For understated seasonal food in an 80s art-focused setting, head to Toklas, the newish restaurant from founders of the Frieze festival, Amanda Sharp and Mathew Slotover. Toklas takes its name from Alice Toklas, the name behind the famous 1954 cookbook, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, famed for including the first modern recipe for cannabis brownies. Cutting edge stuff makes for a good choice of name – the restaurant very much has the feeling of being the type of place that chefs and the foodie “in-crowd” would head to for a night off.
Housed at 180 The Strand, just off Aldwych and beneath the same site as Soho House’s latest outpost, the restaurant itself is behind a building site-type door and sits above a small flight of concrete steps; once you skirt past the building site security, you find yourself on a long, plant-filled terrace featuring some very colourful chairs. This outdoor terrace will certainly be abuzz when spring / summer arrives proper.
Step inside and it’s a vast, warehouse-style space, with a bar and lounge area straight ahead and the restaurant extending to the right and along the length of the building with an open kitchen. Toklas’ décor is casual yet effortlessly stylish – think the kind of mid-century space you might see on the Modern House website. The bar/dining room feels like a cross between a 1970s college canteen and the Barbican – casual and austere at the same time. Think art posters, concrete, reclaimed wood, parquet flooring.
As to the food, Toklas’ chef, Martyn Lyons, has impressive credentials, having worked with Ollie Dabbous and at Spring and Moro. When booking, I was told the (regularly changing) menu is veggie-centric. With influences from across the Med, their aim is to serve “simple and unpretentious, but fresh and excellent” food which is exactly what is achieved.
To start, we went for Panisse and sage (£6), a.k.a. chips made from chickpea flour. Whether sprinkled with parmesan or not, this is must-have snacking food – worth order immediately. A crisp exterior and a salty fluffy inside, they’re ideal with a glass of wine.
Alongside, we went for the Fennel and blood orange salad (£11). Beautifully fresh, light and seasonal, this dish is exemplary of Toklas’ style: simple, well-sourced ingredients served in an effective manner. Adorned with toasted almonds, the nuts finished this tangle of thinly shaved ribbons off to perfection.
For mains, I went for the Alubia beans, broad beans, artichokes and salsa verde (£19). Close to a stew, though hearty this bowl didn’t feel wintery heavy. The vibrant pesto-like green salsa and fresh green beans gave the dish a Spring uplift – ideal for this seasonal transition weather.
The wine list is solely European, with a good amount available by the carafe. Cocktails are £10-12 and there’s a good selection of low ABV cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks.
With a regularly changing menu, Toklas is ripe for repeat visits and is a lovely place to while away a few hours with food and wine. I can’t wait to visit Toklas’ bakery, which comes from Adam Sellar, the man behind Little Bread Pedlar’s bread-baking business. Though there’s nothing flashy about Toklas, that’s the beauty of it; amongst the recent bold openings, the quiet, refined simplicity of Toklas with its well-curated wine list and expert cooking is very thing that makes it sing.
Toklas, 1 Surrey St, Temple, London WC2R 2ND