Hithe + Seek is tucked away in The Westin, a large glass-enclosed hotel on part of London’s Bankside, between the River Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. If you work in the city, chances are you’ve walked past it but never had a reason to enter. Now you do.
The restaurant could benefit from better signage at street level, but this stylish tapas bar has one thing in mind and executes it impressively: the food and wine pairings.
Pairing isn’t a new concept, but Hithe + Seek’s commitment to exploring every corner of the globe for wines that elevate its quirky little dishes makes this relatively new opening imaginative, fun, and – true to its name – deserves to be sought.
In many ways, the interior of Hithe + Seek is reminiscent of a classic town hall bar, with matte gold, black, and teal dominating the color palette.
It might be a bit too clinical for some tastes, but the glistening view of the Thames from our table (the restaurant is opposite the Tate Modern) is the real attraction here. At the height of the London summer, a spot by the water is always in demand.
Eat and drink
There’s plenty to get excited about on the menu, which offers dishes between £9 and £15. Seems quite reasonable for a deep-pocketed part of town, but it’s the eccentricity of the suits that grabs my attention, rather than the relatively low cost.
“Salted mackerel and tartare, rhubarb, black garlic ketchup” excites me in a childish way, though some dishes, like the “Westholme steak sandwich, ripe cheddar, bacon jam,” sound oddly mundane. Then again, maybe not all of the Hithe + Seek clientele share my sense of culinary adventure.
A tan crown of savory brioche keeps me busy as I wait for the Galacian octopus entrée, which comes with a serving of intriguingly named “forbidden rice.” It’s bold to use an adjective like “forbidden” on a menu; while the dish is elegant and the octopus flavorful and tender, the rice doesn’t quite live up to the notoriety of its title. This dish is accompanied by a bright and delicate organic Macedonian white wine, the first pairing of the meal.
There’s a fine line between imaginative and over-complicated, and perhaps the only dish that crosses that line is the small plate of scallop crudo, served with passion fruit, avocado and crispy corn kernels. I love the crisp, clean flavors of Peruvian ceviche, a clear reference point for this dish, but the passion fruit doesn’t leave much else in the party.
Highlights include pairing the aforementioned mackerel-rhubarb combination with a Surrey Orange Bacchus, which hits all the right citrus notes. Mackerel thrives when tossed alongside sour co-stars, and here there was a pleasant chemistry between fish and fruit on the plate and in the glass.
The king lobster served with tarragon and crispy noodles provides another interesting bite (or five), injecting a Vietnamese accent into a classic European dish. This is perfectly balanced with a crisp aurora from Italy. At £31 it’s the priciest of the pairings, but I certainly feel well traveled.
And my trip around the world certainly does not end there. The next stop is Algeria, for a panisse with chickpeas, polenta style, accompanied by grilled eggplant and zucchini with apricot harissa. This dish arrives late at night but leaves the biggest impression on me with its sunny seasonal flavors and textures. The only tragedy is that I can’t finish it.
However, I have room for dessert, of course, and try two. The “Rum Baba”, which comes with Chantilly cream and compressed peaches, could be a bit more alcoholic… but that might say more about me than the dish.
The £9 ‘creme dulce de lece’ – a shallow dish containing a caramel-coloured concoction topped with lightly whipped cream – is an intense sweet dairy hit that every meal should end with (who needs some an espresso after dinner when you have that?). This cream-centric dish comes with a dessert wine from Chile that is excellent – even if it pushes me to the limit of my sugar tolerance. But it also depends on me.
Obviously, a lot of thought has gone into the combinations of flavors, ingredients and cuisines at Hithe + Seek. I admire the sense of adventure in the kitchen and the openness of the wine list – and it’s worth pointing out that the waiters exude a sense of pride and enthusiasm that is all too rare in London these days -this. Maybe with better signage more people will be able to discover this hidden gem.
Hithe + Seek, 60 Upper Thames Street, London, EC4V 3AD; hitheandseek.london