, but frankly that’s what you want after an afternoon schlepping around
Hell on Earth Oxford Street.
Ceru actually first opened in December last year, the very same weekend I took my trip to Saudi Arabia and began a 3,000 calorie/week hummous habit. A habit that is yet to subside, I might add, which was why I was especially excited to try Ceru’s epic dip platters. Anyone who has ever seen me eat any meal ever will know I’m in a big fan of food-lube in all its glorious, richly flavoured forms, and a starter comprising of a) carbs and b) dip is – as unsophisticated as it may sound – one of my favourite things.
And sure enough, the dip situation looked very promising indeed. In the spirit of adventure we had the four-dip sampler (£6.50) with a basket of warm pitta bread (£1.50). And isn’t it pretty? Four generous dollops of vivid flavour – no artificial colourings, thank you – with a big glug of olive oil in each. The hummous was obviously fantastic, but the good stuff isn’t hard to find in this big ol’ melting pot of a city of ours. The spicy red pepper was my favourite, but the fadi – sort of like baba ganoush but made from courgettes rather than aubergines – was really unusual. The most vibrant was the pancar – roasted beetroot with yoghurt and pine nuts. I’m not usually a beetroot fan – it tastes too much like soil to me – but the yoghurt took the earthy edge off.
Next came thick fingers of fried halloumi (£5.50), which I dipped in my leftover fadi, and an apple and mint salad (£6.50), flecked with glassy pomegranate seeds.
The slow-cooked lamb shoulder (£9.00) was served in spicy, juicy strips. Lamb is always quite naughty as it’s a fatty meat, but the pomegranate and pistachio dressing kept it feeling fresh and light. (Yes, pomegranate is EVERYWHERE here.) If the want a leaner lunch, the seafood options – including crispy spiced squid (£7.95) and seared sea bream (£9.00) – look pretty good too.
Now, my love for Middle-Eastern cuisine usually ends with the main course. Desserts are inevitably unbearably sweet, and almost everything contains overpowering quantities of pistachio. We tried the yoghurt, walnut and pistachio cake (£5.50), which was subtle and moist – it’s amazing stuff, yoghurt, isn’t it? Like miracle goo – and the baklava ice cream (£5.50), which was absolutely fantastic. It was creamy and nutty and almost savoury, although it did come scattered with shards of brittle, roasted nuts fossilised in sugary amber, which was jaw-achingly sweet for me, but did just the job for my sweet-toothed companion.
Overall, I was struck by how reasonable it was, price-wise. The food is designed to be shared, and most of the dishes are around the £6 mark. The meaty ones of course are a little more, but you could easily have a good meal here for £15/person. The wine was pretty standard – and they serve it in tumblers, which I always hate – so I’d go down the cocktail route if I were you. (I tried the Passionista, a well-balanced take on a Porn Star Martini. My only criticism is that it went down too easily.)
As I said, it’s a great pit stop if you’re shopping in town, but it’s worth looking out for their supper clubs. The first one sold out so fast they’re looking to do more, but Barry and Patricia, the husband/wife team behind Ceru, are looking to do more very soon. The menu includes everything above plus drinks for a piffling £25, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for.
I visited Ceru for a big blogger event, but the menu was identical to the one being served at the supper club. You can find out more – and peruse the whole menu – online.
Find Ceru at 29 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JG until the end of April.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.