16-18 Beak St

London W1F 9RD


The Food:

Raw Sobrassada with honey

Spider crab omelette

Grilled red peppers with squid

John Dory (for two) with wood-fried rice, lettuce and anchovies

Torrija with blackberries and a light custard cream

The Wine:

2021 Antonio Madeira Branco 90

I love a mountain. The higher, the better. I’m obsessed. Whenever Mont Blanc shows its snow-capped face on the horizon as I drive up the RN74 in Burgundy, I cannot avoid returning its distant gaze - hazardous, given I should really be looking at the oncoming traffic. It’s because I was brought up in Essex, a county afflicted with S.C.D. - serious contour deficiency. Essex's highest “summit” is a pathetic 147m and requires neither oxygen canisters nor sherpas.

The open kitchen at Mountain. Sorry, I couldn’t move the pillar, but Tomos Parry is standing just to the right.

When I caught wind that Anglesey-born chef Tomos Parry planned to open a new restaurant called “Mountain”, well, I could not quell my excitement. Was Parry about to open at the top of Mt. Snowdon…sorry…Yr Wyddf to give it its newly-minted and unpronounceable Welsh name? Sadly not. Mountain is in flat-as-a-pancake Soho, a couple of minutes trot from Piccadilly in a former burger joint. Title aside, my excitement was fuelled by Parry’s first restaurant, Brat, what many consider London’s most significant restaurant opening in recent years. Brat’s whole turbot is already a culinary legend. Since Brat opened its doors in 2018, Parry’s career has soared, thankfully, without the need for endless television appearances on Masterchef or yet another cookery. Instead, he simply operates the stove at all times to ensure every dish meets his standards. His take on Basque cuisine intermixed with his Welsh roots and utilizing wood fire was inspired and earned the respect of critics, fellow chefs and, judging by waiting lists, loyal customers. There must have been Everest-high expectations for what is surely the opening of 2023, and when The Times’ Giles Coren gushes that “The Most Exciting New Restaurant This Year” when we’re only halfway through it, well, it was time to find out.

Mountain is a spacious restaurant occupying the ground floor and basement of the red-brick corner building. The ground floor houses the open kitchen, so open that you could literally just walk in and pan-fry a fish before anyone noticed. (They probably would notice and manhandle you to the ground, so I wouldn’t try it.) It is a large team under Parry’s command, and apparently, it includes an in-house back and butcher, the latter enabling them to handle carcasses on site.

The tables are quite close together, and let’s be frank, it’s noisy. If you seek intimate conversation, or your fellow diner has the voice of a timid mouse with a sore throat, then request a table downstairs. I habitually dislike basements, shut off from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen and tucked away out of sight, like a naughty corner for misbehaving diners. But Mountain rethinks the idea of basement dining to create a totally different and, for me, attractive ambiance. It’s quieter, more clubby and more relaxed but not dead – there is a cool atmosphere as the wood fire oven burns in the far corner. There is a separate drinks bar behind which a retooled turntable plays a selection of choice vinyl (not “vinyls”, which has entered parlance amongst less knowledgeable in the collector world and is WRONG). Anyway, it’s much cooler than lazily programming a Spotify playlist through a naff speaker. It’s these little touches that make the difference. Next time, I may check out downstairs and maybe bring some of my own discs to play. Don’t worry, TP, it won’t be Rick Astley.

Grilled red peppers with squid

Mountain offers a straightforward à la carte menu that neatly fits onto one A4 page, but there are plenty of options. Like Brat, it leans more towards fish than meat, and there are plenty of dishes to share. I notice some menu crossover with Brat, which is no bad thing, though perhaps Mountain pushes the envelope, more experimental? I had to ask my waiter to identify two or three of the dishes – always good to expand one’s knowledge.

We share three starters. The raw Sobrassada with honey is superb. The Spanish ham is subtle in flavor, a little sweeter and not spicy, and the clear honey is not too intense or unctuous. Laid atop charred toast, lending an acrid note, this is a solid, very appetizing start.

The Spider crab omelette is a dish that I am eagerly looking forward to, and we are advised to slice it open as soon as it lands. I feel like a surgeon. The omelette itself is beautifully cooked, light and airy. Personally, I would have liked to taste a little more of the crab itself because it comes across more like an upmarket omelette, and it could use just a pinch more seasoning. The Welsh-sourced seaweed just needs a little more punch. There’s potential in this dish, but it needs pimping up.

According to our waiter, the grilled red peppers with squid only appears intermittently on the menu, depending on availability. Our tentacled friend is fished from Cornish waters. The squid is grilled, maybe just 30 seconds too long. The less-cooked part is more flavorsome and tender. The ribbons of red pepper are sweet and divine, ditto the caramelized onion, though the knob of black pudding is perhaps surplus to requirements.

