William Sitwell reviews Maresco, London: ‘Somewhere there’s a decent lunch trying to get out’
OK, so I was a little sad as I walked into Maresco. I hadn’t been on Berwick Street for a while and, as I headed south along the road towards this recent Spanish addition to Soho, I noticed that W Sitch & Co had closed down.
All that remains of this once great lighting store is an ancient brass chandelier hanging high above the door, a hint at what used to happen within. Sitch had sold lighting since 1776 and it felt like that inside. A Dickensian treasure trove of lamps, torchiers, wall lights and sconces. And run by a guy who looked like he’d been there since the 18th century, too; a scrawny, unshaven extra from a pirate boat.
Now it’s gone, liquidated and empty, with the ground-floor windows boarded up and the words ‘Stick no bills’ daubed on. All so that we eco-warriors can advance the cause of the modern economy by buying new stuff with money we don’t have.
So what better way to cheer me up than a lively lunch of Spanish tapas, a seat at the counter to watch the action in the open kitchen and a cold glass of fino sherry to fire up the palate? With sister establishments in Crouch End (Esteban) and Stoke Newington (Escocesa), Maresco is the third opening from this group in the capital; its fundamental principle is the cooking of Scottish produce in the Spanish style.
We took our seats at the far end of the counter. The interior is sleek and comfortable-looking, the industrial lighting and steel apparatus of the kitchen’s extraction blending nicely with wooden stools and wooden under-counter panelling. There were hooks under the counter for coats, but you needed to get under the thing and shine a torch up to figure the tiny things out, and the fixed seats were so close together that if you turned to look at your neighbour you’d become entwined. So you either sit there, fixed, eyes front, like a row of schoolboys crammed into a church pew, or you need to reserve three stools for the price of one.
The menu is divided between specials, appetisers, veg, meat and ‘mariscos’ – not actually a misspelling of the name of the place, but the Spanish for seafood. The waiter suggested a flow of dishes and we started with razor clams, topped with chopped tomatoes and onions and a drizzle of green sauce. They were fine, not spectacular, fresh-tasting if a little chewy.
Then came a bomba Maresco (a big round crisp potatoey thing in a tangy tomato sauce with a large squirt of white sauce on top), followed by croquetas Menorquinas (small round crisp things in a tangy tomato sauce, with dots of white sauce), patatas bravas (medium-size crisp, roundish things on a tangy tomato sauce dotted with splodges of white and a drizzle of the green sauce) and ‘charcoal leeks’ (burnt then peeled to their sweet and nutty best, and served with a tangy red sauce).
It was like being in a dizzying hall of mirrors, a dystopia with a tasting menu of near-identical dishes. We found some relief in the langoustines, beautifully, tenderly fresh and with a green sauce (remember the razor clams…?).
Full but frustrated, having felt we hadn’t dug deep enough to do the gaff justice, we then ate a plate of excellent fried chipirones (baby squid), just the sort of dish you might get in an alleyway off Las Ramblas, and an unnecessary presa Iberica, an oily dish of beefy pork with flabby, tasteless mushrooms.
We left curiously frazzled: somewhere in Maresco there’s a decent lunch trying to get out that could, unlike poor old Sitch, be rescued.
More from William Sitwell: William Sitwell reviews The Lost Kitchen, Devon: ‘Old-school locals may harrumph at the exotic menu’