I’ve wanted to go to Levan for a while. Since November 2018 to be exact, after I read food critic, Jimi Famurewa’s, restaurant review in ES Magazine. Amongst many other reasons to go, the absolute clincher was the sound of the famous Comté fries.
My eagerness reached new levels as soon as I was back in London for the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Breakfast cereal demolished, lunch was immediately on my mind and as soon as I had arrived at Peckham Rye train station, my boyfriend and I started on our way to a local art gallery, only to walk past Levan, decide we were hungry and about a minute later make the executive decision to turn around and walk straight inside – only fully realising how keen we were when it turned out we were literally the first people to arrive for lunch.
It was a beautiful, hot and sunny day and we took a pew at the bar seats in the front window. With a glass of chilled white in my hand, I felt like I’d been whisked away on holiday – but I kept wanting to turn around, to soak up the view of the entire restaurant. Small and cosy with neatly laid wooden tables, striking blue walls and dappled sunlight, it was like I’d entered a French painting. Round the corner, you could hear and feel the hubbub of the open kitchen but then the shelves stacked with bottles of wine, records and books could easily place you in someone’s very cool living/dining room.
‘Striking blue walls and dappled sunlight, it was like I’d entered a French painting’.
Back to the wine though – we were eased into the extensive wine list with the help of having a one-liner per wine, that summed up its taste. I went for a white wine described as being ‘bright as a button’ like a ‘crunchy apple’ which it was exactly – so apple juice-like it was dangerously drinkable. Upon looking at the lunch menu, it was divided into snacks and sharing dishes (to be enjoyed tapas-style) alongside a daily changing lunch special and the Chef’s Menu, where you could opt for the kitchen to choose five courses for your table to share – then of course, there was cheese and delicious-sounding desserts.
First things first, we got straight to it and ordered the Comté fries. On their Instagram, Levan explain that they are based on the ‘classic Provençal dish, panisse’ and are made ‘using chickpea flour enriched with aged Comté’. Covered in a light snowfall of grated parmesan, with a dollop of saffron aioli on the side, they looked so dainty, stacked up neatly on top of one other, yet the flavour was quite the opposite. Fried cheese, meets dry, aged cheese (with little clusters of stringy melted-ness around the hot edges of the fries) dipped in wet, garlicky, mayo-goodness. Smelly and umami, it was so enjoyable it felt wrong. Quickly following this, was a plate of jambon de bayonne which we teared apart with our cheesy fingers and washed down with wine.
‘Fried cheese, meets dry, aged cheese, dipped in wet, garlicky, mayo-goodness’.
Animal-instincts sufficed, the next dish brought us back to a neutral setting. Warmed sourdough baguette and whipped butter, so light and fluffy it might as well have been cream. This was a last minute order on our behalf and was much-needed to soak up the experience of the first two dishes. We chatted and occasionally sipped our wine, people-watched and basked in the boiling hot sun – definitely kidding ourselves that we had been transported to somewhere in France or Spain.
Next to arrive was one of the more delicate courses – crab, asparagus, three cornered garlic and a bisque. Delicate in flavour as it was in presentation with a back note of seaside-fishiness, balanced perfectly with the freshness of the vegetables and garnish. After that was the lunch special – tortellini-style pasta in butter with a rabbit and black pudding crumb and hazelnuts – plus, we ordered some steamed greens in a mustard dressing on the side to squeeze in one of our five a day. I so wanted to like the pasta, however, there was something about the flavour that just didn’t sit right with me – too much butter, if there is even such a thing. My only other qualm would be (and I really don’t want to say it) but the portions were just a tad on the small side – but that’s for someone who wanted to eat their body weight in Comté fries.
‘Three days later and I’m still thinking about those Comté fries’.
And just like that, our meal was over. I could have sat in that window for hours drinking more wine but it was probably for the best that I made a start on walking off all that cheese and butter.
Three days later and I’m still thinking about those Comté fries, though.