On Sunday, I headed down to the eagerly anticipated Parsons, a new little British fish restaurant in Covent Garden.
The idea for Parsons was born a couple of years ago and it is the brainchild of Will Palmer and Ian Campbell, owners of the 10 Cases - the wine and small plates hangout that has become immensely popular with Londoners and the wine trade alike. The duo bonded over a love for classic English fish restaurants, and having noticed a frustrating lack of wine focus in such restaurants wanted to create something new and exciting, where wine also plays a central role in the experience. The name Parsons is a sentimental dedication to the mums of both Will and Ian, who coincidentally share the same maiden name.
Speaking to the team, they mused, "We wanted to create an environment in which the ceremony of a dozen oysters and champagne as an aperitif, a bowl of mussels and a glass of Vinho Verde as a quick lunch, a couple of grilled sardines and dry Sherry as a passing snack, or a whole sole meunière and Meursault as a lush dinner experience is celebrated, and available to all at any time without any pomp or fuss."
Taking the same approach to wine as we find in the 10 Cases; Gus Pollard is behind the inspiring wine list and has sourced a list of circa 100 wines representing classic fish pairings as well as more eclectic styles. We already know from the 10 Cases list that the wines are always of high quality and are listed with some of the best prices in London. With the new list highlighting mineral, terroir-driven whites, wines that are in a more exciting place than ever, this white-focused list is as much of a reason to visit as the food is. Wines are listed from all corners of the world.
To begin, we drank Dagueneau's Silex 2011, which I deem to be one of the purest expressions out there of Pouilly Fumé, and indeed Sauvignon Blanc. Louis-Benjamin, Didier's son, manages the domaine following the tragic death of his father - who was considered one of the appellation's best winemakers, and is doing a wonderful job to keep his legacy going. The domaine is managed biodynamically. The wine is just beginning to show some age, adding a special waxy texture to the sharpness and flintiness of the wine that I really admire; it is a highly specific texture that works so well with seafood. Next was a wine I have not tried before but from a producer, also biodynamic, whose Mondeuse I love. The wine was "Le JaJa" from Gilles Berlioz, made from one of the indigenous grape varieties of the Savoie, Jacquère. Jacquère is not something we see around often yet (with strong emphasis on the "yet"), so it's a joy to see it here with its unique lifted aromatics of fresh greens and a pretty yet immense salinity that makes it an ideal fish wine. While lifted, it's still pretty dense in texture so it works well with richer dishes too. Finally, one of my favourite young Jura producers - Loreline Laborde of Les Granges Paquenesses, is listed as one of the eight reds, with her Trousseau. Loreline ploughs her three hectares of vines by horse, and also cultivates and makes wine biodynamically. The wine is subtle on the nose - seductive and gently smoky, and on the palate it is mineral and dense with blackberry skin and tea leaf notes and some spice. It went perfectly with the steak sandwich served at the end (which was *^&*%$^** brill, excuse the ironic unintended pun).
I'm pleased there are reds here as they can provide brilliant pairings for fish. The reds listed are all lifted expressions that will compliment smoked fish and fish pie excellently, as well as evidently providing good pairings for the one or two meat dishes.
Other personal favourites from the white list include the the Pinot Gouges, which saw its start in life at the beginning of the 1930s as one single little mutation in Burgundy, and Norman Hardie's excellent Chardonnay is also on there. There is a great BTG list, with the current standout for me being the Gros/Petit Manseng, "Cuvade Préciouse" by Montesquoiou, from the Jurançon, right on the Pyrenées. Agan, biodynamic methods are used here.
We began with oysters (which I am still learning to love (shock horror I know)). I am slowly getting there - persistency is key - and my one oyster was delicious. This was followed by potted shrimp croquettes, fluffy, with lovely texture. Next was the sea trout tartare with bloody Mary jelly; fresh and with a subtle fiery kick, highly moreish and a dish I kept returning to. A shredded beef and pissaladière added richness to the meal. The sole meunière was the plate of the meal, and was some of the best fish I have ever eaten in London; buttery and rich without being heavy - there is a fine line and they got it bang on.
In the kitchen, we find Cathal O'Malley, Executive Chef of The 10 Cases and Parsons, (previously of Dinings, Le Petit Maison and Bibendum), and Guemon Ishikawa, Head Chef of Parsons, (previously of Fera at Claridges and Dinings). The food will change daily, changing depending on availability, but always with a focus on simply prepared fresh seafood, as well a selection of hot snacks and tapas-style dishes and sweets and savories to finish on. Specials will be painted on the tiling, like...
Fresh produce is predominately coming from coastlines of Cornwall and North West Scotland and the team are using many different suppliers with day boats and sustainable methods. One supplier of note is Kernow Sashimi - a Cornish husband and Japanese wife team that specialise in Sashimi grade fish and understand and utilise the Japanese methods of cutting the fish on the boat as soon as it's caught. They are a major supplier of fine dining Japanese restaurants in London.
Inpiration for the food comes from Sweetings in London, Wheelers in Whitstable, The Company Shed in Colchester, English's in Brighton, Ramiro in Lisbon and L'Ecailler Du Bistrot in Paris' 11ème.
All of the above factors combined with an excellent experience means we have a new classic here; a little fun restaurant that gently smoothes over what was, thinking about it, previously an awkward crack in the London restaurant scene. We now have an excellent seafood restaurant in central London where we can drink exceptionally well. It has a brilliant team, it's affordable, quality driven and fun.
Good luck to the team and thank you for providing us with an exciting new place to dine and to drink.