I love the Coal Vaults. It’s probably the most fun you can have in a Soho basement with all of your clothes on.
A pal and I stumbled upon it one drunken night, drawn in by the skeleton in the doorway. Not having a clue what awaited us beneath the staircase, we wandered down and were greeted with a beaming smile by the owner.
“Sorry chaps, we don’t have space tonight, but make a reservation and we’ll be sure to make it up to you with a couple of free drinks”*
As far as rejections go, that was pretty classy. We booked for the following Friday and I’ve not looked back.
Whilst it could be argued that Soho lost its cool years ago, I think it’s now becoming the place to go in London if you ‘know a place’. Amidst the usual urbanity of chain restaurants and bars, lie some real gems. Worth a mention are the relative newcomers The Social Eating House and it’s upstairs ‘speakeasy’ The Blind Pig, House of Ho and Honest Burger. At the top of that list though, should be the Coal Vaults.
This place is fast becoming a hive for the young and painfully hip. Moody lighting, polished copper, timber, steel, exposed brickwork and slightly-too-high bar stools complete the obligatory new-and-cooler-than-cool look. For bonus cool, take a trip to the toilets to see the Queen staring up at you from the pennies glued to the floor, or take a whizz into an astronauts helmet and wash your hands in the same.
Back to the bar itself, and whilst the food isn’t stunning, it’s different, fairly priced and exciting. I think I’ve been a bit spoiled with excellent restaurants recently, but I challenge anyone to resist the temptations of pulled rabbit with smoked black beans, sweetcorn and pineapple relish, avacado and sour cream flatbread or romeo and julieta smoked duck breast, sherry pickled rhubarb and walnut mash. The pulled rabbit was certainly an experience, and the duck breast was juicy, chewy and succulent all at the same time. The mash was a touch bland the first time I had it, but delightful the next. The chips are good, the devilled popcorn, an acquired taste too spicy for my dates. A welcome distraction from guzzling your drink they may be, but maybe best served with some toothpicks for those on a date! I haven’t tried the desserts yet but I was told by fellow diners that they don’t disappoint.
So the small plates are good, but the magic really begins when you peruse (and abuse) the drinks menu. Cocktails are genuinely inventive. I had the Marano which was served in two glasses, requiring a creative juggle to get both bits in your mouth to taste them simultaneously. Brilliant, I love novelty. The Oliver Reed, bourbon with an absinthe infused shard of caramelised sugar was delicious, and for those requiring a little more texture in their drink the Domestic Bliss hit the spot with its egg white and cinnamon rum. The house red though, was not brilliant. Stick to the cocktails and you’ll have a great time.
Overall, a cracking time and equally enjoyable in the company of friends, lovers or first dates. As you leave the bar and go on your way, you’ll have food in your belly, and a slightly smug sense that buried beneath London, you can still find some real gems.
If conversation dries up talk about
- Naughty nights out in Soho
- Would you strip or become an escort for the money?
- Grotty places you’ve been
If you really love your date talk about
- The bar you’ll install in your flat. Will it hold its own against the copper masterpiece?
- If you started a bar, what would it do differently?
- If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Where to go after
- Bar Italia for a coffee
- Princi for a digestif
- Back to yours for a nightcap.
The vital infoCoal Vaults, 187b Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8ZB Open Monday – Saturday 17:00 – 00:30 Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road / Oxford Circus Tel: 020 7434 1550 http://coalvaults.com
Love and mayhem,
*Never did get those.