Sollip promised so much on paper. Sadly the reality was markedly different. At least our experience was memorable. In eight years of regularly writing on restaurants, Sollip achieved something no other venue had previously done: straight after his meal, your reviewer went to another restaurant for a second dinner – for he had been left wanting by Sollip, in every sense of the term. The feeling was mutual, shared also by Gourmand Gunno’s two comrades for the evening.
Begin at the beginning though. The husband and wife duo behind Sollip trained together at the Cordon Bleu cookery school and can count many impressive venues on their CVs including the Ledbury and the Arts Club. Sollip is their first solo venture, set on a back street close to London Bridge Station and on the edge of trendy Bermondsey. The angle is a good one too: take classic French dishes – from gougeres to tarte tatin via beef tartare – and pimp them up with Korean ingredients, the country from which the couple originally hail. So far so good, but on entering the venue, my misgivings began.
Sollip takes minimalism to an extreme, with not a single distinguishing feature adorning their walls. It felt almost clinical, lacking in either emotion or joie de vivre. Perhaps the optimist might assume that the cooking would (have to) speak for itself in such austere surroundings. Then consider the menu. It’s at least mercifully brief with three appetisers, eight mains and three desserts. However, it was somewhat bewildering to decipher. While I could explain to my comrades what both daikon and gochujang were (respectively a white radish and a fermented chilli bean paste – in case you were wondering, or if you’re uninitiated in all things Korean and culinary), we were all stumped by the sea trumpet. Our server seemed markedly reluctant to engage in anything more than perfunctory conversation and made little effort to clarify or indeed enthuse us about any of the options. We were recommended to have “about two to three dishes each” and so dutifully ordered seven to share among our group.
First up was the ‘Gamtae sandwich’, comprising the much vaunted sea trumpet (a type of seaweed, I subsequently learned when researching online) and some Caerphilly cheese. Size-wise it was akin to what might be found on an afternoon tea platter; in other words, a four-inch by one-inch crustless pair of bread slices with some filling daintily placed inside. Surely given there were three of us, it may have made sense for our server to suggest one sandwich each? Our tiny mouthful was sufficiently unremarkable for it to provide no compensation, given the challenge attached to dividing it. At £4 for such an offering, the turn of phrase, ‘you’re having a laugh’ sprung to mind. And so it went on. The food at least improved. The taste sensations embedded within the carrot salad, beef tartare and short ribs were nothing short of exquisite, but – oh my gosh – how small were the portions! We were not sure whether to laugh or cry when the black truffle buttered rice that accompanied our rib finale comprised just a teaspoon each of starch. Further, what Sollip’s dishes gained in terms of taste, they lost in terms of presentation, where the minimalist vibe persisted and in extemis.
We felt like visitors to Lilliput. Akin to poor Gulliver, we were confounded by dishes so tiny and unadorned that we barely knew what to do with them. What I do remember is forking out close on £50 a person (cum drinks and service) and leaving terribly, terribly disappointed. Sollip is a brave effort but one destined to fail unless it implements some drastic changes. The old school curry – give me some sizzling prawns and a lamb chop any day – we had around the corner for half the price was infinitely more satisfying and joyful.