Sunday, 4 May 2014

Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe, Exmouth Market

A whole crab is messy at the best of times. Put a hammer into the mix along with the usual cracking tools, and you are guaranteed to get even more covered in bits of crab meat/shell, with a lingering crab smell for the rest of the day.  If you go to the second Bonnie Gull on Exmouth Market (the first is on Foley Street, with my write up one my starting blog posts), you get one to deal with the whole Dorset cock crab. 

It comes part taken apart, with the brown meat flame grilled (bringing out its strong flavour) before being returned to the shell, a slice of toasted sourdough and pot of tangy cocktail sauce for the £18.  Along with the good hour of entertainment spattering the rest of the table with flying shellfish, extracting the sweet white meat.  It’s also worth trying a few sides – there is a tart vegetable slaw (£4), chunky beef dripping chips or the skinny kind, with rosemary salt (both £4).

Back to the hammer-less dishes – from the starters, you can instead have the crab with avocado on beef-dripping toast (£8) as one of the options.  We tried the queenies (little queen scallops, from the Isle of Man) two ways.  I had the half shell queenies, fried golden on top a blob of cauliflower puree in their pretty shells (£9), with pangratta (essentially breadcrumbs, which I thought were usually pangrattato – feel free for any Italians to confirm), and thin slices of more cauliflower.  The second were beer battered (£8), fried until golden and crispy with a good sprinkling of paprika, and more of their cocktail sauce for dipping.  A very moreish way of serving (and converted a scallop suspect  at the table).

Alongside the crab, from the mains we also tried the whole Looe lemon sole, on a very spring plate of asparagus, peas, broad beans and mint (£17).  The fish and chips sailing past to other tables looked excellent – of course with scraps and obligatory mushy peas.  There are rolls too (also for takeaway) – we tried the fish finger sarnie (£7) with tartare sauce and mushy peas stuffed inside (apparently peas in a sandwich is a good addition), along with the picturesque native lobster bridge roll (£15).

Picking crab meat out the body and your legs for your dinner is a perfect diet solution.  You could be there for hours, and eventually give up.  So it was quite late by the time the mess of hammered crab was done with.  We just fitted in sharing a bowl of excellent crumbly Cornish fudge (£3) and a slab of the Millionaire shortbread, with crunchy candied hazelnuts (£6).  If you want even more seaside fun, they do homemade ‘whippy’ ice cream, in the foamy cones with toppings, or a stick of Brighton rock.

The drinks are very good too.  Pisco makes excellent cocktails but a little underused in bars, so it was nice to see it on the Bonnie Gull menu in the Pisco Aviation – strong, and a beautiful moody grey/blue colour.  Their Bonnie Marys are also an excellent version of the classic.

Their brilliantly fresh, British and sustainable seafood (there’s a map showing where the catches come from) with the fun of the seaside is a great addition to my favourite restaurant street in London.  Bonnie Gull have been very considerate opening here, as it is also five minutes from my flat. It’s therefore handy for weekend brunch – there are great sounding things like devilled eggs with smoked cod’s roe and potato crisps, or omelette Arnold Bennett with Arbroath smoky (along with non-fishy options).  

Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe on Urbanspoon

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