Dial Seven For A Good Time | Rediscover Seven Dials, Covent Garden – a top restaurant destination
Maybe it’s us, but the Seven Dials district doesn’t instantly spring to mind when thinking of London food hotspots. New openings mostly seem to be concentrated elsewhere, in less pretty parts of town such as Shoreditch and Hackney. But when we actually thought about it, there were loads of restaurants and bars on our ‘list’ that fall in Seven Dials’ catchment area. So when we were invited along to sample some of the best that’s on offer, of course we leapt at the chance.
Our weekend had started brilliantly, a lazy Saturday morning was followed by my Brother‘s 40th birthday at the fabulously eccentric Les Tres Garçons and then drinks into the small hours at Lounge Lover. Sunday started a little slowly but once a strong espresso had blasted away the cobwebs of the night before we were ready to undertake our mission – a Seven Dials restaurant crawl.
Sandwiched between Shaftesbury Avenue and Long Acre, Seven Dials is a bustling area that radiates out along seven roads from a central monument. These roads, connecting side streets and hidden yards are lined with shops (both independent and chains), restaurants and bars.
Saff and her sister used to prowl the shops and bars here on a Saturday afternoon back in the day, so why don’t we come here more often? It’s only a ten minute walk from Charing Cross and a scone’s throw away from Covent Garden tube. Saff was relieved to see her old favourite Food for Thought still serves up stir-fried veg with organic rice that over ten years ago she’d regularly venture especially into town for.
NICE BUNS! | Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX
First stop was Flesh & Buns by the same guys who brought us Bone Daddies – the Soho ramen restaurant. The space is a lot bigger than we imagined and considering it was in a basement a lot brighter too with its red, white and grey colour scheme and finished with large rough sawn planks on the walls. A large high communal table cuts the room through the middle with the theatre and wonderful smells from an open kitchen at one end.
The menu is fairly simple also. There’s Raw & Snacks, Small dishes (both hot and cold) and the main reason for visiting – the Flesh & Buns. Our slightly grumpy waiter begrudgingly recommended that the two of us share three small dishes and two different meats from the Flesh & Buns section.
First up was the Grilled asparagus £5.50, lightly grilled trimmed spears drizzled with sweet miso and sprinkled with sesame seeds, I could snack on these all day. Our bowl of Fried squid £8, was seasoned with Japanese pepper and had a lovely crispy coating. But what got me really excited was the Korean fried wings £5. Four big portions of chicken drowned in a sweet sticky sauce with a hot kick that slowly crept up on you like a chilli ninja.
From the Flesh & Buns menu we ordered the Crispy piglet belly £14.50 – a thin slab of pork with a razor-thin crackling that shattered like glass. Alongside transparent slices of pickled apple, served with a subtle mustard miso dip. Our Salmon teriyaki £14 was incredible too – a twisted fillet of moist fish with that treacle black skin that we can never properly replicate at home and served with fresh lemon, sea salt and a crisp pickled cucumber. That was the flesh sorted, what about the bun part? Two of these soft rice flour steamed buns £2.50 are recommended per person. So soft and pillowy but jeez are they filling, especially when stuffed full! Saff used the occasional ice-cold fresh lettuce leaves for a lighter alternative.
Choosing a drink was a tricky decision. I still hadn’t fully recovered from the night before and as tempting as a cocktail, Japanese whisky or sake sounded, I had to stick to soft drinks. Luckily they serve an interesting range of non-alcoholic coolers. My Raspberry & ginger mule £3.20 was sharp yet with the gentle warmth of the fresh ginger. Whilst Saff went for a syrupy sweet Ginger & honey nectar £3.20.
Jay Rayner (blogger hater!) described Flesh & Buns as serving ‘high-class Asian junk food in a noisy London basement’. We’re not experts on Japanese food by any stretch of the imagination – in fact we must be the only food bloggers who don’t enjoy sushi. So if this IS Asian junk food, then bring it on. Those Korean fried wings are still ruling our dreams.
GETTING OUR JUST DESSERTS | Kopapa, 32-34 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9HA
Time for stage two of our restaurant crawl. After losing our Flesh & Buns virginity, it was time to get really naughty with a couple of deserts at Kopapa. You can’t miss Kopapa, it’s the restaurant with the queue out the door even at 3pm! The main draw is obviously ‘fusion maestro’ Peter Gordon. I once read that his food is a ‘bungee jump of flavours and textures’ and from the two dishes we sampled I completely understand.
Despite being rushed off their feet, we felt so welcome here as we squeezed past diners munching their way through the incredible looking brunch menu. But we were here for the desserts. Saff, as usual, couldn’t resist the crème brûlée. But this was no ordinary crème brûlée, it was a Peter Gordon Blood orange crème brûlée, with stem ginger and coriander £7.20. Big chunks of sharp orange sat atop the caramelised sugar crust all washed down with a glass of Pink lemonade £4.50, fresh pomegranate and lemon shaken with spring water – available sparkling or still.
