Coal Drops Yard
I’ve returned to Coal Drops Yard a few times already this year (see mention of Barrafina in October’s Tasting Notes). One lunch, at the heralded Coal Office, was utterly mediocre. Set in a slightly cramped, long and thin room that acts as a furnishings lookbook for the Tom Dixon store below, we found most of our Israeli-style food unremarkable — a forgettable extension of Soho’s overrated Palomar (which involves the same chef). I suppose I should go into detail about the dishes, but aside from a decent spiced lamb beef kebab, there’s little of note. The best meals in places like Tel Aviv are shouty assaults of flavour, but this was stifled and tepid. Style over substance.
Head, instead, to Bodega Rita’s where I demolished a baguette overflowing with vibrant mapo tofu (minus the pork), pumpkin seeds and crunchy bean sprouts. It was a fizzing, fresh and vibrant 5 napkin sandwich. I’d have one every day, tbh, though there’s plenty more on the menu that entices: chill and sesame oil chicken baps, devilled egg on sourdough, pork carnitas with pickled onions and a cumin tomato dip. Here are inventive, flavour-first sandwiches without borders — to go, or to have in with a glass of natural wine or craft beer. Breakfast (good things on toast or in baps) is also an option. Rita’s founders Gabriel Pryce and Missy Flynn are seasoned operators now, with a number of well received projects behind them. This feels like the spark of something that’ll stick.
RitasDining.com —Unit 114, Stable St, CDY, N1C 4DR — Mon-Sat 09:30-18:00, 12:00-17:00 (evenings to follow in warmer months), walk-ins only
Bún Bún Bún
A craving for Vietnamese food felt particularly apt for the start of a year — fragrant, enlivening, and comforting in equal measure — and I’m sure it was prompted by photos from other people’s holidays too. For a brief moment I pondered sating that craving by running a methodical audit of the Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road, starting at the Geffrye museum and working down. ‘Twas a brief moment, though, because I’m basically stuck at the top, at Bún Bún Bún, thanks to their supreme Bún chả Hà Nội — cold rice vermicelli, loads of herbs, crunchy deep fried spring rolls and a bowl of grilled pork and spiced pork patties sitting in a sweet, sour, salty, garlicky, fish saucy broth. Despite name, there’s plenty of variation to the menu (pho, banh mi), though I’m working my way through their other bun dishes (apparently the Bún chả cá lá vọng (monkfish and dill) is excellent). Confirmed as a goody by people who know a lot more about Vietnamese food than me. They’ve a second site in Dalston too (though I was less enamoured when I went there).
bunbunbun.co — 134B Kingsland Road, E2 8DY Mon-Sun 12pm-11pm (mostly), bookable
Holborn Dining Rooms
I attended a (press invite) pork pie making class with Calum Franklin in his Pie Room at The Holborn Dining Rooms; which was excellent and completely demystified hand raised hot water pastry pies. We stayed for dinner in the same room (bookable PDR for 10) and can confirm the pastry-themed mains really are super — whether superlative beef wellington (Wednesday only) or the Comte and potato pithivier that I had. Calum’s mixed, folded and shaped himself a now well recognised niche, which is absolutely worth sampling for yourself. Also worth noting that the restaurant is a very smoothly run, very safe central London bet. Just the right amount of glitzy hotel shine, but still convivial and London appropriate. Always buzzing. Great desserts too.
holborndiningroom.com — No. 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN — Mon-Sun, bookable
Into it’s sixth year, now (I think) and going as strongly as ever, there’s class across the board at Lyle’s: intriguing ingredients all at their peak, delivered with calm, deceptive simplicity and maximum taste. I was pleased to get a lunch in early this year, as two of us shared mussels and sprout tops in whey and mussel butter emulsion; whelks with mayonnaise and fennel salt; a brilliant dish of scallops, soggy bread, finely sliced cedro lemons and much browned butter; chewy, sticky Jerusalem artichokes topped with a nut paste, preserved lemons and raw, sliced Jchokes; smoked eel with calcots and various forms of burnt onion (probably my favourite dish; very funky aged mangalitsa collar with artichoke (pureed, fried, and steamed); and then three inventive and none-to-sweet desserts including a poached meringue on bay custard with blood orange, and cocoa husk ice cream and pears. Sound good? Too right it was. Along with Brawn, Brat, Quality Chop House, Lyle’s is right at the top of the list of lunch and dinners in London to recommend to all. Looking forward to the Borough Market outpost opening later this year.
lyleslondon.com — Lyle’s, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ — Mon-Sat, bookable
And finally, cheating a little as this was technically a February meal, but earlier this week I enjoyed a taster of XU’s Lunar New Year set menu (another invite, sorry). Their ‘Taming of the Pig’ menu is available for all of this month, but not beyond (hence mentioning it now), and for £39 you get: 3 snacks (poached oyster with soy pearls, firecracker spring rolls, and really super good steamed garlic cockles with chicken scratchings and pickled chilli oil); 2 more snacks (clever beef tartare and taro dumplings); and then lardo fried rice plus a choice of mains (go with at least one other, and one of you have the char siu iberico pork, the other steamed sea bass with fermented pineapple and Taiwanese olives). It’s clever, assured and (for London at least) unique. Calming vibe upstairs too (a good date night?).
XUlondon.com — 30 Rupert Street, W1D 6DL — Mon-Sun, lunch and dinner, bookable