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The Seven Dials: Review

inside The Seven DialsThe Seven Dials bar, photo by lee kleinChicken liver spread, The Seven Dials, photo by lee kleinFish & Chips at The Seven Dials, photo by lee kleinSeven Dials appetizers, photo by lee klein

Come nightfall, The Seven Dials feels like a pub: the lengthy wood bar that runs up the right side of the room is crammed with a chatty local crowd downing craft brews while other folks are dining at tables. During the daytime, when sunlight streams in through storefront windows and the emphasis is on eating lunch, the 36-seater could be mistaken for a quaint farm-to-table operation serving homemade pickles and peppers and whatnot along with an impressive selection of beers. In other words, The Seven Dials is a gastropub in the true sense of the word.

Seven Dials is an area in the West End of London – strange name for a spot (especially because it only features six sun dials), and perhaps an even stranger name for a dining establishment located in Coral Gables. But this is where the London-bred chef/owner Andrew Gilbert met his Coral Gables-bred wife and current restaurant partner Katie Sullivan -- and The Seven Dials is, among other things, a very personal venture.

As Katie runs the front of the house with aplomb (she is also the publisher of Edible South Florida), Gilbert orchestrates the kitchen. The chef previously worked with Michelle Bernstein at Michy’s and Sra. Martinez, and also made his mark at The Local Craft Food & Drink. After tasting his “modern American cooking with a British twist” I can tell you this: Gilbert’s got the chops.

Seven Dials appetizers, photo by lee klein

This was evident from the start, when our plate of fried Kalamata olives arrived. The concept sounded intriguing – and perhaps greasy -- but the olives turned out to be so enhanced by a crisp coat of breading and dip into the deep fryer that the taste was a revelation. The tang of a yogurt-chili oil dip pairs perfectly with the mildly saline-and-wine flavor of the Kalamata.     

A generous stack of Zak the Baker’s sourdough bread, lightly toasted, provides a delicious, artisan, old-world-style base for a smooth spread of delicious, artisan, old-world-style homemade chicken liver paté – spiked with nutmeg, thyme, and Pedro Ximénez sherry and sealed into a ramekin with its own fat.

Zak is just one of the local purveyors utilized. Another is Proper Sausages, which provides cured meats for the charcuterie items that are written on a blackboard over the bar (a smart spread of cheeses are proffered too). The market-and-season-based menu uses products from nearby farms and organic goods “whenever possible.”

A different chalkboard gracing the opposite wainscoted wall highlights appetizer and main course specials that supplement the pithy menu. One such off-the-board starter, octopus with white beans, combined the char of tentacles with sofrito-and-mirepoix infused country-style legumes. The thinner portions of the tentacles were dry, but the contrasting combination of tastes was faultless.

Octopus at The Seven Dials, photo by lee klein

The Seven Dials pays attention to details in a caring manner. Loved the crackly, freshly fried papadum wafers with scoop of guacamole brought to the table. And it was appreciated that rather than slapping down plates of our olives, octopus, and chicken liver onto the table, the trio of appetizers, with the bread, were attractively grouped together on a board (along with strips of house-pickled peppers). Presentations are clean, simple, and appealing.

There is no letdown with the entrees. The fish & chips are better than anyone else’s in town. When the long, thick spear of crunchy, golden, beer-battered crust breaks open, it releases steam and reveals juicy, pristine corvina. The chips -- home-cut fries that are dark outside, moist within – are superb. So, too, are mushy peas, a customary f & c accompaniment; this version sparkles with hints of lemon. Only downer on the plate was a freshly prepared but listless tartar sauce boasting mostly a mayonnaise flavor.

The hamburger is a winner too. A succulent patty, properly sized and cooked, is crowned with brilliantly creative (but not ostentatious) garnishes: a thin slice of Muenster cheese; pickled green tomato; a pair of crunchy onion rings; leaf of butter lettuce; and marmite mayo. Don’t fret: While there is enough Marmite in the mayo to add a certain subtle and distinctive spicing, the salty, yeasty taste of the Marmite does not come through (I mention this because Marmite is considered pretty much inedible by most of us born outside the borders of Great Britain). Fries are same as the chips that accompany the fish; pickle slices are prepared in-house.

Fish & Chips at The Seven Dials, photo by lee klein

I just had to sample the chicken Kiev – how can one not be curious as to what an Americanized version of a Russian classic prepared by a British chef might turn out to be? The rendition I used to make at The Russian Tea Room was stuffed with French butter. This bone-in chicken breast, with crisp, bronzed skin, one-ups the RTR by using garlic butter. The luscious bird comes propped atop cauliflower florets, nubs of bacon, and a silky cauliflower puree lavished with truffle oil.

Servers are well versed in the menu items. When our waiter informed us that a special of “steak pie” gets served in a bowl with the crust on top, my assumption was that it was what I call “lazy pot pie” – the type with a slab of store-bought puff pastry serving as the lid. Not here: The dough, made in-house, was a little over-baked, but the buttery flavor proved ideal for the tender wine-stewed beef and vegetables in savory demi-glace sauce. A salad of sprightly field greens dressed with orange juice, Muscadet vinegar, and olive oil gets served alongside. As pub fare goes this is more “traditional” than “gastro,” but it’s great – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better dinner for $16.

Prices at The Seven Dials go down as easy as the food. The menu tops out with a $24 hanger steak (with glazed carrots, broccoli rabe, and a Dijon-demi-glace); chicken Kiev, at $22, is the only other item above $20. When you taste the cuisine, these prices will seem even more impressive.

Burger at The Seven Dials, photo by lee klein

The crafty assemblage of beers (including a couple from England) befits a proud gastropub. Among those on tap are local picks such as Biscayne Bay Brewing Company’s Golden Ale, and a Jai Alai IPA from Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. In bottles are Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and Wells & Young’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale, as well as brews that don’t sound like breakfast.   The wine list is more modest in its scope, but there are solid choices to be had, ranging from $35 to $55. If you’d rather bring your own, the corkage fee is $15.

I daresay desserts are rather more blatantly British than the rest of the bill of fare. A blackboard listing offers treats such as chocolate ale cake; bread pudding custard; sticky toffee cake (a traditional dessert whereby dates try to masquerade as chocolate); and “British cuppa crème brulee” (if the universe is indeed balanced, there’s a French bistro somewhere serving trifle). The chocolate ale cake, made in-house and chaperoned by a scoop of chocolate-fudge ice cream, was fresh, moist, and rich in quality chocolate flavor. The ale notes are as muted as was the Marmite in the mayo, which again might be a good thing.

Delectable homemade farm-and-Anglo-influenced cuisine; a splendid beer selection; friendly, capable service; an upbeat, neighborhood-pub vibe with young husband/wife owners on premise. This is the sort of place you want to root for. It is also the sort of place you’ll want to visit.