Lespinasse, the Fat Duck, and El Bulli have a few things in common: For one, they’ve been three of the world’s most influential and important restaurants of recent times. They’re also places where the chefs Nahid Ahmed and Arjuna Bull have worked, along with other notable restaurants like London’s Lyle’s and Cafe Gray, where the two met.
Over the past few years, Ahmed and Bull have been in the pop-up business, beginning with Malt n Mash in the Meatpacking District in 2013. In October 2017, they convened at the now-closed restaurant OKA for a pop-up called Luthun. It was a preview of their “soon-to-open East Village restaurant” — only it took a little longer for that restaurant to open. A year and a half later, it finally will tonight.
Luthun is a small (600 square feet), attractive space with an open kitchen and 29 seats (Ahmed and Bull designed it themselves). It’s named for Ahmed’s mother. “It was my mom’s nickname. I lost my parents when I was very young, and I heard my mom was an amazing cook, right?” he says. “When I became a chef, I was like, ‘I don’t know if she’s going to be happy or whatever,’ but I guess to honor her — that’s why we named the restaurant after her.”
In the kitchen, the chefs range widely over the globe. The restaurant will serve two tasting menus — one with meat and the other vegetarian — of five courses for an affordable $68. (Soon they’ll add a chef’s menu of ten courses or more.) The amuse-bouche is not the normal tiny tartlet or shot of soup but a puchka, a fried, hollowed crisp that’s traditionally filled with potatoes, tamarind, chile, chaat masala, chickpeas, and onion. There’s tamarind in the one at Luthun, plus ginger, sugar snap peas, and some edible flowers.
The monkfish comes with Thai green curry — “There are almost 30 ingredients. But it’s not just to put them there,” Bull says. Other dishes have a more European flavor profile, like a tomato glazed with tomato honey. The courses in the vegetarian option parallel those with meat — the green curry features celery root, for example.
“The vegetarian dishes we take very seriously,” Ahmed says. “We want to give someone the real dish. We’re going to cook the portobello mushroom and it’s going to taste like the veal. We’re going to cook the celery root exactly like the monkfish.”
Both menus feature the same dessert, a frozen yogurt. There’s homemade yogurt in it, some summer berries, and a curveball of spicy granita made from sansho peppercorns. It’s finished with Kashmiri chile to dial up the heat. “You get sweet from meringue, sour from the yogurt, heat from granita,” Ahmed says. Bull adds, “It’s definitely an eye-opener when you get a tingle on your tongue.”
Luthun, 432 E. 13th St., nr Ave. A; 646-454-9484