If a bit of sun this week has got you longing for the seaside, then Bonnie Gull might have opened up just in time to save you the price of a return to Brighton.
Shiny and new on restaurant-packed Exmouth Market, it follows in the footsteps of the original Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack in Fitzrovia and rocks a similar kind of tongue-in-cheek beach house chic thanks to pale blue panelled walls, checked tablecloths and the odd gaudy wall hanging.
The menu is equally playful, but takes its seafood seriously all the same, mixing up a raw bar with simply cooked fish dishes and varied seafood classics such as moules mariniere, grilled lobster and fish & chips.
Oysters are a suitably saline way to start, with a choice of four different varieties (costing from £2.70 each) allowing us to compare and contrast the tastes of each breed. Though strikingly different, all are superlative in flavour suggesting some pretty careful sourcing: a good job given the restaurant's specialism.
We also sample Dorset crab served with avocado on beef-dripping toast, and can confirm that this richly emolliated surf ‘n’ turf is as genius a combination as it sounds. A thick smothering of deep-flavoured brown crab meat seeps into the earthy, dripping-laced sourdough while fluffy strands of white meat and soft avocado give some light relief on top. It’s not for the faint hearted, but let them order it and we’ll have theirs.
Delicate lemon sole makes for a far more elegant main and the cooking is spot-on. Moist, tender flesh is enriched by a light parsley butter and contrasted by some baby gem lettuce that’s been gently wilted until just slightly bitter. But clever cooking and pretty flavours quickly give way to primal instincts as crab once again steals the show.
This time it comes served practically whole, with its body halved but legs intact, along with a set of crackers and a hammer by way of apparatus. We’re also given a cleverly fashioned bib to help shield our clothes from shell fragments and overexcited meaty explosions, though we couldn’t help but feel that the rather serious looking suit-clad table next to us ought to have been given some as well. We bashed, slurped, cracked, laughed and clawed at claws as we made our way through the crab’s plentiful meat, and came to the consensus that this is fine. At a seafood café, making a bit of noise and a lot of mess is absolutely par for the course. Isn't it?
After a mop of the table, our brows and most of our extremities, it’s time for pudding. A homemade millionaire’s shortbread comes with much anticipation but proves to be the only real disappointment of the meal. Milk chocolate is replaced with dark, its skimpy on caramel and, for all we can tell, the base isn’t shortbread at all. While it's a screaming reminder to the pastry chefs of London that deconstructed desserts or classics with a twist are rarely as good as the constructed classics themselves, our low is quickly alleviated by the presence of another dessert: a proper Mr Whippy ice-cream cone, complete with a flake. Contented is the word.
A fun getaway of a restaurant, we’d recommend a trip to Bonnie Gull for anyone with a fondness for fish. Mains cost between £15 and £20 (the whole crab is £18), while house wines start at £18, which may be pricier than on the coast, but it’s not bad for a place that brings the sea to EC1. It also does a line in food-to-go for the lunchtime office crowd.
Bonnie Gull Seafood Café is at 55-57 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL
Disclaimer: We review anonymously and pay for all our meals/drinks.