James Lawrence finds welcome respite in Meraki’s warm embrace.
Meraki is completely at odds with the nation’s mood right now. With the Brexit deadline looming and our patience having reached breaking point, Meraki offers a welcome respite and a gargantuan smile – this place is just lots and lots of fun. Situated in the middle of Great Titchfield Street on a wet, dreary Monday night, the interior of restaurant was buzzing with over 100 happy diners.
Of course, if you’re Nigel Farage or a hardline Brexiteer, than Meraki won’t float your boat. You’d view it with horror – the way a turkey must feel when he finds Bernard Matthews grinning at him. Amongst the considerable din, you could decipher a lot of Greek being shouted, and a smattering of other languages – English being the minority. I generally balk at politicising restaurant reviews (because frankly how many foodies want to read a lecture on Marxist theory?) but Meraki does seem ‘designed’ to make a topical point.
It’s an ode to the value of multiculturalism and immigration – without either of these things, it simply couldn’t exist. That would be a tragedy, because Meraki’s selection of mezze and Greek delicacies are lipsmackingly, gloriously delicious. But that doesn’t mean that there’s a movement to take over our culture, our jobs, or our women. Meraki’s affable staff – all European, as far as I could see – are not part of a conspiracy to rob us of ‘Britishness.’
Yet on the evening in question, I did feel like a minority, surrounded by boisterous parties of Greek friends and families enjoying a night off. For me, being transported to a taverna in Athens was a novel experience , and one that added to the overall atmosphere and feel of the place. London has a long history of tavernas — many once sited in Fitzrovia — and Charlotte Street, so I’m told, was full of intimate little dens of taramasalata, dolmades, fava, and deep-fried squid. Many have since closed down.
However, Meraki, which means “putting your heart and soul into your work and creativity,” takes a different tack. The spacious premises cover two floors and are somewhat cacophonous, a thumping soundtrack seemingly designed to compete with the ever-rising din. But whereas island tavernas (at least in my experience) often have a paltry selection of local wines, Meraki’s list is glorious celebration of the massive strides achieved in Greek viticulture and winemaking, with some options from further afield. We decided to stick to the local stuff and were not disappointed with our Greek traditional method bubbly, or the deep, structured red wines from Crete.
I should probably mention the food. It’s so easy to get distracted by all the fireworks – and sometimes the food is the weakest link in places like Meraki.
Thankfully, everything we had was really good, if not downright delicious. Mediterranean prawn carpaccio, carefully adorned with a basil, lime and chilli emulsion was a glorious ode to ‘al dente’ shellfish- the soft flesh of the red prawns contrasting against the raciness of the citrus/chilli blend with aplomb. Shellfish can so often be an overcooked disappointment, a triumph of effort over return, but not here.
A salad of Santorini cherry tomatoes, thyme, caper leaves and goats cheese transported us back to the sultry setting of Shirley Valentine (wrong island, sorry!) while the moreish lamb croquettes disappeared in 5 seconds flat.
We eschewed dishes “to share” in favour of lightly fried baby squid, lamb chops imbued with the dark, smokey flavour of a charcoal grill and beef fillet kebabs. I’m ashamed to say we ordered the lamb chops again, but then who could resit the sweet, umami-flavoured flesh of the succulent lamb chops, where the charcoal tinges were a welcome addition rather than an overpowering force. I can’t imagine any gastronome, or critic, or even a health freak refusing a second helping of the squid, nor the beef kebabs, so rich and satisfying in flavour that my companion fell into a deep contemplation. Just the sort of hedonistic nourishment we need in the difficult times ahead.
If you’re worried about Brexit, go to Meraki, it will cheer you up. And if you think Brexit is a winner, then go to Meraki. You might realise why it was such a stupid idea in the first place.
80-82 Great Titchfield St, Fitzrovia,
London W1W 7QT
020 7305 7686
James Lawrence @jameswinelover