Elegant beauty isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when raising a ragged forkful of sprouting brassica-potato salad to your mouth, especially when gazing out upon the various urban constituencies—the sports fans, the techie swells, the huddled down-and-outers—of Pioneer Square. But here in this district that’s been birthed and rebirthed since its founding as Seattle’s original neighborhood, none of those revivals matter nearly so much as the one that’s drawn day diners by the score to declare Pioneer Square the lunch capitol of Seattle.
The London Plane, the breakfast, brunch, and lunch project of restaurateur Matt Dillon, is the latest to catch lunchers’ eye—and elegant beauty is why. They adore its airy two-level interior, a former bank, all clean lined and right angled, with views out soaring windows of the Occidental Mall and perhaps the finest full frontal there is of the Smith Tower. They love the eloquence of its country-house aesthetic—the white-washed brick, the chrome-and-glass pendants, the wood tables, the glossy gunmetal wall posts, the crisply railed loft, the celestial blue ceiling. They love the open kitchen with its bakery and its deli case and especially its floral shop, its fleets of staff hefting bushels of hydrangeas or arranging heavy-headed dahlias in oversize celadon vases—in short, painting a Jane Austen dream of the English countryside, right down to the cobblestones and leafy London plane trees outside.
But it’s not only beautiful, and that is Matt Dillon’s savvy. When he conceived of the London Plane, Dillon was already a seasoned restaurateur (Sitka and Spruce, the Corson Building, Bar Ferd’nand, Bar Sajor) and he knew he wanted something different, more of a market, a place where someone could drop in for lunch, buy flowers, take home a salad or two from the deli. He talked partnership with lots of kindred spirits—forager Jeremy Faber, Russ Flint of Rain Shadow Meats, the Marigold and Mint floral landscape designer Katherine Anderson—but once the dust settled, only Anderson remained. “We both work with things that come out of the ground,” Dillon says in that airily earthy way he patented. “When they’re sitting around a table, most people want more flora than just what there is to eat.”
The London Plane is but the latest, though most vivid, of the recent run of market-restaurants; places like the Whale Wins and Westward where food service and retail coexist in a consumerist symbiosis that sends, above all, a message of plenty.
Here is how that plenty might look on the lunch table: an assortment of four spreads—roasted red pepper thickened with ground cashews, the bright and milky yogurt condiment raita sweet with caramelized spring onions, vivid magenta beet hummus with harissa oil, green olive spread enriched with pine nuts—smeared on a platter alongside slices of thick, housemade brown sourdough and cracklier salt-flocked lavash. We ordered three salads off the vegetables and grains list. Part of the bounty of this place is
the fact that it all manages to taste satisfying together: I still dream of a salad of chicken, trofie pasta, and lentils brightened with nettles, walnuts, and feta; each bite completed the one before.
Sure, sometimes it’s the kind of satisfying your hippie aunt used to whip up out of the grains and veggies in her fridge—does anyone love kohlrabi so much that a salad of it, raw, with fennel and radishes is a fascinating experience? But the vegetables are pristine and the flavors robust, and they’re good fun to eat against one of the meat plates, like blushing slices of lamb leg on tzatziki or spicy pork meatballs.
There’s something oh so ladies lunching about this civilized spot (Dillon allows himself a barely perceptible eye roll when he calls the Little London Plane, the event space and wine bar annex at the other end of the block, “the bridal shower capitol of Seattle”)—but the food isn’t delicate at all.
Flavors are bold and untempered, as in a brunch featuring dill-heavy salmon rillettes, with pickled sea beans and fiddle-heads for pucker, alongside a plate of toast spread thickly with hazelnut butter and drizzled with honey and sea salt. Cultured dairy is, per Dillon’s usual, all over the place—there it is in the tzatziki and the smooth rhubarb lassi drink; in the raita and the triple cream yogurt with roasted cherries for brunch. Pastries are a rightful big deal too—strawberry cake, cardamom cake, gateau Basque and more, perfect of crumb and stopping short of oversweet. Servers are unassailably friendly but prone to letting coffee go cool and neglecting to explain the salads or spreads they presented.
Not your classic brunch menu—not a strip of bacon in the house—but a showcase, as it happens, for some of Dillon’s more potent inclinations. The London Plane may be a masterpiece of delicacy—but its food swaggers.
This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of Seattle Met.