Open Tue–Fri midday–midnight, Sat 11am–midnight, Sun midday–11.30pm
The brainchild of Joe Bassili, Salmontini originally began in Lebanon as a salmon smokehouse. The concept was so successful, it led to restaurants in Beirut and then Dubai. Salmontini le Resto is the first venture outside the Middle East and is headed by Basil’s son, Jason, who has worked in the family business since he was a child. The menu includes hot and cold fish offerings as well as sushi and sashimi. The purist in me wonders if the execution will live up to the hype.
Tucked away in a posh yet secluded corner of Belgravia, Salmontini is exactly the kind of restaurant that I am curious to be taken to, but would never think of taking myself. When I entered, the DJ was playing something that sounded like an electronically remixed whale song. I think they call this “ambient music”.
The environment is decidedly upscale, yet understated. The grey suede of the bar stools matches the walls, which are adorned by images of ethereal human figures in motion. I perched myself on a seat at the bar beneath exposed lightbulbs that illuminated the room with a sensual glow.
Suspender-clad servers with well-groomed facial hair tend to the smartly dressed crowd, which includes plenty of couples, a group dinner, and a gaggle of women in body-con dresses and precarious footwear. This is not my usual scene but then again, this is the type of place you bring someone you want to impress (the in-laws, a potential investor) when you’re pretending like you’re not really trying at all.
We started off with a delicate tataki of seared salmon complemented by umeshiso and shiso cress—a nice palate cleanser after my sweet cocktail while I was waiting. We tried the hamachi at our server’s insistence (“I could eat pounds of it,” he enthused). I enjoyed the refreshing tartness of the yuzu dressing and the kick of the jalapeño that accompanies the slices of yellowtail.
Next up was Salmontini’s unique take on seaweed salad, which includes sesame dressing with apple, cucumber, and avocado. It was one of my favorite dishes of the evening and a good reminder that there’s beauty in simplicity. The sushi rolls, on the other hand, were rather uninventive, with lacklustre flavors and fish combinations that could have easily been found at a run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant.
Like all of the dishes, the fragrant Atlantic sea bass was plated beautifully. Wrapped in banana leaf and smeared with a tapenade, the moist and tender fish packed in so much flavor that I forget about the disappointing sushi.
We finished off the meal with a matcha ice cream that was too sweet for my taste (I prefer less cloying, more bitter tones) and a decadent chocolate dome that exceeded expectations. Served over a moist layer of sponge cake alongside tart berries and passion fruit puree, the latter was the perfect pairing to a glass of Greek dessert wine.
The bar boasts a menu of bespoke cocktails and an extensive wine list with options at various price points. I usually only imbibe on celebratory occasions but my companion was still on the way when I arrived so I treated myself to alcohol for a change.
I deferred to the bartender for a suggestion of a fruity cocktail. He served up a Zilicious, a refreshing concoction with Muscat wine and pureed strawberry. I barely tasted the vodka but by the time my date appeared, I was already tipsy off the single drink.
In a nutshell
The luxuriously modern venue relies as much on style as on substance. I was charmed by the accommodating servers and the well-crafted presentation of each dish (floral accents, gold leaf, complementary colours).
The menu, though diverse, is strongest when it sticks to what it knows best. While the rolls lack imagination, the standout dishes are those that placed the fish front and centre. From the melt-in-your-mouth butter fish to the dense meaty tuna, the quality of ingredients at Salmontini is undeniably top-notch.