Friday, March 21, 2014
Coal Vaults, 17th March
The Coal Vaults, a relatively new, and very stylish underground drinking (and eating) den in the heart of Soho have an offer of 50% off all food and cocktails every Monday to entice people out on the most boring day of the week.
It is well worth taking up this offer, or indeed visiting any other day. This is really my kind of place. High tables with stools for twosomes and threesomes, nooks and crannies with booths if there are more of you. Low lighting (though bright enough to take a decent picture) with boozy cocktails on the menu and some really interesting food to eat. Of that, we did not take full advantage; in the end we had one plate each and shared one and I heartily enjoyed both, leaving me champing at the bit to come back and try some of the others.
I had the pulled rabbit with black beans, guacamole sour cream and corn on a flatbread. We had been seeing something piled high coming out of the kitchen and I was so pleased it turned out to be this. There were some proper big chunks of rabbit amongst it, which had a distinct flavour, really holding its own with the Mexican tastes. I just loved it. A really mature take on Mexican cuisine, giving it a bit of British flair. They're meant to be sharing plates and the portion reflected this - it was pretty hearty, and I was pretty pleased to be having it all to my own (my friend not quite up for eating bunnies).
The generosity on show, and consideration for sharing, was also exemplified by the scallop dish - two scallops that had clearly eaten all the pies, with two hefty stalks of charred white asparagus, completed with a balsamic bianco vinaigrette and garnished with a plant that mimicked the taste of celery. There was supposed to be truffle to this too but it must have been done with a very light touch as I didn't notice it and normally truffle does not go quietly into the night. It easily enters my Top Ten scallop dishes.This was a delicate dish, just right for spring, compared to the rabbit meal which was perfect for a cosy night.
Alison had the wild mushrooms with poached egg on chestnut bread. I'm not a mushroom fan so didn't partake but by God did it look like a heavenly veggie dish. The poached egg oozed just right over it all and the bread I am told was reliably dense and chewy.
At the top of the menu was 'devilled popcorn' – an absolute treat to have with your drinks. Buttery, warm and really rather spicy. This should be the de facto bar snack everywhere.
The drinks are worth coming for in their own right. There is a lot of attention given to these - and they even pair some of the food dishes with the cocktails. First up, Alison had their version of sangria - sparkling red wine(!), remy VOP and soda. This was really refreshing and had more of an alcohol hit than your common-or-fiesta sangria.
I went for the Naxi Classi, not being able to resist a drink with szechuan pepper and prosecco. This, I must admit had a bit of an acquired taste to begin with, but once the sugar cube in the middle had finished dissolving was so nice I drank it all without realising.
Next up I had the Francis Garcia, mainly because it came with a chilli polenta crisp (which was delicious - they should SO do these as bar snacks in their own right). The campari ice cube - a little frozen disc of campari was like having a naughty ice lolly, and the sherry poached rhubarb, tequila and agave all made for a delicious tipple.
Alison got out the big guns and had the Marano - which is basically two drinks, not even two drinks in one, just two drinks - a cocktail of mirto rosso, gin and blueberries paired with a glass of prosecco. Obviously once you've tired of sipping two drinks at once you can pour one into the other which makes a third, very lovely fizzy concoction.
The one bad thing was that service was pretty slow, but for this our waiters apologised profusely. They were a man down. And we were in no hurry.
Something about this place doesn't feel like it should be in Soho - it's far cry from Zebrano's and Club 49 even though it's only round the corner from these places. No, this place is a Londoner's Soho bolthole, it's our little secret. I'm so glad I've found it.