Is the cult of fermentation the future of veganism?
Flat Three, 120-122 Holland Park Ave, London W11 4UA
I didn’t have high hopes for Flat Three. Firstly, the name consists of two words, which I dread when used in the context of food. Secondly, its distant location, which was right next to a branch of Giraffe, involved a lengthy schlep across town all the way to Holland Park. This basement restaurant serves fusion cuisine, which is inspired by Nordic, Japanese and Korean cooking. Although this combination of three different types of cooking sounds like an arbitrary mishmash, it transforms into something delicious because these culinary traditions do share some similarities such as the use of raw seafood and fermented foods. Moreover, right by the open kitchen are shelves laden with jars filled with pickled and fermented ingredients.
Things got intriguing with the arrival of the food. Initially, I was served with a grilled mochi bread, which was crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. This was immediately followed by an oxheart tomato salad with rock samphire and natto, which is Japanese fermented soya beans. It tasted exquisite along with the sweet and intense flavour from the heirloom oxheart tomato and a subtle nutty taste from the natto. The home-made tofu had a silky texture resembling a smooth panna cotta, with a contrasting texture from the crunchy seeds scattered on the top. It was accompanied by a rich savoury flavour and herbal notes from the lovage oil.
Subsequently, the star dish of the evening arrived. It was pleasantly caramelised grilled sand carrots, which lay on top of the extremely creamy carrot purée, and reminded me of sweet potato. Topping the whole dish was some pickled wild carrot, which provided the sharpness to cut through the sweet and rich taste of the dish. The next was the aubergine with its melting soft and oozing flavour. It was a little like my favourite miso aubergine but with an added kimchi-like kick from the Ssamjang. I could have eaten that with a bowl of fluffy rice.
The only dud in the meal was the Buckwheat dish with spring kabu, a type of Japanese turnip. It tasted like a risotto that was too grainy and had a bland taste. I suppose it acted as an effective palate cleanser after the delicious preceding dishes. The menu ended with a moreish chocolate and Korean date dessert. The chocolate tasted like a hybrid between a very good ganache and mousse despite no cream being used. A slight saltiness from the caramelised kombu complemented the sweet chocolate.
“Who would have thought that a veganism menu can entice me to make that arduous return trek to Holland Park?”
I suppose, initially, I had very low expectations from Flat Three and so the bar was set low. However, not only did the expectations rise, but also the vegan tasting menu turned out to be fascinating and quite delicious. It highlighted that the usual problems in veganism cuisine can be overcome through the judicious use of fermented ingredients. The aging process through fermentation can concentrate the flavours and introduce umami flavours, which compensate for the lack of flavours when animal products are excluded. Who would have thought that a vegan menu can entice me to make that arduous return trek to Holland Park?