WLC heads to Marylebone stalwart Texture, run by Icelandic chef Aggi Sverrisson, for Scottish salmon on rye, a Black Angus rib-eye billowing with smoke, and a glorious glass of Morey-Saint-Denis.
The concept: Opened in 2007 by the (then) unknown Icelandic chef Aggi Sverrisson, Texture has weathered London’s notoriously competitive dining scene remarkably well. Several high profile closures, including Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus in 2016, combined with a general consensus that consumers prefer casual dining, has led many to suggest that formal dining rooms are now a moribund feature of our gastronomic landscape.
Yet Texture continues to thrive, largely due to its relaxed approach to fine dining and gracious, friendly service. Sverrisson, former head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, employed head chef Karl O’Dell’s to oversee the kitchen in early 2018.
The intrepid chef is a stalwart of several prestigious addresses, including The Artichoke, Colettes at The Grove Hotel and most recently, Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus. But despite the staff changes, what initially lured in London’s foodies over a decade ago remains the same – complex, playful dishes served in a smart, urbane restaurant. It has retained its single star since January 2010.
The decor: This exquisite townhouse in Marylebone has been given a makeover, updating all the original features while maintaining its sophisticated ambiance. Indeed, in the wrong hands the high ceilinged, pale-coloured dining room at Texture could invoke a starchy Agatha Christine novel, but the occasional splashes of colour in the modern art against the snowfields of white save it from sterility.
The best tables overlook part of the kitchen at the back end of the dining room, where nosy gastronomes can observe the chefs at work. However, Texture’s signature crowd is difficult to pin down – during our lunchtime visit, an assortment of couples, suits and tourists were savouring O’Dell’s classy cooking.
Meanwhile, fizz fans should check out Texture’s gorgeous bar, complete with faux furs in December to amplify the festive vibe.
The food: As its name suggests, intelligent textural contrast underpins every dish, supported by a healthy dose of playful imagination. Yet O’Dell never lurches into molecular territory and his cooking is very on trend – complex without losing sight of the imperative of the central ingredient. This is not “food on the edge of a nervous breakdown,” as Nigel Slater once so eloquently put it.
It’s also well priced. At lunchtime, which is the time to go, there is a three course menu for £33.50 – there is also a topical vegan tasting menu, fish tasting menu and the always reliable (and more pricey) à la carte. Ordering from the latter, an exquisitely soft scallop arrives first, contrasting nicely against the crunch of a crispy cube of pork belly that sits beside it.
A dish of smoked Scottish salmon maintains the Icelandic theme, served on a bed of oscietra caviar, mustard, sorrel and rye bread. Chargrilled pigeon is paired with bacon popcorn and puréed sweetcorn – it’s a winning combination of exciting flavour, texture and temperature contrast. It takes real skill to make such varied ingredients sing from the same hymn sheet.
Most spectacular of all was the Black Angus beef ribeye, which is theatrically served on a twig and moss-strewn wooden board, billowing with smoke. We loved the presentation, it was clever and diverting without being pretentious.
The charcoal tinge in the meat won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the accompaniments – horseradish, girolles, ox cheek and moreish chips – will find few detractors. A fabulous piece of creedy carver duck breast served with red cabbage, cranberries and brussel sprouts is both festive in flavour and utterly delicious.
Signature dishes: Aggi Sverrisson’s black angus beef always makes a regular appearance on social media feeds, while the Icelandic cod served with barley, saffron, avocado and prawns is another winning textural contrast and exercise in classy cooking.
Of our two desserts, a poached pear with rye bread breadcrumbs and a musky five-spice ice cream was the showstopper.
The drinks: This is where oenophiles will really begin to salivate. Texture doesn’t subscribe to the modern ethos that diners secretly crave scaled back wine lists. Its lengthy tome includes one of London’s finest selections of Champagne, with a staggering amount of both Grande Marques and growers. There are several fizz options by the glass, including Billecart-Salmon rosé. Its gorgeous red berry aromas and full bodied, multi-faceted palate kicked off our lunch on a high note.
Moving to still wines, Texture focuses on Europe – the traditional stalwarts of Bordeaux and Burgundy steal the show. A glass of 2006 Morey-Saint-Denis Grand Cru red Burgundy was the best Pinot Noir I’ve drunk in 2018. Pungent, velvety and delightfully complex, it was a lesson in world-class Pinot Noir.
Who to know: Polish head sommelier and wine buyer Alan Bednarski, who is often mistaken for a Frenchman. Friendly and knowledgeable, his wine advice should be keenly sought.
Don’t leave without: Enjoying a glass of Champagne at the bar. If the food doesn’t tempt you, the exhaustive fizz selection surely will.
Last Word: London’s fast-paced dining scene takes few prisoners, and the excitement over new venues inevitably means that Texture is sometimes unwisely overlooked. It quietly gets on with the business of serving fantastic food in a sophisticated setting.
Texture effortlessly demonstrates that there is nothing mutually exclusive about offering your guests a relaxed environment and providing exemplary standards of service and professionalism.
Texture, 34 Portman St, Marylebone, London W1H 7BY; Tel: +44 (0)20 7224 0028