I went for a rather ambitious sounding Peanut butter parfait £8.50. To give it its full title, the Peanut butter parfait with original beans 75% Piura Criollo chocolate delice, salted caramel sauce and chocolate crumble was so much more than the sum of all its parts. Bitter, salty, sweet, crunchy, creamy, powdery, moist – almost every flavour and texture you could ever want from a dessert. I paired this with a simple Flat white £2.90 by Monmouth Coffee Roasters. I needed a mid afternoon caffeine boost to stop me falling into a food coma.
It was such a shame that this was such a fleeting visit, and it did feel very weird going to a restaurant just for dessert but them’s the rules of restaurant crawling. We will return to cross Kopapa off of our list properly, Saff’s been harping on about it for years.
KEEP ON WINEING | Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels, 8-10 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP
Destination three was, thankfully, a food-free stop. It was time for us to sit, chill and drink a very decent glass of wine. And Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels (or CVS as it will be abbreviated to from now on in) fitted the bill perfectly.
CVS is tucked away in Neal’s Yard, a pretty little Covent Garden court that is screaming out for summer to arrive. Back in the day Neal’s Yard used to have a slight grungy, studenty buzz about it, but now its been refined and boasts a new breed of bars and restaurants (including Homeslice Pizza). CVS is by the same team behind the Experimental Cocktail Club and this Parisian feeling bar stocks over 400 original wines.
The prices suit most pockets, reds from £22 and whites from £25 per bottle, be careful though there are a few second mortgages on the wine menu too. The knowledgeable and very likeable staff recommended a couple of reds from their ‘by the glass’ list. My Charmes De Kirwan, Margaux Bordeaux, 2007 was possibly one of the best wines I’ve ever had – but at £15 a glass I probably won’t be having many more! Saff went for the other end of the scale and ordered a very, very good peachy Casa Mairiol, Terra Alta Blanc, 2012 for a reasonable £6.
We were offered some cheese and meats as the kitchen didn’t open till 6pm so we missed out there (dishes include truffled ham and buttermilk fried frogs legs). Fay Maschler recently gave a four star rating in her Evening Standard review, so another one to add to our ‘return to list’. Her dining partner was Zeren Wilson, author of Bitten & Written who was more than impressed by the quality of their wine list, what Zeren doesn’t know about wine probably isn’t worth knowing!
The decor here is beautiful, a mixture of cosy sofas and armchairs, subtle lighting, white glossy ceiling tiles and, best of all, soft tactile panels on the wall – gotta get me some of those! This theme continues upstairs to the bigger slightly more casual area that is overwhelmingly welcoming. Architect and designer Dorothée Meilichzon has done a brilliant job and worked her creative magic again. We could have sat at our window seat and people watch all afternoon (aren’t tourists funny!), but as the clock struck five it was time to move on to our last port of call.
PIZZA, DOH! | Earlham Street Clubhouse, 35 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LD
Our last stop at the Earlham Street Clubhouse was one I was looking forward to the most. I love pizza and can never turn down a cocktail and that’s what they ‘specialise’ in. Unfortunately it turned out to be our least favourite destination on our Seven Dials tour. Maybe the other venues simply impressed us more, maybe as it was nearly empty, any atmosphere was missing. Maybe the lone pizza chef was spending more time cleaning the oven and playing pat-a-cake with the waitress than preparing his food? Or maybe it just wasn’t our thing.
It was another subterranean restaurant but unlike Flesh & Buns it was dark and grungy. It had the appearance of all those sports bars/road houses that all American college students end up at in the 80s Brat Pack movies. The decor for this theme was spot on, as were the quirky names of the pizzas and cocktails, but there was no buzz, no excitement, no fun although we did enjoy flirting with the Secret DJ app, why did we not know of this before? Perhaps things are a little different in the evenings when queues at the bar are six deep, that probably explains the train station-esque stainless steels wipe cleanable toilets – I can imagine it getting quite messy!
The food menu is limited to just pizzas and the drinks list concentrates on cocktails, their names reference US movies and film characters etc. Anyone for an American Beauty pizza and a Stifler’s Mom cocktail – you get the idea. We did quite like the idea of the Ross & Rachel – a half and half of any of their pizzas (£18 for the 20″). I ordered the Happy Gilmore £10 for the 12″. I love the film, it always cheers me up, unfortunately the pizza didn’t. Saff’s Vincent Vega was as dry as John Travolta‘s Pulp Fiction character, we even had to play spot the Calabrian sausage. Just because she can’t eat cheese doesn’t mean it has to be tasteless, as Pizza Pilgrims prove.
Drinks were a little up and down too. I enjoyed both of my drinks – the Beauty School Drop Out and Prom Queen £7.50. Saff’s College Rules £7 was almost un-drinkable, far too spicy, the kind of drink you dare a student to drink – game of neknominate anyone? Talking of games, the Tangled Twister sharing cocktail £60 and serves 8-16, comes with a twister board and a ‘spinner of doom’, I told you things could get messy!
Well that was that, our little wander around Seven Dials was fantastic, fun and insightful. It really is a brilliant foodie destination with loads of hidden gems and a less frantic feel than some other dining hotspots. A beautiful part of London that made us truly appreciate what an amazing city we live in.