aWith all the conspiracy theories you can get tangled up in, the idea of ”Australia Hoax” might be my favourite. its inhabitants? Just reps. Qantas? Imaginary. You can take deniers to Milk Beach, a new Australian restaurant in Soho, to meet the outdoor staff and savor grilled shrimp, lamington, and the ultimate Australian of it all, yet they’ll just say, “It’s all so relaxing, but where’s the proof?”
However, there is something about the distinctive lightness of Milk Beach that presents Australia as a sort of quintessential dream world. One moment you’re on Greek Street, weaving among crates, rats, and party hens, before quickly turning into an alley revealing a refreshing and beautiful Ilona Rose House. Here is Milk Beach, a vast oasis of light woods and pastels run by calm, relaxed beach staff who seem to have just come back from an afternoon Ashtanga session in Bondi. Maybe…yes, life in the UK is cold, tough, and stubborn at the moment, but here at Milk Beach things are infused with vitamin D and exhilarating, as if your biggest problem were excessive sandy soles or, at worst, coffee and bananas not arriving fast enough.
Restaurants are all about stage organization, and Milk Beach is out of the park on this score. It’s the second offering, after the popular Queen’s Park restaurant that opened in northwest London in 2018 and quickly became famous for its brunch offerings to young children such as hard-boiled eggs in a jar with sweet potato puree and soldiers, and Granny’s Banana Elise’s Bread with espresso cream cheese. Soho’s menu is more of the same formula, a breezy flutter through Mediterranean and Southeast Asian influences, but with a Sydney swagger at its heart.
The menu is divided into “appetizers”, “raw”, “vegetables”, “dishes” and “robata”. The raw section centers around oyster “shooters,” with oyster blood gin and Jersey Rock oysters served with Thai cucumber. There are also well-cured silver-skinned sardines with curd, all dotted with lemon thyme and smoked sun-dried tomatoes and absolutely delicious. A grilled baby gem is showing up on a lot of menus right now, probably because it’s inexpensive, and with some cheffy ingenuity applied, it can be much more than the sum of its parts. Here, it comes with rich, vibrant peanut butter that turns it into something delicious and unforgettable.
While the raw dishes were a bit delicate, things get substantial once you get into the ‘vegetables’ and ‘dishes’ area; In fact, they deviate on the hearty. There was a wonderful Szechuan eggplant karaage, lightly covered with tempura, in which half of the eggplant was fried, seasoned and sprinkled with cashews. Life is too short for your eggplant tempura, and let’s be honest, it’s all going to end pretty badly, anyway.
Very hungry people should opt for the koji-marinated chicken “schnitzel” (it’s just schnitzel, so please excuse the “nice” nickname) with fermented chili mayonnaise, and a generous feast full of rusk chicken and thick-cut chips. There’s also the tinny-sounding prawn toast that turned out to be a frightening piece, deep of white shorts densely covered in prawns and topped with sesame seeds. However, the stars of the show for me were large prawns in a batch of fermented pink pepper butter, gently prepared without their heads, leaving you with plump flesh only to scoop through that sauce and pop in your mouth.
At this point I realized that Milk Beach is really cool; Not just an eye-catching brunch spot for people who also want to join the queue at The Breakfast Club, instead a lively, breathtaking restaurant serving some of the best cooking I’ve seen in Soho for quite some time. British tastes have never prepared for the lamington, that Australian favorite of chocolate-covered butter sponge and wrapped in desiccated coconut, but perhaps the Milk Beach version has a breakthrough moment, because here it is transformed into marshmallow fudge, chocolate fudge, gummie, coconut artwork; Not a cake, but a bowl of candy and easily enough to feed the two of us.
The spirit of Australia, reworked in dishes and decor and a spin on the classics, may not be to everyone’s taste. As Ben told Ollie on The Thick of It, “Australia: Why do I want to go there? It’s full of people in khakis, staring.” But on a dark October evening, service is warm and cozy, and shrimp, martini, and false sunshine are worth putting on your best formal shorts and heading out to the fairy sea.
Milk Beach Ilona Rose House, Manette Street, London W1, 020-4599 4271. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 5 to 11 pm (midnight Thursday to Saturday). About £45 per person, plus drinks and service
The next episode of the fourth series of Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast is released on Tuesday, November 1. Listen to it here.