Coal Vaults - Not for a school night

March, 2014

Inconspicuous, secretive, and easy-to-miss… she’ll already think you’re pretty cool for being in the know. The lighting’s sexy, and the music’s ideal. Tables for two are suitably intimate, or larger cellar booths are great for a small group.  The old school light bulbs, exposed pipework, concrete floor, high tables, and humble tea lights are all very cool, and the young staff are friendly and attractive, sorry, attentive.

This review’s going to be lengthy as, quite simply, there’s too much good to shout about, (and two girlfriends and I recently made it our mission to near enough sample everything on the menu, including most of the cocktails…).

I started with the Marano: short, strong and seductive. There’s a big berry flavour to the gin infusion, and a wonderful tart, sour flavour in the Prosecco chaser. The latter compliments the former wonderfully. Drinks at Coal Vaults demonstrate that mixology is both a skill and an art. The barmen here think of the cocktails every bit as intricately and intelligently as any Michelin chef would in conceiving a new dish. Textures, flavours and accompaniments are played with creatively, as is the aesthetic of every drink.

Boys, start with the Oliver Reed – a fantastic (and at the risk of being sexist) very manly loosener. I’m never sure how I feel about that word, but given the strength of this number it’s highly apt. The absinthe shard is too delicious – it has a wonderful, slightly bitter, caramel flavour, which pairs well with the deep apple-y bourbon. I’ve never taken to scotch, but the Marwar Pony comes with smoked almonds, and this inspired accompaniment flatters the drink no end. Try having a sip on its own, and then again whilst enjoying an almond… see?

On to the food. We started with the braised pig cheek with red onion jam and buttermilk brioche. The pig cheek was so meaty, and came in the tiniest Kilner jar imaginable. The tart and tangy jam, and the freshly toasted brioche were both great. The Crozier Blue croquettes are dangerously moreish – definitely start by sharing a plate of these.  The pan-fried king scallops with white asparagus, balsamic bianco and truffle, were devoured with the immortal words ‘I’d take these scallops over sex any day’… I found it hard to disagree. They were divine and succulent, and paired with the crunchiness of the asparagus fantastically.

The pulled rabbit was my favourite main course plate. The sweet and sour pineapple relish, the deep smokiness of the char-grilled flatbread, the barbecue flavour in the pulled rabbit, and the low-lying hit of chilli mingled together for a true taste sensation. I definitely recommend ordering the Maricastana to drink with this, as its tequila and tamarind go beautifully with the Mexican inspired dish. Finally, the sea bass plate – wow. It’s spinach puree was brilliant, and the contrast of the salty, vinegary capers (best ever) with the sweet and smoky peppers was wonderful.

And so to pudding: an attempt at conveying the sensation of eating the salted, flourless chocolate cake will only fall short… quite simply, go to Coal Vaults and try it. Coal Vaults’ take on an espresso martini, the Bolivia, was fantastic; I defy you not to inappropriately lick the fine coffee sugar from the rim. The only way to see off the night.

Hand’s down, this is absolutely one of the best dating restaurants I’ve reviewed on my blog so far, both for its exceptional food and drink, but also for its ambiance. Cocktails are wickedly strong (making the delicious, balanced flavour of each all the more impressive), surely no bad thing for the dating scene, just not on a school night...