65 Commercial Street, EC1 6BD
So, Bubala isn’t new. Well, not exactly. We never made it to their pop-ups east, but we know they sold out, and also know that people loved them. We have also spoken to one of their owners Marc before, and know he comes from another much-loved London great, Berber & Q (he was the GM), and seems like the smoke and innovative cooking, here via head chef Helen Graham (The Palomar and Barbary), have followed him to this new Commercial Street location.
This is a laid back, buzzy place, in a good way. You can tell it was done on the cheap, but then most first businesses without serious backing are, and there’s something great about the simplicity of the décor that we liked. It’s bright and breezy with good taste, plants and nice countertops. We opted to sit at the bar; there’s no open kitchen here, but being a stone’s throw to the bartender means you can discuss wines at length, which was good for us, and we hope not too painful for him. They had two areas for bar dining, which is always appreciated by team UJ.
You will definitely need to Google things here, even those of you who are well versed in the art of ingredients. But ask, and Google, and you will be well on your way. It’s plant-based here, which feels very now, and open flame, which feels like a double on-trend whammy. We’ve heard that people have said they don’t miss the meat, and we will say it was great to feel light. The flavours are definitely bold, in a good way. Highlights include grapefruit ezme with tahini; ful medames with yoghurt, lovage pesto and malawach (a kind of bean soup); and confit potato latkes with Aleppo chilli (think triple fried potatoes). Oh. And the halloumi – you must have the halloumi, puffed and flamed to perfection in an almost tofu-like steak, then coated in black vinegar and honey. We hear the shitake and oyster skewers are amazing; same with the fried aubergine. Basically, we know we definitely have to go back, and try everything we left out this time. A dessert highlight was the tahini, date and tangerine ice cream: rich and delish.
The wines were a serious highlight here. Small producers as you’d expect and they (when we were there) had more bottles open for wine by the glass than listed on the menu, so ask and hopefully you, like us, will receive. We enquired about where our bottle was from (we liked it that much, they described it as ‘hints of old leather’, which was very accurate), and have now been introduced to Ancestral, which is only open on Saturdays from 9-2 and sell great wines, to retail and individuals. We aim to get down there asap. Cocktails were good too: there’s a limited menu done well. They had a version of a colada (Bubalacolada, if we recall correctly), which we liked the name of, anyway.
This was a masterclass in ingredients – and we liked that. We felt we came out of here having learnt something. The flavours, as expected, were innovative, and it was great to be able to do things slightly off book, à la trying wines that were off the menu. Being new, small, and not uber polished definitely has its benefits.