db Eats: Bonnie Gull28th August, 2013 by Lucy Shaw
Dinner at Bonnie Gull is like going on holiday for the evening, as if some seaside shack had magically crash-landed in a quiet corner of Fitzrovia.
Having started life in 2011 as a pop-up at Broadway Market in Hackney, last year head chef Luke Robinson, an alumnus of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, and co-founder Alex Hunter sought a permanent anchoring from which to serve their brand of 100% British, sustainably sourced seafood, fortuitously settling on the site of a former chippy on Foley Street.
Bonnie Gull goes big on rustic charm. Everything about it evokes nostalgic memories of idyllic days beside the seaside, bucket and spade in one hand, Mr Whippy 99 Flake in the other, seagulls circling a cyan blue sky overhead.
Decked out in blue and white, with outdoor seating for when the sun makes a cameo, inside, the adorable shack boasts gingham table cloths, blond wooden floors, loos divided into “clams” and “winkles” and a wall crafted from marine rope displaying a chalk board map of the British Isles signaling where in the UK the mollusks, fish and crustacea met their maker.
The dinky bar uses old oyster crates to house bottles of gin and Bourbon, with captain’s hats and old ship’s bells adding to the nautical but nice fantasy.
The restaurant purports to be able to seat 60, though I’d put it nearer to 40 at a push. But its diminutive nature adds to the cosy, convivial atmosphere.
As it should for a restaurant that prides itself on flappingly fresh fish, the menu at Bonnie Gull changes on a daily basis depending on what jewels of the ocean have been unearthed from the nets that morning.
The menu is such a moveable feast that it can change over the course of an evening, with the line-up the day of my visit in early August promising Poole Harbour razor clams, which had all been guzzled by the time I ordered.
My disappointment was short-lived however, assuaged by a Johnny Be Good sharpener (£10), which cleverly combined Marker’s Mark Bourbon with Napoleon Mandarin liqueur into an invigorating apéritif evoking hot summer nights in both Seville and New Orleans.
Recruiting a willing sailor for the voyage, our fishy feast begins with a pre-starter of Scottish smoked salmon blinis served on warm potato pancakes (£7.50).
Brought to us on a hunk of wood the width of a sizeable tree trunk, the salmon had been artfully fashioned into what looked like a pair of orange roses, with dollops of crème friaîche waiting in the wings, wearing crowns of glinting, burnt orange trout roe.
Too beautiful not to devour in one bite, the salmon was achingly fresh and made more indulgent by the unctuous crème friaîche and salty spheres of exploding roe.
Next up was a duo of oysters (£3 each): Dorset blue rocks and Portland pearls. Prettily placed in a silver shell filled with ice, we were informed by our waiter, who, with his sea blue eyes, wayward beard and disheveled demeanour looked like he belonged on the high seas, that with their Grade III status, the Portland pearls were the oyster equivalent of a Bordeaux first growth.
While the blue rocks were creamy, rich and intriguing, the pearls delivered the pure, clean, iodine hit I crave when I tilt my head back. The apogee of the meal came in the form of an exquisite starter crafted from diver scallop sashimi, beer battered queenies, orange, lime, spring onion and chili (£8).
Recalling the lip-smackinlgly fresh character of a ceviche, the colour of the silky, citrus-drenched scallops ran the gamut from opalescent white to pale pink, each sliver gleaming as if the sun were hitting it at low tide.
Providing bite were the crunchy queenies in their golden suits of armour, while the spring onion and chili gave the dish an aromatic Asian twist creating a blend of flavours so fresh and uplifting, I could have eaten a trawler full.
Pairing perfectly with the saline oysters and searingly fresh sashimi was a bottle of Château du Val de Mercy Chablis 2009, which offered wet stone mineralty, green apple skin and lemon zest freshness with pleasing texture and weight on the mid-palate.
Keen to sample fish ‘n’ chips given the gourmet treatment, for the main event I opted for the beer battered North Sea Haddock with beef dripping chips and mushy peas (£14.50). While inelegant in form and appealing to some base human need, fish and chips is a British institution you irrationally crave every now and then in the same way you might a bacon sandwich or full English breakfast.
There’s something inherently satisfying about it. The way the crunch of the golden batter juxtaposes with the piping hot, pearl white fish within; the divine union of salt and vinegar, this is not food to ponder over or wax lyrical about, it’s a meal that comforts and assures, like coming home after a long stint away.
My ship mate’s lemon sole à la Meunière (£21) meanwhile, was super soft and air-light, given texture by shards of crunchy samphire that sang of the sea, slippery cockles still in their shells and a sprinkling of salty capers.
Full to the rafters by this point, my eye was drawn to the dessert menu, and the temptation of a warm chcocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream and candied hazelnuts, which, while delicious, wasn’t a patch on my amaretto cherry sour that served as a dessert in its own right, the almond dancing with the cherry like Rogers and Astaire across a freshly polished floor.
With its tiny size, quaint décor and old fashioned charm, Bonnie Gull is like a postcard to a bygone era when a trip to the seaside was an eagerly awaited and long savoured treat.
Staff are relaxed, friendly and seriously clued up about the produce on offer, while the cosy setting invites animated banter and the sharing of secrets. Visit when you’re in need of a holiday. Bucket and spade optional.
Bonnie Gull, 21a Foley Street, London, W1W 6DS; Tel: +44 (0)20 7436 0921