This is the third Zebrano restaurant to open in London, with the first two locations in Soho and Carnaby Street. Unveiled at the end of last year, this one is positioned near the Gherkin, in the City. (Zebrano City may look like a separate entity on its website, but actually refers to the club underneath.)
The chain was founded by two friends – Cevat Riza (of Seymour Valentine Coffee) and Don Cameron (former head of hospitality at JP Morgan) – so they should know their target demographic quite well.
As with most places in the financial district, it is fairly desolate after work hours and dead at weekends, but with plenty of bankers looking to entertain clients in this area, you can see why the group decided to expand here. Their ambition for Houndsditch to become the new Shoreditch may, however, be pushing it. (It will never be hip in the same way.)
Zebrano spans two levels, with the compact restaurant on street level, while down below in the basement is a vast bar and nightclub accessed by a long flight of steps. The interior design is dark and industrial with coloured mood lighting attempting to bring life to raw concrete.
There is a chef’s table for eight people, which sees seven-course tasting menus paired with Taittinger champagne, and a private dining room for ten guests.
When I ate there one evening, it was blowing a gale outside and the door to the restaurant kept slamming with a loud bang. It wasn’t very relaxing. You can also eat small plates downstairs but the music will likely be loud.
In-house bartenders have created a long list of signature cocktails – from City Garden (Woodford Reserve whisky, passion fruit purée, herbal wine Byrrh and Grenadine syrup) to the Cherry Cola Old Fashioned (23-year-old Zacapa rum, cherry cola reduction and Angostura bitters). If you want to show off, you can order the Mojito from the Barrel for £100, to share with up to ten people.
None of the drinks listed immediately tempted me as they all sounded like they were would be rather sweet – I prefer clean drinks like gin and tonic or classic martinis. However, I wanted to sample one so went for the Caipirinha del a Mor, made with Cachaca Velho Barreiro, lemongrass, chilli and red pepper jam and lime sherbet. It was suitably potent.
In terms of spirits there is a good selection with the option to also buy by the bottle – the Mount Gay XO Barbados rum, for example, is listed as £155, while the Patron Platinum tequila is £910. A 50ml shot of Japan’s 18-year-old Yamazaki whisky is £78. Alternatively you could go for the Dalmore King Alexander for £40. The house champagne is non-vintage Taittinger (£12 a glass).
The restaurant says the intention with its wine selection is to work with small producers representing organic or low intervention vineyards. “We are introducing fun wines instead of classic, and even if you spot a classic origin denomination, it will have a twist,” its website reads. A bottle of the 2013 Tomero Vistalba Argentinian Malbec will cost £29 but pricier labels include the 2008 Château Lynch Bages, Pauillac, Bordeaux for £280.
The concept is “modern European with a hint of Asia”. You can expect about half a dozen starters and mains, with options such as seared tuna with Serrano ham, spring onion, radish, and olive and caper dressing; and pan-friend John Dory with brown shrimps, salt-baked chervil root, pickled kohlrabi and apple. The presentation is fancy and the chef works hard to innovate.
Our meal began with some superb amuse bouches – delicate balls of choux pastry filled with melted Gruyere, and ramequins of pumpkin velouté.
There wasn’t much choice for me, as a vegetarian, so I went for the only fish- and meat-free starter, which was the Jerusalem artichoke on poached Arlington White egg with truffle and tarragon. I don’t really like eating eggs after brunch so wasn’t in love with the dish, but the flavours worked well together.
My companion, ST, chose the venison tartare with wasabi mayonnaise, pickled moulis and yuzu (a type of Japanese citrus fruit). It looked attractive with delicate shavings of radish and green leaves placed on top, and she said she enjoyed it.
The mains were a little strange. I had the cauliflower cheese arancini, which sounded amazing, but came as a solitary fried sausage next to a salty slice of steamed cauliflower topped with sultanas, miniature vegetables and blobs of sauce. It didn’t feel like a unified dish, despite cauliflower being the linking ingredients. Interpreted a different way, it could have worked well.
Meanwhile, ST was working her way through the rump of salt marsh lamb with braised faggot, pumpkin, aubergine and goat’s curd. The dish was overwhelmingly earthy in colour (the plate needed to be broken up with some green) and she said the lamb was too fatty.
If I’d had the appetite, I would have tried some cheese from the La Fromagerie menu, which listed two types of goat’s cheese, two soft, two hard, two washed rind, two blue and two seasonal (£3 each). Instead we shared the Grand Marnier soufflé with dark chocolate truffle and burnt orange sorbet. It was light and puffy but tasted too eggy.
The staff were friendly and tried hard but were either overly attentive – coming to ask how the meal was a few too many times – or too relaxed (it took ages to get a cocktail). This was probably down to opening month nerves – hopefully they have got it together now.
I wouldn’t come back for the food but the downstairs club and private dining spaces would be good for corporate events. It is handy for business people working in the City looking for a place for after-work drinks.
- OPENING HOURS Mon-Sat from 5pm until late.
- PRICES Cocktails £9-£12, starters £12.5-£17, mains £16-£38. Five-course tasting menu £55.
- CONTACT Zebrano Restaurant, 18-22 Houndsditch, London; tel +44 (0)20 7759 2121; zebrano.london/restaurant