Lunch in the Lanes is always a nice prospect, especially on a Wednesday lunchtime. Nothing better to get you outside, especially as I’ve been staring at a screen all morning; I hope for a quiet spot and some transporting flavours. We park off Old Steine and take a short stroll in the sun to our destination on Nile Street, easy to find and not at all ‘lost’, though I suspect the meaning is not literal. I am accompanied by my fellow foodie, and wife, Agnese.
Lost in the Lanes is located on the ground floor of the deco-style Nile Pavilions building, which welcomes us into Nile Street. The chairs and tables arranged outside shepherd us to the bright and airy entrance. We are greeted by the warm tones of both the décor and our waitress Zoe and are seen to a table for two tucked in behind a large bench seat that divides the length of the space. The table is patinated brass and the chairs are ashen wood in a clean, modern scandi style. Light spills in from the broad front windows which benefit the café seating at the front of the restaurant and the coffee bar. We are sitting towards the back of the restaurant which is dressed in darker woods and warmer, natural tones and gives a more intimate feel despite the high ceilings, open plan and wall-spanning mirrors maximising all that natural light. It reminds me a little of a modern Parisian brasserie.
At the back of the restaurant the kitchen is open to the dining space with its culinary performance in full view, the air is filled with the gentle clatter of the kitchen and the chatter of guests, families, couples and reassuring chugs from the coffee machine.
Mediterranean Treat – Root and Branch
Like Agnese and myself, the menu grew up in the Mediterranean. There are a couple of dishes I don’t recognise (always exciting), a couple of old brunch favourites and a couple more that seemed slightly off the beaten track, Miso French Beans with cured egg yolk, ok, and House Pickles with Labneh (a thick yoghurt), definitely asking about those! As we’re peppering Zoe with questions about the Catalan Roasted Summer Vegetables, marinated in fine Mediterranean olive oil and the Ajo Blanco (more on that later), we learn that these influences come from the owners’ previous life in Ibiza and Spain. Clearly, her passion for the flavours and colours of Mediterranean cuisine, spanning from Iberia to the Levant, has found a natural home here in the diverse and bright Lanes of the city. We order the miso French beans and the pickles with labneh out of sheer curiosity and potatoes with black truffle oil, lemon, parsley and aged parmesan, because, why wouldn’t you? On recommendation from Zoe, I choose a glass of Italian white wine and Agnese a French rose, just to keep our palates on the point you understand.
Starters are glorious – beautifully presented and plated – there is a distinct waft of truffle from the potatoes. The pickles are rolled slivers of beetroot and daikon lounging on a thick, strained yoghurt to balance out the tartness, delicious and delicate with a sweet and clean aftertaste. French beans are equally fine, if not initially confusing, not at all in a bad way, they were perfectly cooked, still with a little bite, and salty with a light mustard tang. What confused me was the egg, it appeared as though it were grated lemon zest and although it clearly states ‘cured egg yolk’ on the menu it took a moment for the taste buds to counter what the eyes wanted to see, a neat trick! Lastly the potatoes, or ‘how to take the humble and elevate it to the remarkable.’
Lost In The Potatoes
The first words out of Agnese’s mouth were “Oh my God!”, followed by “wow!” and I think I managed a “phwoar!”. Hardly the eloquence that one normally aspires to, but we are talking near speechless here, no fancy words, just sensory awe. Crunch, salt, garlic, truffle, stay with me…aged parmesan umami, fluffy potato, zest of lemon and crispy flecks of rosemary and more, lingering, truffle. Moreish-ness-ness doesn’t even begin to explain the moments of total focus which followed. The only thing that brought us back was the crisp, refreshing counter of the pickles, which cut right through that deep, salty comfort of the spuds like a blade. Elizabeth, who had taken over from Zoe, came to see if we were alright and reassured us that we were not the first unsuspecting diners to be similarly enchanted and with that, served our mains.
Ajo Blanco – This Is Good!
Ajo Blanco is a fascinating and unique dish, also sometimes referred to as the white gazpacho, a cold soup of almonds and bread (though apparently not in this case) with garlic, cucumber and olive oil. No doubt there are many variations, some including milk, vinegar and other more exotic fantasies. At Lost in The Lanes, we are presented with a dish handsomely garnished with swaths of dark green oil and topped with asparagus, flaked almonds, cress and punctuated with small but flavoursome pickled grapes. The taste is subtle and creamy without being overly rich. As the oil melanges with the white soup, a visual treat unfolds in rivulets and swirls of marbled green and white. Agnese’s response is one of wonder and intrigue, immediately enquiring about the ingredients and the art of pickling grapes, my attention however is reserved for the hake.
The fish is nestled on a bed of poached fennel and escorted by halves of plum tomato, a healthy dollop of lemon aioli with a dusting of paprika and the whole dish wallows in a rich and deliciously buttery sauce. The hake is moist, and the creamy sauce, with that undercurrent of fennel and slight acidity of the tomatoes, is dangerously divine. The Italians have a solution to this type of problem known as the “scarpetta” or “little shoe” which is effectively using bread to mop up the sauce at the end of the course. I try to retain a modicum of decorum.
By this point, we were well-sated and thinking about a coffee to round off the meal but Elizabeth has other ideas. The dessert menu is curt and gets straight to the point, offering a white chocolate & toasted coconut ice cream sandwich or a brioche pudding; we are recommended the latter and frankly don’t put up much of a resistance, compromising on sharing one between the two of us. The brioche itself, with mascarpone and lemon curd, is warm and heavenly but the poppyseed praline adds a twist. Like miniature slabs of granite, it cracks satisfyingly in contrast to the meltingly soft brioche, we make short work of it.
Just Like A Prayer
For Agnese and I, coffee is more of a religion than a beverage so we were delighted to see that there is an entire corner of the restaurant dedicated as a temple to coffee worship. The coffee bar, a busy part of the place, entices passers-by with a fine selection of cakes and pastries as well as the revered bean and the espresso and the macchiato we order are the perfect ‘amen’.
Lost in the Lanes is an escape, the light, the space and the relaxed atmosphere are transporting but, the real trick is in the flavours. You could be forgiven for forgetting your whereabouts. Your taste buds, and your senses, will wonder just enough, that for a moment at least, you can be truly Lost.