27 St Anne’s Court,Soho, London W1F 0BN bowlsrestaurants.co.uk
Bright, colourful and busy, Bowls offers a new place to informally sup in Soho
The times I’ve walked through St Anne’s Court. Over the years I could have worn a groove in the pavement if I’d kept the same course each time. But I’ve never actually stopped there before.
En route back to our office, the freshly painted, bright colours of Bowls restaurant draw us in. ‘This used to be Billy and the Chicks,’ says L. ‘Wasn’t that an Elton John song?’ I reply. ‘No, that was Benny and the Jets.’
So, that song now becomes stuck on repeat in my head.
A cheerful place smelling of fresh paint and freshly sawn wood, Bowls,a restaurant from Russian chef and TV presenter Zarifa Ragimova is energising but not exactly romantic or cosy.
That’s fine, as the idea is clearly for people to pop in and fill up, although a couple on the next table hold hands all the way through their lunch.
Which is not easy when you’re dealing with noodles, but they manage it. Young love conquers all, or at least conquers udon.
The concept is simple, everything comes in bowls even when it doesn’t strictly have to. The menu darts around the globe, calling in at the Caribbean, Spain, Vietnam, Korea and other ports along the way. You can go for small or large bowls, depending on your appetite.
So, we have a slice of Spain and order some ham croquettas, plus a portion of Portugal with empanadas. And now ‘The girl from empanada’, replaces Elton on the jukebox in my head.
First to arrive though are our courgette tempura fries, truffle, romesco. sauce, a side we ordered out of interest. Long slices of courgette well-fried, oil free and crispy made good finger food.
The truffle oil is not excessive, as is too often the case, just a tasty hint of the earth, but the romesco sauce lacks something. Salt possibly.
The croquettas then come out and they come out very hot indeed, L takes a large bite and goes into monkey breathing mode, unable to speak and fanning his open mouth with his hand. Taking that as a warning I go for a smaller more tentative, taste.
They’re good and creamy inside, with a proper crunch to the exterior, but perhaps a little too creamy overall - I like my croquettas to hold up to being held.
Decent flavours of jamon are in there, although there’s not a lot of jamon visible, I think the scraps should always be seen, delicately flecking the mix.
The empanadas, little stuffed pastries related vaguely to our own pasties, are clearly homemade and the sharp cheese and spinach filling is a foil to the pastry and the mojo verde drizzled about helps moisten it. Not bad.
Time for the real bowls. I’m heading to Korea with a Bibimbap - grilled bavette, soya infused vegetables, egg yolk and Gochujang sauce, while L is off to Vietnam with Zari-pho - Dingley dell braised pork belly, pork broth, rice noodles and soft-boiled egg
They both look good on arrival, all the components laid out very prettily for the Instagram obsessed eater. My bavette looks properly rare, probably scarily so to some people, but that’s the way bavette has to be to get the best out of it.
I can now smell burning wood, so I naturally assume that I’m having a stroke, but in fact the bibimbap bowl is so incredibly hot it’s scorching the wooden tray it’s sitting on.’
I break the egg and stir it all together, and notice that the rice at the bottom is still cooking on the hot metal and becoming crispy, the stock hisses and bubbles like a cauldron in an amdram production of Macbeth.
The only thing hotter is the Gochujang spice in the stock, a real forehead-dampener. I love it, in fact I love all the flavours in this and it’s just a shame that I can’t eat it as fast as I would like to without risking third degree burns. The meat is, as it looks, very good.
L is splashing about in his pho happily - good broth, good noodles and the belly is unctuous and tasty, he reports.
‘Nothing to complain’ about is all I can get from him, but he eats the lot so that’s a good sign.
My Crema Catalana with winter berries for dessert is not as good as it could be; the crema has split and become grainy, which is a shame as otherwise it ticks the requisite boxes for this Spanish/French dessert.
Chocolate truffle cake with mixed berries is more of a success, good and gooey and rather dramatically plated.
Once the smell of fresh sawn MDF and paint dies down, Bowls will offer a refreshing option on the ‘where to eat a quick lunch/dinner’ circuit.
Cheerful staff, more space than you might guess just from a glance in, and reasonably, but not too rapid, service with fair prices for the area and the quality.
You may not be entirely bowled over (yes, I left that gag until last, figuring it was too obvious) but you won’t be complaining either.