A hugely promising new restaurant run by a pair from The Fat Duck, named after a pan stand. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times.
After a particularly exciting dinner at Trivet, Bermondsey, opened recently by Jonny Lake, the former head chef of The Fat Duck, and Isa Bal, the Master Sommelier who worked alongside him, I returned to talk to them both. The conversation was as memorable as the meal and wines we had just enjoyed.
My initial question was about the unusual dessert and the first-class canelé, the chewy sweet speciality of Bordeaux, we were served. The dessert is intriguingly described as Hokkaido potato, baked potato mille feuille, white-chocolate mousse and butter and sake gelato. It is the result of the pair’s trip to Sapporo on the northern island of Japan earlier this year to learn more about sake.
‘We followed our noses’, Lake explained, ‘down a side street and into an izakaya. In the north they grow a lot of thick-skinned, small potatoes and we were served one topped with a lot of butter. It gave me an idea and today we roast the potato skins, incorporate puff pastry and butter into them, add some pink peppercorns to lift the whole, and then serve these as layers of the mille feuille. This has proved popular as a variation on a recognisable dessert.’
While this dessert reveals the nature of what this couple want their restaurant, much more relaxed than the Fat Duck, to be, their single petit four goes some way to explaining how they intend to achieve this.
A canelé may appear simple but it requires a great deal of patience on the part of the pastry chef. It represents, however, the thoughtful sweet end to any meal and that is what Lake is looking for. ‘I don’t believe any customer, or any chef for that matter, is today looking for a selection of petits fours.’
This symbolically represents the turning point in Bal and Lake’s career. Both are 47, Bal born in Adana, Turkey, while Lake hails from Burlington, Ontario. They met while working at Heston Blumenthal’s famous restaurant in Bray.
Close friends, they had both left by the time in early 2018 they met for a coffee in a Caffè Nero where they first discussed the idea of working together. Lake then wanted to discuss the project with his chosen kitchen designer whose train home happened to leave from London Bridge. Thus they met at Londrino, then a Portuguese wine bar and restaurant.
Bal and Lake liked the space but thought no more about it. They looked at other sites and then in early 2019 they heard that the Londrino site was available. They came to see it, liked it even more, and took it over. The essentials were there: a kitchen with the vital requisite extract; a wine bar area that will soon double as a wine shop; and extremely comfortable and well-designed tables and chairs. The redesign, which has made the space even lighter, they were happy to leave in the capable hands of Bal’s long-time friend and architect (and contributor to this website, the Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine), Umay Çeviker.
Lake has written a menu to appeal to the local market and those staying nearby (the Shard is a stone’s throw away). There is no tasting menu. Instead, he has simply chosen a menu of five first courses, five main courses and five desserts. ‘Nobody today wants to stay more than two hours at the table, although obviously if they choose to stay longer then we take that as a compliment’, Bal explained in his very soft voice.
At our dinner we began with two very different first courses. Two puff-pastry wafers were filled with sour cream and onion topped with caviar alongside a slightly superfluous mirin sabayon. This is a dish best eaten with your fingers. The descriptor does not mention perhaps its finest ingredient, a small pile of the most exquisite salad leaves, perfectly dressed. My succulent veal sweetbread was enhanced by the addition of a small amount of excellent cumin from Andy Harris’s Vinegar Shed.
Robust flavours dominated our main courses. A dish simply described as ‘chicken with a vinegar sauce’ allowed both ingredients to participate fully, with some fine potato puree and button turnips. In salt-steamed brill with cocoa beans and tarragon oil, the oil had been distilled to give an essence of tarragon that was enlivened by a clear fish sauce poured over it.
Bal explained how Lake’s approach affected his carefully assembled wine list. ‘He is not a shy chef but one who produces dishes with strong, intense and clean flavours. This leaves me and my assistant Klearhos Kanellaakis with plenty of opportunity to explore the wine world to try and match whatever the customer wants.’ See the key to his wine list below.
One of the biggest surprises at Trivet is the brevity of the menu compared with a wine list as big as a family bible. But this is partly to indulge Bal’s fascination with history and our growing appreciation of wine and sake. We drank a glass of Slovenian Pinot Gris 2016 from Marjan Simčič; an Armenian Areni 2016 from Voskevaz; before finishing with a glass of Tedorigawa Yama Junmai sake from Ishikawa prefecture in Japan. The wine list is enhanced by Bal’s years of experience and knowledge, both of which he wears easily.
Trivet offers an original menu, exceptional wines and very friendly service at relatively reasonable prices (my bill for two was £171). It deserves to prosper.
Trivet 36 Snowsfields, London SE1 3SU; tel +44 203 141 8670