Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Chloe Scott-Moncrieff and olive reader Jeremy Byfleet compare notes on this new open-fire restaurant in Shoreditch
Looking for places to eat in Shoreditch? Read our review of Nuala bar and restaurantand see if an expert restaurant critic comes to the same conclusion as an olive reader…
The pro restaurant reviewer
Chloe Scott-Moncrieff has written for the likes of The Times, Telegraph and Evening Standard for 20 years, of which she was food editor at Metro for seven. She co-founded the Young British Foodie awards. @chloescottmoncrieff
Berkshire-based Jeremy Byfleet loves Italian food, particularly tiramisu. He eats out most weeks and his best dining experience was the tasting menu at The Fat Duck.
About Nuala, London
Nuala sets clear intentions with a red-haired, siren-type figure as its symbol and a name taken from Irish mythology. Niall Davidson plays with his Celtic roots in his first solo venture, an open-fire restaurant just off Silicon Roundabout.
Cream chairs and brown-leather banquettes are set up to face a concrete counter and fire pit. The open flames give head chef Colin McSherry (Fat Duck, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal) another distinctive element to work with in a contemporary British offering that includes dishes such as flamed clams in cider, suckling pig with ‘fireplace’ cabbage and rotisserie goose with barley pancakes. Irish ingredients are peppered throughout the all-day menu, from a full Irish breakfast in the morning to steak tartare with Guinness sauce for dinner, while Honey Spencer, once of Noma Mexico, takes care of the wine list.
The lively, late-night Irish bar downstairs, headed up by Dublin-born Lauren Taylor (previously of Hawksmoor Spitalfields), boasts live music, cocktails, Irish whiskey punch and plenty of Guinness.
If you’ve not tried ‘modern Irish’ before, Nuala is a good initiation. Set on a grungy part of City Road, 30-year-old Northern Irish chef Niall Davidson and his head chef Colin McSherry are bringing Celtic-inspired cooking to London. With exposed brick walls and an industrial interior, Nuala is glossier than I’d expect for the area, but it suits the City workers down yonder. Highlights include a fire pit in the open kitchen and Irish boozer downstairs.
Service is cheerful, tap water unblinkingly given, and a tasting of numerous wines offered (including an unusual ballsy red from Pella in central Macedonia) by adept sommelier Honey Spencer. *I wasn’t recognised.
Gluttony leads us to the beef main. This isn’t a sharing menu but staff are charming when we ask to. Beef tastes mild compared to the current trend for full-flavoured, aged cow. Yet with the pickled cucumber element it’s elevated to delicate, smoky-nuanced beefiness. The champ side, with creamy potatoes and scallions, is unmissable.
Only the grilled rabbit, salt-baked celeriac and mustard disappoints. While it’s tender and honest, it’s borderline uninteresting compared to the previous riot.
For dessert, Guinness ice cream is light and wheaty. If I was being finicky, it was starting to melt so tasted a tad granular. A zingy, clean-flavoured tangerine tart with a blob of velvety soured cream, though, is polished off in seconds.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Niall has created a bold menu with many original dishes. Plus, it’s served by an experienced team. It’s a buzz, I’ll be back.
Total for two, excluding service: £130
Our punter’s Nuala, London restaurant review…
Shoreditch urban cool combined with modern cooking and a strong Irish influence describes newly opened Nuala. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the staff, who made us feel at home and accommodated our seating preference for a window booth. From start to finish the service was excellent – relaxed yet highly attentive and personalised.
The cocktail menu was short but the barman was adept at serving off-menu creations (my wife was driving so asked for a non-alcoholic cocktail). The Shaken Up Serve was a hit, a skilful combination of brandy, vermouth and cinnamon, with a hint of peatiness. We ordered a couple of snacks to go with our drinks – individual mouthfuls of melt-in-the-mouth cod’s roe biscuit with guacamole and fresh foie gras slivers on soda bread.
Mussels (the shellfish of the day) and pistachio beurre blanc to start was a delight. Plump, juicy mussels cooked with stout rather than wine, with samphire adding saltiness. The buttery sauce was enhanced by savoury notes from the beer, an ideal marriage with the accompanying sourdough.
The humble rabbit was celebrated as a main course, with a loin filled with light, nutty stuffing and a full leg on the bone. The meat was incredibly moist and cooked carefully, with crisp skin on the leg. It was further enhanced by a light mustard and herb sauce, and cubes of salt-baked celeriac, which released a hit of creamy nuttiness in the mouth. The waiter suggested a side of baked heritage carrots, which were full of natural sweetness. We were recommended a glass of nebbiolo d’Alba, which had an intense bouquet of autumnal fruits.
To finish, a pumpkin ice cream, silky smooth with salty shards of wafer-thin meringue and chopped walnuts, was perfectly balanced, slightly savoury and beautifully executed.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Nuala was a great experience – original and inventive food, good wine selection, fantastic service and a relaxed, unique atmosphere focussed around the fire pit.