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Solis restaurant review by Jimi Famurewa: ‘Haute Basic’ grill is a treasure among tat

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

The newest Arcade food hall is so vast that it is concerning; so vast that it feels like being hurled into a physicalised Deliveroo interface; so vast that it makes your head hurt.

Wedged up on the first floor of the new Battersea Power Station, it is a 500-cover, horizonless sprawl of hatch kitchens, pocket restaurants and bars that occasions a sense of insignificance and a kind of vicarious nervousness on behalf of the hospitality group tasked with filling it. What is the plan? Who is going to come here? Why, like much of this enormous, sparsely peopled cathedral of mega-mall blandness, does it resemble an elaborate loss-leader? If the idea is to make a diner feel like a kid in a candy store then, amid the glossy desolation of a quiet Wednesday lunchtime, the misfortune is that this specifically applies to those weirdly empty ones that line Oxford Street.

Still, if the broader project of Arcade Battersea prompts multiple questions, then its most recent standalone addition brings only the best sort of dependable answers. Solis, a self-consciously nostalgic Ibero-Latin grill from chefs Ana Gonçalves and Zijun Meng, is not especially bold or unexpected. In fact, you might even say that it exemplifies an ascendent new trend of gently louche, meat-and-potatoes menu conservatism that we might call Haute Basic. But the sharply whittled details here — the smoky succulence permeating griddled poultry; a mouth-coating, buttery Basque cheesecake that, in terms of texture and desirability, is downright inhalable — amount to something magical, affecting and all too rare.

The chicken with chips (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
The chicken with chips (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

This is not exactly what the food cognoscenti were expecting from Gonçalves and Meng’s first permanent venture. Having met while working for Nuno Mendes, the couple’s TĀ TĀ Eatery brand has been famed for its splicing of food cultures (very broadly speaking, Iberian produce and inflections alongside polyglot East Asian influences) and swashbuckling, tasting counter-adjacent spirit.

Solis, then — a heartfelt tribute to the sorts of Portuguese chicken restaurants and South American parillas that Lisbon-born Gonçalves remembers from her youth — is something of a departure. Or, rather, TĀ TĀ applying their signature flavour meticulousness to a repertoire that is about as uncomplicated as it gets. First to land on the wipe-clean, blue-and-white gingham of our table, after wheel-greasing, mandarin Cognac sangrias, were snacky para picar; sweet-edged, caramelised onion and beef croquettes; tuna-stuffed domes of devilled egg (huevos rellenos) beneath a mirrored, yolk-gold spill of piquant, Argentine “salsa golf”; and skewered, plump gilda with the vinegared punch of boquerones and a Van Helsing-level quantity of pickled garlic.

Smoky succulence permeates griddled poultry … the buttery Basque cheesecake is downright inhalable

Next came the grilled meat combination plates that can’t help but feel like Solis trundling its tanks onto the lawns of any affordable steak or piri piri purveyor you’d care to name. The beef is blushing, well-rested flat iron and arrives with a gorgeously weighted version of gungey entrecôte sauce.The chicken is a spatchcocked half-bird, recumbent in a pale orange pool of hypnotic, mellow aji aji oil. Both of them come with a rustling cascade of golden, perfect chips and feel like someone handing you both remote controls, kneading your shoulders and telling you it’s going to be okay.

True, you could note that the asador salad is made with fairly insipid tomatoes. More broadly, that the vegetarian options are very much lacking (Gonçalves and Meng are planning to rectify this with meat-free quesadillas and a Swiss chard, cheese and runny-yolked whole egg pie). But the fact that these chefs are sprinkling their stardust on something so accessible, the fact that dishes cost around the same as their pappy Nando’s equivalents and are at least five times as enjoyable, is just immensely cheering.

The Basque cheesecake (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
The Basque cheesecake (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Solis, named after the 16th-century Portuguese explorer who set sail for what is now Uruguay, wants for some adventurousness; it will need volume and consistency to continue to succeed. Nonetheless, it brings a simple egalitarian profundity to its puzzling, cavernous surroundings. And it shows that, rather than imposing size, it is sweating the small stuff that truly makes a lasting, treasurable impact.

Battersea Power Station, Circus Road South, SW11 8DD. Meal for two plus drinks about £70. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 11am-10pm and Sunday from 11am-8pm; arcadefoodhall.com/solis