John Dory (for two) with wood-fried rice, lettuce with anchovies

The main course delivers on my high expectations. We choose a medium-sized John Dory to share, and the fish is served whole with a fabulous citrus dressing that we are advised to mix into the skin to lend umami. Cooked to perfection, this must be one of the finest fish courses in London right now. The Dory is slightly meaty in texture, soft and moist. Unlike Parry’s aforementioned whole turbot, you cannot enjoy the delicacy of the fish’s cheeks, but by the time I was scraping morsels from the bone, I was basking in the afterglow of a memorable dish. For sides, we order wood-fired rice that proves to be a marriage made in heaven with the John Dory. The rice is a short-grain Bimba rice mixed with olive oil and lemon so that when oven-cooked in a shallow metal pan, it develops a slightly crunchy surface while semi-caramelizing the rice. A simple dish elevated by technique. Accompanied by a bowl of lettuce and anchovies, these three are gustatory heaven, and my tastebuds are swooning.

Dessert o’clock. We share a torrija with blackberries and a light custard cream. I will confess that I wanted the dish I spied our neighboring table eating, and stupid me, I misordered. Torrija is not unlike a fried brioche with a sugary coating, and it’s just not my kind of dessert these days. Calories and whatever… My fault. I should add that our waiter offered to change it, but I’ll save it for next time.

The wood-fired rice that accompanies the dory

The wine list is impressive. Parry later tells me that the extensive list is sourced from around 30 suppliers, whereas the team at Noble Rot curates Brat’s. Mountain’s vinous selection is eclectic and, at times, daring in its choices, leaning towards low-intervention producers with an entire page devoted to orange wines. It is particularly strong in regional France, Spain, Iberia and Italy. I’d like to see a few more New World wines, particularly from South Africa, that would marry well with the current selection. Bottle prices seem reasonable compared to elsewhere, with the predictable exception of Burgundy. Today’s ex-Domaine prices are such that even regional wines look poor value to other regions. Also, I notice nary a Bordeaux. I enquired why. The sommelier replies that she just hasn’t found anything exciting to list. I’m about to launch into a lecture and command her to subscribe to Vinous for enlightenment, but on second thought, I know where she’s coming from. It signals the significant challenges that Bordeaux faces. While I cannot discern prejudice against the region, with faceless château names and lack of winemaker identity, it seems like a throwback to another time, conservative and unintentionally aloof, not least to younger drinkers. Maybe a pertinent reminder to the Côte d’Or that you can easily price yourself out of mindset.

I decide to venture to Portugal because their whites are criminally overlooked. The 2021 Branco from Antonio Madeira is a gem from the Dão. A field blend of no less than twenty biodynamically-farmed, autochthonous grape varieties, the nose is initially arresting. It’s a little oxidative with pungent marine, fish scale scents. On its own, it feels a bit raw. However, once the dishes arrive, the wine finds its groove, the aromatics’ oxidative slant abating, and the thwack of salinity partnering the John Dory with style. It’s a white Portuguese wine surfeit with character, uncompromising in the word's positive sense and great value to boot.

Torrija with blackberries and a light custard cream

Afterward, I chat with Parry, standing by the service counter. Given his success and adulation, it’s refreshing to meet a chef without airs and graces, implacable and relaxed, however busy the restaurant, always happy to talk. Even though a couple of the starters could be tweaked, Mountain has hit the ground running. Thursday lunch and the restaurant is packed to the rafters, while evenings need to be booked long in advance. Even the counter, where passers-by can grab a spot sans reservation if free, is full of contented diners.

Not so long ago, Soho was lacking destination restaurants. Now, it has both Mountain and the nearby branch of Noble Rot, as well as stalwart Andrew Edmunds. Service is excellent throughout, courtesy of a crack team of cool dude waiters. The waitress mentions that the team has been cherry-picked from existing affiliated restaurants, explaining why things already operate like a well-oiled machine. That is something to appreciate at a time when even famous restaurants struggle to recruit experienced staff.

Where next for Welsh wünderkind?

I hope that he doesn’t expand too quickly and risk diluting his talent. He could easily franchise out his name, but he’s too clever for that. He’s a chef committed to what is on his plate and, refreshingly, less interested in the rock star lifestyle. Parry’s name is synonymous with quality. I would say “soulful” cooking, perfectly attuned to the move toward less fussy or pretentious cuisine, basing dishes around fastidiously sourced ingredients that are perfectly cooked.

Currently, there is no chef whose food I would rather eat than Tomos Parry’s.

© 2023, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.