A new restaurant in old hands by Tower Bridge in London.
The origins of chef Theodore Kyriakou’s passion for sourcing and cooking the freshest fish are not that difficult to fathom.
Firstly, he is from Greece, a country with a long coastline and many, many islands. Then he was with his country’s merchant navy until, in 1987, he was persuaded by a friend to come ashore and work with him in his restaurant.
Then came a string of his own successful restaurants. Livebait was a cracking fish and seafood restaurant on The Cut, SE1. Then Kyriakou started The Real Greek in Hoxton before selling out as it took on multiple locations. More, a small restaurant by London Bridge, was probably ahead of its time. And then came The Greek Larder in King’s Cross, which sadly closed because of disagreements between Kyriakou and his partners.
But I will never forget one of the reasons that the King’s Cross site so appealed to Kyriakou. ‘It is right by a stretch of water – in this case the Regent’s Canal rather than anything more appealing – and nobody should think of Greece or a Greek restaurant without thinking of water being very close by.’
So it was not a surprise to hear from Kyriakou a few weeks ago that he was established in a new restaurant in St Katherine’s Dock. Like so many in the hospitality business, Kyriakou could not resist the call of the stoves. And for anybody who likes authentic Greek food and the freshest fish, and for anybody who, like me, has strong memories of Livebait, The Melusine is a must.
While the north side of this part of St Katharine’s Dock is occupied by the big chains – Cafe Rouge, The Natural Kitchen and Ping Pong – the east side is much quieter. And here, in a former gallery, The Melusine is to be found with water at its front and back. As Kyriakou once dreamt of for The Greek Larder at King’s Cross, there are tables and chairs outside overlooking the water. But on the February day that I was there, the chairs were being blown over by the wind. Come the summer months, however, customers will surely be fighting over them.
I enter and the first impression is that I am standing by the galley in a large boat. I can see water out of the far window where the long-term boats are parked in the marina, and the right-hand wall is full of large black-and-white prints of fish. Opposite is the kitchen, open to the world. In fact Kyriakou was to tell me that one of his prerequisites for this new restaurant was that he could see everybody and everybody could see him.
We greet each other warmly and he tells me that two years after having to close The Greek Larder, during which time he acted as a mentor to those suffering from bullying and drug abuse in the restaurant business, he finally realised that his real position was back behind the stoves. With the understanding permission of his wife and his two small children, he began to look around for a location.
He was gazumped on the first two sites that took his fancy, but persuading the trust that governs St Katharine’s Dock to assign this space to him just proves the adage about third time lucky to be correct. The space seats 38. The overall budget of £325,000 was just possible without taking on any partners. And the space, once converted, has just the right feel. Any available space in the kitchen is given over to refrigeration while the space below the banquettes that run round the walls can be opened up and used for storage.
The menu is a simple one-page affair that takes its inspiration from an app that at 4.30 pm every afternoon unites the kitchen with 21 skippers of British fishing boats as they return to harbour with their catch. On the day I am there, the fish were landed by Karen Marie and Rebecca V off the south-west coast of England. By 10.30pm on a busy day there is very little left in the fridge.
The menu is divided into three distinct sections: a raw bar that includes Jersey rock oysters (£4 each), a ceviche of John Dory (£10), and hand-picked crab meat with lemon mayonnaise (£11). Then there is the inevitable heading 'small plates': mussels with lovage (£10), hand-dived scallops with fava beans and grilled chicory (£16), and cockles with lamb prosciutto and salsa verde (£11). Finally come the big plates: the inevitable fish and chips (£15) but in this case with lemon and thyme, and two dishes for two – a whole brill with caper leaves (£34) and a monkfish tail with garlic and rosemary (£37).
Sadly, I am on my own so have to choose elsewhere on the menu. A dish of Kyriakou’s taramosalata – here served with seasonal root vegetables and black sesame seeds (£5) – is followed by a dish described bluntly as grilled octopus tentacle (£20). The former is covered by batons of warm carrots, parsnips and yams and because Kyriakou has decided to omit the bread from his recipe, it is much, much lighter than most other versions I have enjoyed.
So too with the main course, which arrives on an oval plate and encompasses two octopus tentacles charred at the thin end but still soft and succulent at the other. It is served with a sauce of diced red peppers, capers and white wine that adds just the right amount of acidity.
So far, all extremely good but only really what I had come to expect of Kyriakou after 25 years. But it was with a dessert that he really surprised me. Described as Cornish blue ice cream with a sour cherry coulis, this was sensational: rich, creamy, full but with again the right bite of acidity provided by the sour-cherry coulis underneath. Wade Munford, Kyriakou’s long-term general manager, said that this was a dish Kyriakou had created just as the restaurant was about to open. It was fantastic!
Munford also told me that because of rising prices they have eschewed an all-Greek wine list. [Shame! JR] The list includes wines from Tenerife, Cyprus, Croatia, a Godello from Galicia, Sardinia and the Peloponnese.
All this is most impressive. But the biggest impression that eating at The Mesuline left on me was of seeing a happy Kyriakou smiling behind the stoves of a small fish restaurant of which he is the proud skipper.
The Melusine Unit K, Ivory House, St Katharine’s Dock, London E1W 1AT; tel +44 (0)20 7702 2976