Right in the heart of London’s Aldwych theatre crowd, Zela London introduces us to “Meppon Cuisine.”
Not something you may be aware of perhaps, but that’s because it’s a new style of cuisine where Japan meets the Med, or to be even clearer, mainly Spain and Portugal. Perhaps more as a nod to its celebrity investors.
Zela’s original roots hail from Ibiza, the land of 24-hour clubbing and hip bars and with marquee names Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafa Nadal and Enrique Iglesias billed as co-owners there is certainly going to be no shortage of interest from hipster millennials with deep pockets.
Set inside the equally hip ME Hotel, Zela London is certainly no laid back wallflower. On the contrary, her walls are literally lined with growing exotic greenery that I find quite comforting. It’s like being enveloped in wellness and vitality which you hope transmits itself to the food which, I’m glad to say in this case, it does very well.
Meppon might be a hip new brand style but for lovers of Japanese food, there are plenty of familiar names to remind you that at its very heart is a cuisine of fresh and healthy produce. There are just a few additions that are inspired by members of the Mediterranean diet family.
I land a window corner table perfect for people watching. Well, it is a Saturday night. I pass by a female DJ spinning some laid back electro sounds and a barstool crowd enjoying cocktails.
I really want to experience the best of what Meppon is all about so I give the menu some serious study. There’s a section on Nigiri and Uramaki, another on Sashimi Usuzukuri, and another on Sushi Omakase; all this before I get to the main dishes. Clearly spotting my serious devotion to the menu, my amiable server offers to bring a couple of easy starters to kick me off.
Edamame (£5), always a favourite, but this comes with shichimi salmorejo which is to all intents and purposes a version of a spicy bravas dip. It’s a great combination and I’m warming to the task.]
Another decorative plate materialises with three pieces of smoked salmon, burrata and tomato sitting on a bed of very tasty rice flakes (£12). And then another: a generous bowl of very delicious tuna tartare mixed with a fried egg. (£14). My wooden chopsticks are beginning to feel like well-honed cutlery.
By now Zela is rapidly filling up and my corner spot pays dividends as Covent Garden’s in-crowd are also Meppon-curious. The DJ has made way for a live music act; a curious Amy Winehouse doppelganger, singing while accompanying herself with a harpsichord. Clearly, fusion is everywhere at Zela.
Another pretty plate brings a selection of tasty nigiri omakase (£4) delightfully delicate dumplings; some filled with shrimp others with vegetables. Then, two pancetta bao buns (£17), memories of a late night in Hanoi one summer come flooding back.
This is all going rather well. It’s like a Japanese tapas experience with lots of flavour and texture served on an endless variety of exquisite dishes of all shapes and sizes.
My last nibble before the main act arrives, kappa maki (£9), essentially sushi with bits of nori seaweed on the outside filled with avocado and cucumber and fresh ginger and wasabi on the side. Curiously, this one all Japanese without a hint of anything remotely Iberian.
With a flourish, my server is back with my main course; melt in your mouth wagyu teriyaki slow-cooked for 48 hours (£34). It comes sitting on a celeriac sauce and it’s supported by a steaming bowl of fried rice mixed with mushrooms, truffles and onsen tamago which is a Japanese soft egg delicately cooked in low-temperature water (£19).
After a filling dinner of authentic Meppon cuisine, I count myself as something of an expert now. Very tasty Japanese food at its centre with some subtle nods to Iberia, but not really enough to deter from enjoying some delicious treats from the land of the rising sun.
Zela is open all day. Another surprise. Breakfast, lunch and dinner and finally closing at 1 am. Although I suspect this is more about providing ME Hotel with all day food choices than it is for us to experience breakfast Meppon dishes. A puzzle solved by a return visit perhaps, after all, you can’t really be an expert until you’ve tried it all.
Tell me more about Zela London
Zela London 336-337 Strand London WC2R 1HA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7395 3400
Zela offers a seven-course tasting menu for £85