Bubala, Soho

A review of another “Levantine” restaurant here and it’s no surprise.  Often labelled as the “Ottolenghi effect”, London’s love affair with Middle Eastern food has transformed our relationship with vegetables.  Boiling to eternity is thankfully out; (whole) roasting, charring and grilling has come to the forefront – not to mention dips, spices, tahini and all manner of other condiments.  It’s for this reason that Levantine food is my favourite.  And this one, probably the favourite. 

Up for review this evening is veggie paradise Bubala Soho.  This is the outfit’s second and larger offshoot, after Helen Graham (formerly of Berber & Q and The Palomar) and Marc Summers made a successful start in Spitalfields in 2019 (on which, see my review here).  They seem to be pushing the boundaries of their vibrant vegetarian cooking into thrilling new territory here, that even the most hard-core carnivore would be converted.

Bubala’s dark green façade on Poland Street is unshowy – they have little need to trumpet itself to passers by after all given the chock-a-blocked bookings.  Inside, the vibe is laidback-chic, with beautifully rustic peach plastered walls lightened up with sweeps of aqua across the ceiling and shelves filled with a colourful parade of house-made ferments and pickles.  Not to forget the plant pots, blonde wood and a pretty tiled floor.  

One wall of the intimate, 50-seat space is lined with an elegant bar.  Given reservations here book up weeks in advance, an impromptu evening-before booking landed my companion and I a spot here. Though rather tight, in my opinion, these are usually the best seats (or stools) in the house.  Prime position for a view over the bar and bustling dining scene. 

Onto the food, this is the kind of deliciously-worded menu from which you’ll literally want to order everything.  The convivial dining style is inspired by Tel Avivian café culture, with snacks and dips, skewers cooked over a yakitori grill, larger plates and sides, all designed for sharing.  For those tempted to order everything – very easy to do here – as at the East London flagship, there’s the “Bubala Knows Best” set menu, with both vegan and vegetarian options.  Priced at £40 a head for a veritable feast, it’s very reasonable.

Though there’s no glossy, fried aubergines lavished with date syrup and zhoug available here, loyal devotees will be relieved to see many Spitalfields greatest hits on the menu, such as Bubala’s silky hummus with burnt butter and a scattering of chickpeas.  Though hummus and falafel is a fail-safe option, in the mood for an something different we ordered the Grapefruit ezme (£7.50) with tahini, pomegranate molasses and plenty of EVOO.  This was probably the highlight dip (and dish) of the evening: tart, fresh and seductively smooth, it pairs well with any flatbread, pickle and/or veggie.  In fact, it’s so good it’s edible by the spoon.

Another dip not to overlook is the Baba ghanoush (£8.50).  Velvety smooth and puréed to a fine silk, it’s garnished with vivid-green curry leaf oil, fried curry leaves and toasted pine nuts, adding extra intrigue and a fragrant scent to a dish already rich with depth and smokiness.

Make sure to order the Laffa bread (£3) and Pickle Plate (£4) to go with: beautifully charred in part with a satisfying chew, this bread is the perfect vehicle for mopping every plate clean.  Bubala is proof that veggie eating doesn’t all have to be about seitan-worship.  This is generous, lovable and accessible dining.  Get stuck in and mucky!

Not to miss are one, two or all three of the (all vegan) kebabs.  Oyster Mushroom Skewers (£4/each) are charred into crisp submission, they’ll convert even the most stubborn mushroom-sceptics.  Though doll-sized, these skewers have an exhilarating burst of sweet-sour flavour thanks to their agave, coriander seed and tamari seasoning.  Though the standout skewer for me was Leeks and amba (£4/each).  Served with a sharp mango pickle and charred to perfection, these leeks are totally enveloping.

The gorgeously nutty Cauliflower (£8.50) with velvet tomatoes and spring onions is another show-stopper, simultaneously crisp and meltingly tender.  Served with bkeila (a potent condiment made from slow-cooked spinach) and a slick of cooling yoghurt, it has the perfect combination of textures.

‘Bubala’ is a Yiddish term of endearment, so it’s entirely appropriate to lavish a lot of love for this place.  To create food that feels nourishing, but also decadent and celebratory, is no easy feat. Yet Graham has pulled it off once again.  Flavours here are big, and occasionally surprising, and service is warm.  In short, this is vibrant veggie dining with a laidback, Tel Avivian spirit.

Bubala, 15 Poland Street, Soho, London, W1F 8PR

Website: https://bubala.co.uk/

Rating: ****

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