Bantof is an unusual word. A made-up word. A word not found in any dictionaries. Random associations conjure up something to do with Banoffee Pie. Or the German word for ‘station’ – Bahnhof. Maybe even something to do with Banff ski resort in Canada. But no, all these miss the mark completely. The name was conjured up around the concept of a ‘dance off’ but instead, applied to the word ‘banter.’ A banter off – a verbal spar with your friends or colleagues, a playful linguistic dance around each other, a joke, a jest, a discussion, a debate.
Bantof’s Maitre’d, Salad (you never forget a man called Salad) explains the restaurant’s etymology but isn’t sure why there isn’t a second ‘f’, why Bantof isn’t Bantoff. Either way, he certainly lives up to his restaurant’s essence, and is a friendly presence throughout, with a bright Kenyan smile and a constantly effortless warmth. Set on two small dining floors (intimate, cosy or cramped, depending on who you’re with and in what mood), on West Soho’s Great Windmill Street, we eschew the interior spaces with the piping dance music and head outside to the terrace where Salad recently celebrated his 30th birthday. The terrace is long and thin, comfortably sits six small parties, and is surrounded by an unexpected but beautifully curated wall of hanging plants at one end and a bed of wavering, sprouting greenery at the other.
The cocktail list is unashamedly inventive both in its naming of drinks and its mixing of ingredients. Wordplay as foreplay is de rigour; ‘A pair of silk stockings’, ‘Taboo’, ‘Up Market’. If you’re the kind of person who wants to indulge cocktail tasting with your love of rap music, NWA specifically, and with one of Soho’s famed streets, Bantof has exactly the one for you: ‘Straight Outta Old Compton Street’. Themed around ‘sexy soho’ and looking a little like a Pina Colada, this is a heavy but delightful mix of pisco, passion fruit, pineapple and vanilla. ‘At The Pillars of HERCULES’ is an ingenious nod to the legendary drinking hole on the other side of Soho, located at the top end of Greek Street. It’s no surprise therefore, or actually, it’s quite a big surprise, to discover Greek yoghurt is one of this cocktail’s main ingredients. Also present are cucumber cordial, fresh mint and rum. It comes with a large ice cube to keep everything cool (as a cucumber, presumably), is refreshing, curious to drink and tastes not dissimilar to tzatziki.
Created by Greek Asimakis Chaniotis, the youngest chef to ever be awarded a Michelin star in London, Bantof’s menu features plates to be shared. We eschew this concept, however, and order individually. Even though the Sea Bream Tartare comes with avocado, it’s still unexpected to see the presentation; a concentric circle of green that looks a bit like a Christmas wreath. Pretty and mouth-watering, it’s decorated with herbs and smoked almonds but there’s not a slither of fish in sight. The seabream is mixed with the avocado, of course, and its chunks burst favourably with flavour. The yuzu dressing provides a citrus tang, renders the dish sprightly and crisp whilst the occasional smoked almond adds a more sensual flavour and crunchy texture. The octopus is more formal in its own (slow) cooking but is a tender delight with the fava bean puree adding a creamy formality and the caper jam a titillating showiness, a reminder of its creator’s Michelin star excellence.
Apart from the Black Truffle Pizza, the mains are more conservative in choice and we opt for the relatively traditional. The rib eye steak is served with a generous helping of peppercorn sauce, cooked maitake mushrooms and raw button mushrooms. The medium-rare rib eye is soft and tender but the occasional pockets of fat burst with liquid and add unexpected flavour, texture and energy. The rib eye would be easy to share as it’s cut into pieces but the seabass (the only fish on the Mains menu), much less so. It’s served off the bone and is a generous portion, splayed in half; the tail is present but nothing else that can’t be eaten is. It practically serves as its own bowl and contains another generous portion, this time of salsa verde and samphire. The seabass is succulent and meaty and there’s an aftertaste of aniseed somewhere, too.
We’re close to being too full for dessert but force ourselves to share a triple chocolate mousse. It’s something that could have come straight out of the original and iconic Patisserie Valerie (on Old Compton Street) and is an intricate oblong with layers of creamy mousse on chocolate mousse on chocolate sponge. The plate is also oblong, and pure white, but sprinkled with a triangle of chocolate dust. It’s an unusual but intriguing touch and a sliced strawberry sits between both; it’s all as delicious as it sounds.
As part of its affinity with Soho and what it stood for (perhaps more than what it now stands for), Bantof also prides itself on its artistic partnerships so before we leave, we investigate the paintings that decorate the walls on both the ground and first floor. Acrylic on canvas, they’re all brightly coloured and energetic, a mixture of abstract and occasionally impressionist. Some have a mixture of repetitive and textural themes whilst others are more defined by their brush strokes. Some look like they’re inspired by nature whilst some more by an internal logic. Perhaps most remarkably, they’re made by the 10-year-old, Ambla Klosi, a young lady, it seems who’s already been to a few places and, surely, has many more to places to go to. Good luck to her! Her paintings are all available to purchase and range from £1800 to £3700. This might add a mouth-watering increase to your bill but would definitely give you a lot to Bantof about on the journey home!
Bantof embodies the essence of Soho – a place where creativity, history, and culinary excellence come together to create a truly unforgettable dining experience. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, Bantof invites you to explore the vibrant tapestry of Soho while enjoying exceptional food, cocktails, and art.
Address: 31 Great Windmill St, London W1D 7LW