December 9, 2022

Portal Turist Coecua Toriano

Explore The World

Why London, Paris restaurants are serving California food

Perched for display near the front door, the three-grape red blend from Sonoma County is labeled “Geyserville,” giving diners at SOLA Soho a hint of what’s to come.

An American-accented chef with Los Angeles roots roams the tables visiting guests, whose multi-course tasting meal starts with seaweed and sake-cured hamachi served with a vinaigrette made from burnt baby leek, kinako (toasted soybeans) and olive oil from Solano County. Later, dessert kicks off with ice cream flavored by pistachios from the San Joaquin Valley alongside calamansi crema and charentais cantaloupe.

Succulent air plants hang in glass tubes above, as if transplanted from a Joshua Tree sojourn.

It may appear as a gimmick or pretense to create Golden State allure in a nation of dark booths and gloomy weather. But SOLA is Michelin-starred fine-dining, a top-rated destination in London’s bustling Soho district that’s made its name since pandemic-era restaurant rules eased last year and Britons returned to eating out in one of Europe’s biggest and most ethnically diverse cities.

“Californian food is an ethos,” says Victor Garvey, head chef and owner of SOLA, a portmanteau of Soho and Los Angeles in a metropolis better known for its meaty roasts alongside starchy sides and pints of beer or its haute French cuisine and plentiful South Asian, Caribbean and Middle Eastern cookeries.

“A brightness, lightness and freshness,” Garvey says, describing his homage to the West Coast. “We want to bring that to Europe.”

California is having a moment across the Atlantic, where every month brings a new restaurant, chef or menu imported from Los Angeles or San Francisco.

In the last year, L.A. cooks Nancy Silverton of Mozza and Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market have opened locations in London. Eggslut, the brioche egg sandwich chain that began as an L.A. food truck, now has three cafes in this city. Toca Madera, the club-like West 3rd Street spot where vegan enchiladas are paired with $16 margaritas, opened a rooftop outpost in Marylebone. A restaurant in a hotel in the financial district lures in patrons with two words — Malibu Kitchen — before offering “superfood salads, cured fish and meat, and plant-based dishes.”

Even in Paris, a city skilled at contempt for things American, a chic hotel north of the Seine recently opened Santa Barbara-inspired Montecito. And a chef who once worked the kitchens at Venice’s Gjusta and Gjelina is cooking up California-meets-Nashville cuisine in the 10th arrondissement and will soon launch a spot in the 11th.

In Munich and Milan, bright, yellow-accented cafes advertising sunny dishes and avocado toast have popped up with cursive neon signs and wall murals that could pass for a West Hollywood scene made for Instagram. In Ljubljana, a violet-hued cafe is introducing Slovenians to poke bowls inspired by Los Angeles and Honolulu.

“In food, ‘California’ has become a trendy word,” says Mailea Weger, the former chef of Echo, a “deli Californien” that in recent years popularized breakfast chorizo tacos, huevos rancheros and crispy rice bowls for Parisians. “I don’t mean that in a negative way. People recognize California as at the forefront of cuisine. Europeans visit Los Angeles or San Francisco and seem to decide they want a bit of them back home.”

“But no, avocado toast is not the new croissant,” says Weger, who grew up in San Diego and spent 14 years in Venice and Hollywood kitchens, including Gjusta, Gjelina and Tender Greens, while living in Frogtown.

“Perhaps the most significant flaring of organized rebellion” in modern food “took place in California,” a food critic in the Financial Times wrote recently of West Coast cuisine taking root in Britain. “All nations are here, and all leave their culinary footprint. Add in a pot-luck dinner’s worth of climates, plus an open-minded, anything-goes culinary consciousness and you end up with a fine place to be hungry,” said the Mail on Sunday, describing the California experience.

Cooks prepare dinner at SOLA, which has an extensive tasting menu that draws on California influences.

(Alice Zoo / For The Times)

At SOLA, where an 11-course meal costs more than $170 — before nearly $140 in wine pairings — the menu pays homage to California in its own way. Ingredients are mostly seasonal and local, largely purchased from British farmers, with a new dish switched out every few weeks.

With space for about 20 diners at a time during lunch and dinner, Garvey, 36, and his staff have crafted a meeting of Californian, Japanese and, on occasion, French flavors (they show up most in the desserts, where chocolate creme with passion fruit caramel and peanut praline is served). It’s high on citrus, salt, acid and seafood — like Scottish langoustine flambeed table-side over a piping hot lava rock. It’s low on butter, though foie gras dipped in cherry jelly makes its appearances for the taste buds that gravitate toward the creamy, savory and decadent.

It all suggests that cultures can — even amid wars and disturbing nationalism — remain distinct yet mingle to create something shared and new.

Previously, there’s been Colorado lamb and, at another point, artichoke thistles on the menu — flown in from Santa Barbara and baked in gratin and white truffle.

Sous chef Andy Parker and chef Salvatore Greco.

Sous chef Andy Parker and chef Salvatore Greco.

(Alice Zoo / For The Times)

“Some people like to use local and minimize their carbon footprint. We do too, but we are in the market of delivering the absolute best we can do.… It just so happens for us that the best pistachios [are] from California,” says Garvey, who grew up in Barcelona to a French-Spanish-Moroccan mother and an American father and got his start as a teen taking out trash and washing dishes at an Italian restaurant on Las Ramblas. “The olive oil that we get from California is for a specific vinaigrette and a specific style. It’s quite peppery.”