When someone asks me where to go for a quick lunch in Soho I'm often stumped, and tend to recommend one of the chain restaurants for guaranteed speedy service. A friend recently suggested going to CERU for our lunch hour on Monday, and I was willing to put their 'Express Lunch' promise to the test.
The Soho restaurant is beautifully situated on D'Arblay St (between Berwick Street and Poland Street), one of the quieter cross streets of Soho. Huge windows look out over the street which allow you to watch the world going by, but are discreet enough to make it feel as if you've found a pocket of London all your own.
The first thing I noticed on walking through the door was the colour of the space, which is bright and inviting. The use of clean lines and directional lighting is offset by the exposed wood and patterned surfaces and wall hangings.
The menu is inspired by food from the Levant region, encapsulating Turkish, Lebanese and Syrian cuisine and influences, and with the dishes on offer created using nearly 100 ingredients and over 20 spices, this is as diverse and bold a menu as you could hope for.
To kick things off we were recommended to try the homemade lemonade. We had one Honey and Basil, a glorious bright green colour with the fresh herb flavour working incredibly well with the zing of the citrus. And one Blackberry, Mint and Green Chilli - which certainly provides a kick - but is also incredibly refreshing, with an initial blast of sweet berry acidity, and after taste of cooling mint and warming chilli. That one was actually my favourite.
The menu is varied and delicious, catering for all preferences and requirements, so much so that it's incredibly difficult to make a decision! Fortunately the dishes are designed to be shared, with diners recommended to order between three and four per person. Knowing that you'll get to try everything really helps when choosing between so many tempting dishes, just make sure to invite lunch guests who positively enjoy to share!
To begin, we ordered the tasting platter of 3 dips (Three-in-one, £5.50) which offers a generous serving of either Houmous with green chilli, Fadi (roasted courgette with with garlic, yoghurt and tahini), Pancar which is roasted beetroot with crushed pistachio, or Hammara; a tangy red pepper dip with walnuts and pomegranate molasses. The dips are served with the choice of delicious toasted Greek pitta bread (the only item on the menu which contains gluten) or fresh vegetable crudites of carrots and cucumber. The dips are exceptional, with intense, complex flavours and incredibly striking colours.
Once we'd had a little time to look through the menu we opted to start with a couple of the salads: Apple, Mint & Pomegranate (£6) and one of their most popular offerings, Spiced Warm Cauliflower & Walnut (£6.50). The apple salad was crisp and fresh, and the zesty lemon juice worked nicely with the mint leaves to balance the toasted pine nuts and green chilli. The cauliflower salad, in contrast, is served warm and is cooked with a blend of spices which adds immense flavour and depth to the dish. The addition of pomegranate and spring onion gives the seared cauliflower a sweet and tangy caramelised element.
Other dishes were trickier to choose between as there are just so many tasty looking combinations. We sought advice, and were directed towards the Lamb Shoulder (£12) which is one of Ceru's signature dishes. It is apparently 'London's slowest roasted lamb' having taken 5 hours to prepare in a blend of 12 Shawarma spices, with pomegranate, fresh mint and pistachio sauce. Tender and immensely indulgent, it's easy to tell why this is such a firm favourite, and it didn't last long on the table.
We couldn't resist also trying the Grilled Halloumi and Red Peppers (£6.50) which are served with a spicy harissa dressing. Other vegetarian dishes we enjoyed were the Roasted Aubergines with Chermoula (£5), a marinade containing garlic, cumin, coriander and lemon juice. Cooked to perfection and served with a cooling herb yoghurt and spicy roast almonds they are just the right size to indulge in a single bite. Zucchini & Feta Fritters (£6) are flavourful parcels of melted feta and courgette, and when dipped into the mint and dill yoghurt are like super charged falafels.
If like me, you find it a challenge to narrow down menu choices, Ceru also offer 'Express Lunch platters' on weekdays from 12-3pm which bring together highlights from the menu into substantial mezze platters. There are two to choose from - the Street Platter: featuring the pulled slow roasted lamb shoulder with pomegranate molasses and mint, along with a generous portion of the fadi dip, some spiced cauliflower, and the Sultan salad (dried fruits, wholegrain rice, toasted almonds and olives). The vegetarian option is the Market Platter which includes the Zucchini and feta fritters, houmous, roasted beetroot and fennel, grilled red pepper and harissa and roasted aubergine. Both are served with fresh Pita bread, cost £9, and promise to be with you within 20 minutes of ordering or they are absolutely free.
We selected dishes from the all-day menu, but our entire meal was ordered and enjoyed within the hour, making this a perfect London lunch spot for a speedy business lunch or a more relaxed social occasion.
There was the option of deserts and further teas and coffees, which on this occasion I wasn't able to make time for, but looking online I'm going to come back on a weekend to try their brunch menu, which includes a Shakshuka Halloumi and Spicy Lamb Hash. The option of sharing each dish and trying a bit of everything certainly ticks all of my boxes, and its great to discover a new Soho gem which will be the top of my list next time a friend asks for a lunchtime recommendation.
Bookings are not essential, but if you would like to reserve a table call 020 3195 3002