What's the draw
Levan is neither a difficult restaurant to get to nor a difficult restaurant to get. You can find it cloistered next to Peckham Rye station, looking all effortlessly cool and aloof thanks to its glass frontage and warmly lit interior. With a name inspired by legendary New York DJ Larry Levan – and a playlist that draws heavily from that post-disco era's jazz and soul inflections – Levan has no qualms about its overt trendiness. It is, after all, the sister restaurant of Brixton's Salon and arrived on the South East London food scene in October last year, with sizeable small-plate prestige and Young Turks-affiliation in tow. Chef Nicholas Balfe's sustainably minded menu is designed for grazing on while you make fast friends with the restaurant's tome of a wine list. The sexy candle-lit toilets, on the other hand, are designed for squinting in the mirror at your reflection and making your hands smell faintly of sandalwood.
What to drink
The predominantly low-intervention, organic and biodynamic wine list at Levan is mammoth – unwieldy, even. It's 15 pages of pithy descriptions rammed with everything from standard French sauv blancs to deep cuts like Czech pinot noir and sous voile whites from the Jura region. Thankfully, the knowledgeable staff are novice-friendly and great at directing your plan of attack. We started with a glass of the 2018 Cosimo Maria Masini, a Tuscan skin-contact number where plump trebbiano grapes have been allowed to keep their skin on in an open vat for 7 days before being moved onto the next stage of their fermentation process. That might sound like behaviour typical of a deranged grape serial killer but, boy, does it get results; the wine had a pleasant herbal bouquet tailed by an orange peel lick on the lips. Our next selection was a 2018 Wilder Satz from fraternal wine producers Daniel and Jonas Brand. Hailing from the Pfalz region of Germany, the white was a juicy, cloudy and quaffable composition of müller thurgau, chardonnay, silvaner and scheurebe grape varieties. We could drink a case of it, darling, and would still be on our feet.
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What to eat
The comté fries. Please eat the comté fries. A riff on Provençal panisse, these golden cuboids are made from aged comte-enriched chickpea flour and arrive covered by a generous shaving of comté for good measure. The fries get all hot and heavy underneath that dairy duvet, creating a frisson between the cheese and its saffron aioli counterpart that sits just between the poles of 'far too much' and 'nowhere near enough'. Mushroom tempura with sesame vinaigrette felt slightly one-note in comparison; perhaps the only plate that didn't leave its all on the court. Seasonal heritage tomatoes with strawberry umeboshi, though, were doused in a fig leaf dressing that was fine, fresh, fierce and the perfect salve for a summer dusk. The latter was just one example of how Levan nails the basic fundamentals of, well, good food. Honest chefs don't hide their deeds, and the kitchen's instinct of when to ramp up the panache and when to take a back seat to its quality ingredients seems to be innate. A round of girolle, pea and ricotta tortelli didn't lean on an overbearing sauce as a crutch but laid itself honest and bare under a scrimmage of burly peas, cheese and seasonal shrooms, and each pliant pasta parcel wept with earthy flavour. Some might argue that the roast cod – a wild, wicked slip of fish served with raw ribbons of courgette in a light sesame dressing – is a somewhat meagre portion for £17.50. But none will be able to deny that the verdant courgette and basil velouté makes that fish taste money, wrapping its arms around each flake like a much-belated embrace.
Wine by the glass from £5.5, snacks from £6.5. 12-16 Blenheim Grove, Peckham, SE15 4QL; levanlondon.co.uk