Onima restaurant review: Mayfair meets the Med
Welcome to a corner of central London where the sun is always shining
Having never been to Mykonos, I cannot say with confidence whether Onima achieves its aim of bringing the spirit of that Greek pleasure isle to London. It certainly doesn’t bring the weather: even after seeing out the worst of the deluge under an awning in nearby Bond Street, I sat down to eat with wet feet.
On reflection, however, I don’t remember exactly when they dried out. I stopped noticing somewhere in between a potent martini made with Monkey 47, one of several gins on an intriguing drinks menu, and a starter of deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta, feta and anchovy. The salty, creamy, crispy delight of textures and flavours erased all earthly thoughts of dampness.
As we wiped up the last of the cheese, the dining room, on the ground floor of a Mayfair townhouse, was chattering into life. A steady stream of expensively groomed (and cab-dry) diners streamed in at one end and, at the other, a summery picpoul de pinet fuelled our denial of the British winter.
We were assisted, too, by the atmospherics - within the restaurant, if not outside. Arcset, the Greek interior design company, has resisted the rising tide of hygge, eschewing cushions, fabrics and the other cosy-rustic contrivances. The gorgeous Georgian windows are proudly uncurtained, exposed instead behind huge sheets of glass, as if in pride of place at a museum.
Yet Onima is not an austere place. Far from it. The lighting, warm and flattering, falls on a sparing selection of bold contemporary art. It will, in fact, act as something of a gallery, with new works rotating in from time to time - but if I were in charge, I’d offer a permanent home to Antoine Vignault’s piece, a glorious concave disc of shimmering purple.
What will remain is the artful bar which faces it across the room, an impressive steampunk construction of brass tubes and glass, at once both modern and antique. During less benighted times of the year it will glint in sunlight flooding in through those big windows.
The menu is similarly hybrid, blending elements of classic Mediterranean and Asian. A glance down the menu suggests the Med has the upper hand - there’s more pasta and harissa than sesame paste - but the eastern influence comes in the cooking. A barbecue fuelled by ferociously expensive Japanese binchotan charcoal is the weapon of choice.
It certainly leaves a sweet whisper of smoke on my grilled seabass fillet, which comes with the thoroughly European accompaniments of aubergine puree, deeply savoury, and the piquancy of bitter sauteed chicory. Across the table, my partner’s guazzetto - stew - of Sicilian prawns releases a rich aroma of seafood and smoked paprika,
Despite the Italian provenance, it’s a scent redolent of Spanish summer evenings, of outdoor paella on a pavement brazier. I am, it’s fair to say, all over the map - but at least, by the end of the meal, I’m not in wintery London any more.
Onima, London W1