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Frankie Goes To Bubala

BURO. food critic Frankie McCoy visits Middle-Eastern restaurant Bubala in London's Spitalfields

Frankie McCoy | 10.10.2019

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Ah, my darling, my angel, my bubala! Bubala is a Yiddish endearment, the kind of cheek-squeezing, hair-ruffling, sloppy kiss-smothering pet name a grandmother presses on a squirming child before plying them with triple helpings of chicken soup. It's a word filled with schmaltzy warmth and sweetness and imminent calories.

Now it’s also a restaurant in Spitalfields, one serving new-wave Jewish food: the Sephardi rainbow of tahini-splattered and pomegranate-scattered vegetable-centric dishes – a cuisine that was brought to the London masses by Ottolenghi and is now preached across town at the likes of The Palomar and The Barbary, Berber and Q, and The Good Egg. The Bubala team – head chef Helen and general manager Marc – have between them worked at all four of these temples to wood-fired cauliflower and aubergine, and worked out that with this kind of food you don't actually need meat at all. You don’t need to mention your meat-free mission either – just make your veg so tasty your customers either don’t notice or don’t care.

Pumpkin Tirshy, Feta, Preserved Lemon & Harissa

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And Bubala really is ever so darling, with its faded plaster walls the colour of Neapolitan ice cream, its handful of tables and clutch of stools at the emerald tiled bar all crammed with happy people, its terribly jolly staff. Freshly-fired laffa arrives, all juice-soppingly spongy and huge for two quid. You’ll tear it apart like a vegetarian wolf, shovelling on grapefruit ezme (a glinting citrussy salsa, full of sweet ’n’ sour zing) and labneh, and Bubala's very good hummus, which comes in a puddle of sweet brown butter, tasting oddly like salted caramel.

"Bubala is a big squidgy cuddle of a restaurant, the sort you once childishly hid from"

Then there’s burnished nuggets of falafel with their sparkling green innards and ful medames – a bowl of cosy bean sludge that’s swirled with yoghurt and heralded by two shards of truly heroic nigella-flecked Yemeni flatbread. Grilled cabbage wallows in a beige tahini sauce and has a face only a grandmother could love. But as with much greige food, it’s more delicious than many a tarted-up counterpart. A side of confit potato latkes? Unnecessary, but also, obviously, totally necessary. They’re not really latkes, they are just confit potatoes. But just confit potatoes (thinly sliced tubers, layered in duck fat and deep-fried and salted to cubes of golden wonder) are just perfect.

Labneh, Orange Salsa, Togarashi, candied orange

All this comes quickly and generously so now you’re full to bursting. But Bubala won’t let you leave without just a teeny taste of pudding: a delightful tahini, date and tangerine ice cream, more cutely homespun than slick gelato with a nostalgic whiff of Turkish delight, and lushly dark salted-caramel truffles flecked with a potpourri of rose petals.

Now you can go, but only if you promise to come back and visit soon. Which you will, this time, honest. Because Bubala is a big squidgy cuddle of a restaurant, the sort you once childishly hid from – but which you now fall into with open, hungry arms. Bubala.co.uk

Total for two, with drinks: £80

65 Commercial Street, E1 6BD


Nightcap

Milroy’s of Spitalfields for over 1,000 bottles of cult whisky from Japan, Scotland, South Africa and more, or a world-beating whisky sour in the basement bar Proofing Room.

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