There’s a particular kind of restaurant you used to find only in California, though now you’ll see them in Sydney, Paris, Chelsea and Notting Hill. It’s a place where every sensation is almost pathologically subtle, as if the result of complex experiments to establish which of 50 shades of greige causes the least distress in mice.
They lean heavily towards organic materials in their construction and decoration, and the soundtrack is either a very posh girl, breathily warbling the cover of a far more interesting original over a ukulele, or gongs. Staff are quirkily attractive, clad in white and ecru linen, and pad on silent feet, whispering like monks. Actually, I’m rather fond of them. It’s probably because I once married a Pilates instructor, moved to California and am subsequently cursed with nostalgia for wheatgrass, yoga and anxiety. Mainly, though, these places make me yearn for a big and dirty grilled cheese sandwich.
At first sight, Sollip is just such a temple. It is located in Bermondsey, between the eye of the hurricane of London Bridge and the lowering mass of Guy’s Hospital. It is a little beige jewel. Bomee Ki and Woongchul Park met while training at Le Cordon Bleu. She went on to success as a pastry chef, he to a string of interesting restaurants, most recently the late, much-mourned Ledbury. The menu is pitched as European fine dining with Korean influences but that implies some light blending, some homeopathic nuance. What actually occurs here is all-out down-and-dirty fusion and the results are fascinating.
On the face of it, a grilled cheese sandwich is neither calming nor cleansing and it isn’t a classic starter or particularly Korean, but Sollip’s “Gamtae Sandwich” resets expectations straight out of the traps. Duckett’s Caerphilly is a spectacularly clean-tasting, creamy unpasteurised Welsh cheese; gamtae is a roast seaweed — in this case “sea trumpet” — not unlike the nori that we might find wrapping sushi. United in layers of soft white bread and fried. Honestly? There’s never anything wrong with a grilled cheese sandwich, but this elegant little cracker of Cymro-Korean fusion opens an entire new chapter.
Gochujang has become a relatively widespread flavouring in the UK but at Sollip they make their own, adding extra seasonings — in particular fish sauce — to supercharge the umami. I can’t think of a better way of showing it off than a classic steak tartare, presented with a tiny sphere of creamy sabayon in place of egg yolk.
“Catch of the Day” was a fillet of pink bream, with the kind of meunière crust that would gratify any Francophile zealot, but served on top of Chinese cabbage, leek jangajji — not un-akin to sweet pickled onion — and shreds of samphire. This one really felt appropriate to the room. It was subtly balanced and immensely restrained, centring and deeply purifying. Like sitting in lotus position on a silken zabuton while being fed unimaginably transparent slices of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Just the idea of “Sollip Cassoulet” reaches so far into the heart of French culinary self-image that it’s practically a declaration of culture war but, God, it’s stunning. There are chunks of pork belly but not cooked to a gel . . . with more bite . . . like warm lardo. The cannellini beans are correctly soft but separate and distinct in their skins like edamame rather than cooked to a beany slurry. There’s the restrained harmonic honk of 10-month fermented kimchi, the tiniest thread of chorizo for the smoke and everything floats in a glacier-clear pork broth. It’s cassoulet all right, but dismantled like a vintage watch, every piece polished, fettled and improved, then reconstructed in a tiny, handmade bowl . . . in Bermondsey.
I’m sorry, when the food is this good, I lose a lot of grammatical control. I don’t mix metaphors so much as hit them with a stick blender. In a way, it’s what Sollip is doing with its menu. But in this case, the results aren’t confusing or wilfully off-piste, they’re just rather beautiful poetry.
I know there are times in my life when I’d just be too damn cynical for Sollip, when its hushed subtlety and restraint would come across as arch or pretentious, but this is not one of those days. Today, I want to lie back into it, allow myself to relax into the now, be one with my present . . . and maybe have another of those grilled cheese numbers.
Unit 1, 8 Melior Street, Bermondsey, London SE1 3QP; sollip.co.uk
Main courses £9-£24
Follow @FTMag on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first.