Risky fusion manoeuvres pulled off with imagination and skill
Claim to fame: The ex-head chef at Ottolenghi’s Nopi culls big flavors from eclectic sources
Reason to go: Scully serves some of the city’s most exciting veg-focused cooking
To look out for: Grab a seat at the kitchen counter for a chat with the chefs
Do you remember when the concept of “fusion cuisine” didn’t have a bad rap? We do too, before it was ruined by misguided transcontinental mash-ups and left to die. Some chefs are pushing back against the stigma, however, and Ramael Scully, born in Malaysia and raised in Australia by parents with Chinese, Indian, Balinese and Irish heritage, is eminently qualified to think globally when writing a menu. At his eponymous restaurant in St James, Scully delivers eclectic dishes with a confidence that feels entirely natural.
The chef cut his teeth in Sydney kitchens and spent more than a decade working for Yotam Ottolenghi in London, heading up the Israeli chef’s fine-dining restaurant Nopi from its inception in 2011. In 2018 he flew the coop, with support from his old boss, and opened his own place in the new St James Market, an upmarket but rather soulless development off Piccadilly Circus.
The first thing you see upon entering the convivial, clean-lined room is a floor-to-ceiling cabinet packed with preserving jars, which sets out Scully’s intentions from the get-go. Pickling and fermenting are a core element here––the jars contain lemons, apricots, leeks, dehydrated mushrooms and much more besides––though the flavors veer more towards the Middle East and Asia than northern Europe. At the back of the room, meanwhile, impressive hunks of meat and fish hang behind glass; the dry-aged halibut will end up on the plate with mustard-seed potato, coconut tempeh and peanuts.
The menu is divided between snacks (£9-11), a small-plates section that’s entirely vegetarian (£10-14), and a concise selection of meat and fish mains (£28-34). Several early dishes arrive in two parts: the beef tendons are paired with a bowl of tomato pancetta and oyster mayo that delivers a good whack of umami. The arepa, a hot, pillowy cornmeal pocket dusted with lemon zest and dehydrated corn, comes with a cooling, subtly spiced plate of labneh and aubergine sambal.
The zucchini dish is an unexpected highlight. Three types of thinly sliced courgettes are layered with pumpkin miso, dried persimmon and a vadouvan spiced oil, with strands of battered courgette flower that could be mistaken at first glance for bacon. Sharp, sweet, salt and umami notes are held here in perfect balance.
Goat from a farm in Gloucestershire is as tender and piquant as you’d hope after prolonged slow-cooking in the company of several dozen fermented chilies. It arrives encrusted in spices after a quick turn on the plancha, cleverly offset with black barley, Swiss chard and smoked labneh.
Preserved lemons find their expression, after two patient years behind glass, in a brulée tart with tahini. Scully isn’t scared of big aromas and the lemon-tahini filling is exhilarating in its salty intensity, with a refreshingly un-sweet yogurt sorbet as a counterbalance. (Pair this with a glass of chardonnay Trockenbeerenauslese from Ewald Gruber in Austria if you want to amp up the sweetness.)
The wine list is well considered, with choices to please traditionalists and experimentalists alike. But an appetite for the offbeat and occasionally downright weird is a must for diners at this boundary-testing addition to the crowded central London dining scene.