Reviewed by Olivia Blair
'It feels like we're at a dinner party,' my boyfriend, Lewis, whispers to me, as we take our seats at one of two long communal tables, each holding 18.
Held in an industrial-looking space in Marylebone's Blandford Street, just around the corner from celebrity haunt The Chiltern Firehouse, Carousel is the inspired idea of pop-up dining-experience experts Shuttlecock inc - aka cousins Ollie (ex Moro), Will, Ed and Anna Templeton. Celebrating its first birthday this month, the five year pop- up will showcase an ever-changing roster of top chefs from around the world, each taking over the kitchen for a few days/weeks.
The night we go it is the turn of Shaun Presland, Executive Chef of Sake Japanese restaurants, found on the east coast of Australia. He does exquisite modern Japanese, and learnt from the very best, having trained with Nobu Matsuhisa.
We are there at the end of Shaun's residency ( 4th-15th August), but he has a worthy successor in Céline Pham, the French-Vietnamese chef, who recently sold out her stint at the Paris Supper club La Table Ronde, with her Vietnamese-with-a-twist cuisine. Following Céline, chef /writer John Gregory-Smith will bring his take on Turkish food in September.
Before the food arrives, guests circle the bar, networking over the house grapefruit and Grey Goose cocktails, designed to go with tonight's menu, as delicious aromas fill the air from the open kitchen. Once we're all seated, sashimi is served first, in a large shell over a bed of ice. The presentation is beautiful and it's the freshest sashimi I've ever tasted. It goes perfectly with a glass of Jurançon Sec, which complements all courses.
The five course (pre-paid on booking) set menu is £35 a head, but there is the option to add a further two dishes, each for an extra £8.50– a good call, as they turn out to be the most delicious of the evening. All diners are served at the same time, working our way through dainty portions of salmon, scallop and avocado tartare, aromatic teriyaki-glazed, crispy skin kingfish (flown in from Australia), chirashi sushi (sushi salad), and miso soup,. We try sake with the kingfish but it's an acquired taste, and way too sharp for me. The first extra is mushimono – Chinese-inspired steamed prawns wrapped in shredded gyoza (dumplings), full of smokey, rich flavours and cooked to perfection: my standout of the evening. The second is tataki - slightly seared Yorkshire beef,- with ginger soy dressing and garlic chips. And just when we think we can't fit in another morsel, along comes dessert: a creamy buttermilk pannacotta with summer fruit coulis.
As the evening flows, the chilled music we heard at the beginning of the night is drowned out by conversation. I find the communal seating a tad too intimate, mistaking my neighbour's glass of water for mine at one point: awkward. And it is definitely not a first/second date venue, or one for a gossipy catch-up, as so you can't help but eavesdrop on your neighbours. By the end of the evening I know that the woman to my right is in the final stages of becoming a British citizen and the man to my left, a newly-converted yoga addict.
But that is all part of the experience: it was a fantastic opportunity to try Shaun Presland's culinary magic, without having to fly half-way round the world, and although his stint is over, there is an impressive line-up to come. Carousel is a foodie's heaven, and I would definitely go back for more.
Carousel, 71 Blandford Street, Marylebone, W1U 8AB, 020 7487 5564
Shaun Presland finished at Carousel on 15th August. Céline Pham is in the kitchen 18th-22nd August), and John Gregory-Smith 1st-5th September. See website for details.
THE ELLE SCORE:
Value for money 8/10
Price: £35.00 pp (prepaid when booking) for a five-course dinner. Two optional extra courses are £8.50 each.
Glass of house wine: £5, Bottle: £22.
Glass of prosecco: £7.50. Bottle: £30.
Private Room – No
Garden/outdoor dining – Outside terrace for drinks before food.
NEAREST TUBE: Marylebone/ Baker Street/ Marble Arch/Bond Street
OPENING TIMES: Tuesday – Saturday. Dinner is from 7pm. Lunch is 12pm-3pm.
GOOD FOR: Foodies, group dinners