It might not have the sea air and squawking seagulls, but the Bonnie Gull Seafood Bar is as close to a seaside-dining experience as you are likely to find in London’s bustling Angel.
The sister of Fitzrovia’s Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack, this Exmouth Market bolthole first opened as the Bonnie Gull Seafood Café in 2014. Having undergone some minor “tweaks”, it re-opened as the Bonnie Gull Seafood Bar in February this year, shifting its focus to small plates that showcase the best of British alongside cocktails and by-the-glass wines. Think Dorset Blue oysters with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet, potted shrimp with seaweed butter and Isle of Man scallop ceviche. The intention, of course, is to appeal to diners looking to pop in for a quick glass and plate of something at its strip bar, as well as those looking for a full sit-down lunch or dinner.
Arriving on a Wednesday evening, its interior is of a welcoming blue hue adorned with nautical brass lighting and wooden deck-style seating, making it feel somewhat like sitting in ship’s vessel. A mixture of northern soul, 60’s ska and rock n’roll being played on an original vintage jukebox completes its laid back vibe. Far from the “stuffy” seafood restaurants of London bemoaned by its owners Alex Hunter and Danny Clancy, the Bonnie Gull instead aims to be a celebration of the “simple and unassuming restaurants of British coastal towns”.
As you would expect of a seaside-themed restaurant its menu boasts plenty of fresh seafood: a chalk map hangs proudly on the wall detailing where in the UK its seafood is sourced. Settling in I set about first sampling the cocktail menu, which is small but well-formed offering a range of imaginative serves that champion seasonal, foraged British herbs and fruits. Overseen by head mixologist Damien O’Leary, serves include the Basil Collins – a mix of fine, basil syrup, lime, egg white and “absinthe mist” – and the playfully named Wanna be Plantain Something – comprising rum, banana liqueur and bitters, topped off with a plantain crisp.
I plumped for the seasonal Plum Jamm (£7.50) comprising plum-infused vodka, Frangelico, lemon, vanilla, egg white and plum jam. While the jam seemed to settle rather uncomfortably in the glass, the drink itself was a beautifully balanced with the sweetness of the plum marrying wonderfully with a hint of almond. My partner meanwhile chose Kamm’s Rye & Dry (£7.50), made with Rittenhouse 100, Cocchi Americano, Kamm & Sons and Lemon.
Perusing the menu, divided into Sea, Shore and Land, we decided to start the night with six Dorset Blue oysters (£13.50). They came beautifully presented in a silver platter filled with ice and a mignonette of shallots and red wine vinegar, and a splash of Tabasco. By the second oyster I could smell the sea air. Staff are relaxed, knowledgeable and attentive, without being pushy, and are clued up when quizzed about the produce on offer – always a good sign.
Moving on, we decided to share five plates picking a selection of treats, starting with a plate of piping hot spiced crab, salt cod and brown shrimp croquettes (£7.50). A perfect appetizer, we inhaled the three bite size pieces, savouring each mouthful wishing there was more to go around. This was followed by potted brown shrimp with seaweed butter and toasted bread (£6) – a twist on a seaside classic that worked a treat – and a bowl of salt and pepper channel squid with jalapeño mayonnaise (£7.50). For those who prefer a bit of meat with their seaside escapes, the melt-in-your-mouth Aberdeen Angus aged short rib with horseradish mash and navets (£11) will have you drooling. Not one to miss out on our greens, we also tucked into a plate of roasted celeriac with beurre noisette, hazelnuts and crispy capers (£4.50) – its savoury nuttiness set off beautifully by the capers’ acidic twang.
Topping off a very pleasant evening was perhaps, and I don’t say this lightly, the best dark chocolate brownie I have ever tasted (£6), so far. Served with a scoop of salted caramel cream, which is what really raised it into my personal patisserie hall of fame, it filled my mouth with joy. Crunchy on top and gooey inside, yet restrained in its richness, the salted caramel cream and candied hazelnuts were a divine combination.
Its wine list meanwhile, while reasonably varied, features almost exclusively European wines, bar one Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and a South African Gamay, which is unlikely to satisfy those with a taste for the new world. I’m told there will also be a Bonnie Gull “Little Black Book of Wine” listing some interesting finds and bin-end prices. Its by-the-glass selection meanwhile is reasonable ranging from the cheap and cheerful £3.80 Bonnie Gull house red and white to its top offering, a bottle of Meursault ‘Ville Vignes’ from Domaine Sylvan Dussort 2012 at £65, bottle only. For those with a penchant for Italian fizz, a glass of Prosecco Frizannte, 47 AD, will set you back £5.60 a glass. Beer lovers meanwhile will be happy to see Meantime on tap, with both its pale ale and London lager available.
With its laid-back vibe, rustic charm and nostalgia-invoking seaside features the Bonnie Gull Seafood Bar is a home away from home sure to impress.
Bonnie Gull Seafood Bar; 55-57 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QL