The Fresser

The best kind of babysit

I'm back at Bubala - the new Soho dining room - and it's been worth the wait


Helen Graham and Marc Summers’s food makes me want to sing.

In my high chair days, so happy was I to be spoon fed whatever mush my mother had prepared for me I’d warble as I wolfed.

So spectacular are the flavours at Bubala that every mouthful of each dish was worthy of a tune. To Mr P's relief, all I did was gush and swoon at every new dish.

I’d been invited to try out the newest member of the Bubala family, which opened last month in the centre of Soho. After experiencing their first Bubala in Spitalfields, pre-pandemic, I knew it would be stop-you-in-your tracks-good, but it still blew me away.

Having spoken to them prior to opening, I knew which dishes I needed to try and I also knew that Bubala Knows Best, their set menu, was the way to go. A curated journey around the high points of their menu that takes all the stress out of ordering. We picked the vegetarian version over the vegan — Mr P loves labneh and for me the halloumi is a highpoint.

All we had to do was pick our drinks. Beyond the usual options are a range of homemade gazoz. Anyone who has visited Israel will be all over know about the Sabra soda and syrup drink. This was resurrected by Tel Aviv trendsetter, Benny Briga, who set up shop in Levinsky Market, mixing up sophisticated, non-alcoholic drinks made from sparkling water plus infusions of flower, fruits, herbs, spices, ferments and syrups.

The team at Bubala have developed their own range of syrups ferments — using fruits, herbs, spices and even chilli peppers and infusing different alcohols with spice mixes. Everyone in the team has a hand in inventing their own flavour combinations. The result, a menu of their own gazoz (with a credit to Benny) that literally pop with flavour. Strawberry, basil and peppermint was summertime in a glass. There is also a range of cocktails and their house made raspberry and vanilla soda.

It's not only an avenue for them to exploit their huge flavours but also a sustainable slant on the drink menu.

Nothing is middle of the road and not one dish lets the side down. The bar was set high with the simple pickle plate of thinly sliced cucumber, shards of celery and fennel set the tone, with its sweet, tangy crunch. First time I've fought for the last piece of celery.

If I was going to moan, it would be that you have to pick your bread from the three offered — challah; laffa or pita. I'd rather pick my favourite child. Seeing my face, our waitress offered me the lot. I still could not separate them any more than I could choose one of my offspring over the other.

Each bake on our loaded bread plate was as warm, crunchy and pillowy as the last, and essential mopping tools for the labneh with confit garlic – the only way you’ll see me eat a clove — and za’atar; and to swipe up hummus pooled with sunset orange burnt butter oozing with caramel notes.

Graham and Summers have developed a baba ganoush recipe for the first time and it was worth the wait. The smoky notes offset by herbaceous crisp curry leaves and creamy tahina.

We received two skewers — heavily charred oyster mushrooms on one and equally well-cooked Chinese cabbage on the other. The deeply charred mushrooms were an edible optical illusion — looked like veg but tasted almost meaty thanks to the flavour combination (soy, coriander seed and agave) in the sauce and heavy grill. Monsieur Maillard would have been proud.

Mr P queried why, with options like this anyone would want meat. I resisted grabbing the the empty dish as the waitress lifted it as I hadn’t completely mopped the marinade. (I fought myself not to stop every dish leaving the table unless completely clean.)

Juicy, smacked cucumbers brought balancing freshness to the haloumi, which was slathered in a sticky sweet slick of slightly fiery chamomile and fennel honey.

Our greedy carb fest left us limping into the final lap of dishes. Butter-soft roasted cauliflower on gorgeously fruity, fresh, grated tomato; bkeila (a dark, punchy, spinach paste — way better than it reads) and cooling yoghurt.

Vesuvio tomatoes — grown on the volcano’s slopes — exploded with flavour in a salad of mango, tamarind and cumin. The confit potato ‘latkes’ – were still nothing like the shredded potato snack of our ancestors, but I’ll forgive a simple misdescription for the indulgent crisp, buttery layers they have produced.

We could have left the still buzzing dining room at this point (3.30pm) but I was duty bound to try dessert. Three years on, there are a few more options than my last visit. Baklava semi freddo was a deconstructed delight. A creamy slab of iced dessert under a sticky shower of spiced, dried fruits and nuts that reminded me of Christmas mincemeat, topped with a crunchy, sweet circle of thinly rolled, deep-fried dough formed (I suspect)from a malawach wrapper. Mr P was too full to join me, so I was forced to demolish the lot.

The set menu is £39 per person per head plus drinks. If you go for gazoz they don’t exceed £7 a drink and my glass of Spanish Verdejo came in at a reasonable £6.50. Plus dessert.

Flavours this fantastic deserve to last. And you deserve to eat it. Join the chorus at this new arrival.

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