On this gloriously sunny recent Sunday I took a little trip to MerseaIsland, home of The Company Shed. The Shed has something of a cult status amongst the South East’s seafood lovers and was a big inspiration to Danny and I when we visited whilst fine tuning the Bonnie Gull concept. It is literally a shed on the beach where fresh seafood is brought in off a little boat out the back and served, ultra fresh and simple to diners who supply their own bread, booze and even glassware. Now ok it’s not all 100% local (the lobster had a distinctly Canadian look about it) but some of the produce is excellent and there aren’t many places in the UK where you can get a fresh seafood platter for under £15!
On Sunday’s visit we arrived at 1pm to find a sign outside they were taking no more sittings for the day – such was the sudden influx of London hipsters making the dash from the city over the bank holiday weekend. However we did manage to negotiate some ‘take away’ products to munch on the bench outside whilst swigging a few cans of Red Stripe – rich hot smoked salmon, smoked mackerel pate and some of the best rollmops I’ve ever had.
Although our ‘shack’ in Fitzrovia is somewhat smarter than the Shed the principle of no frills, quality fresh produce was the main thing we took away and a philosophy we will always stick to with our brand. In case you’re interested here are the other places that were part of our research and inspiration for creating Bonnie Gull.
OK I didn’t go all the way to Barbados just to do research for Bonnie Gull but this beach shack was certainly a must-visit for me. It’s owned by a retired doctor who flies a little seaplane to St Lucia every week and fills it up with spiney lobster which he then transfers to the biggest live lobster tank you’ve ever seen. He then plays live jazz with his other cronies, ‘The Crustaceans’, whilst you tuck in to lobster and Banks beer. Inspiration not just for my restaurant but also my retirement!
London's Golden Oldies
Since the restaurant opened in October 2012 we’ve enjoyed a really successful launch. We’ve been consistently busy seeing lots of repeat customers but my feet are firmly on the ground safe in the knowledge that in the grown up world outside of pop-up restaurants, I am still very much a rookie. I remind myself that a restaurant’s success cannot be judged on how big the queue is out the front door or how hard it is to get a table on a Friday night because the hype that surrounds a new opening can often be misleading. Success can only really be judged if we’re still going strong 3 years down the line – keeping the quality high, keeping our regulars, keeping the booking sheet full (not just on a Friday night but a Tuesday lunchtime too) and keeping that rare accomplishment of being in profit!
There is an exciting thing happening in London’s restaurant scene – every week a new restaurant opening, many of them good, and a real buzz and pride in the food our capital now offers. But behind all this are a handful of restaurants that have withstood the test of time, consistently delivering quality food and service to the loyal masses. These restaurants are my inspiration to create a quality, successful business that I can be proud of. So, with this in mind, here’s a little run down of my top 5 golden oldies in London...
1.The River Cafe, Hammersmith
I would go as far as to say that this is my favourite restaurant in London. Everything about it exceeds expectation. I took my girlfriend on a sunny Sunday in June for a long and boozey lunch, sun pouring in the spectacular glass frontage, staff buzzing between endless rows of busy tables and a wonderfully eclectic clientele. It was the little things that stood out for me – I remember with my blissfully simple starter of grilled squid with chilli and olive oil it came with half a lemon on the side for squeezing – maybe it was the joy of the whole occasion getting to me, or the half bottle of wine I had already consumed, but I think it may have been the tastiest lemon I have ever squeezed.
2.Mr Chow, Knightsbridge
I’ve been to Mr Chow a number of times and it has never failed to impress me. Cheap it ain’t but tasty it is. The food is only matched by the stunning art collection and interior designed by Michael Chow himself. What interests me is their matching of a Chinese kitchen team with a European front of house team. The combination of authentic Beijing cuisine brought to you by a charismatic Italian waiter is a real winner. Also, don’t miss the hand-pulled noodle show!
Keeping on the Chinese theme because I’ve got a soft spot for it, Hunan comes in number 3 on my list. It’s been turning out wonderful Taiwanese tapas style food since 1982 and in the 5 or so years I’ve been going the quality has certainly been maintained. It doesn’t have a menu as such, the boss (a role which has recently been passed from father to son) comes round each table and asks what kind of things people like, checking our spicy people like their food etc. Then comes an onslaught of 7 or 8 lip smackingly delicious small plates. Essentially it’s a set menu with some variations thrown in now and then but it all feels incredibly personal and tailor-made which justifies the not insignificant price tag. Also they don’t bother filling you up on rice and each dish is heavy in protein and flavour.
4.Odette’s, Primrose Hill
I took our interior designers here for a little ‘thank you’ Christmas lunch in December. I live locally and am a big fan. Five of us settled into a very long, well watered lunch and enjoyed a real gastronomic feast of predominately British game. It’s one of the few places I’ve been recently where fancy presentation is trumped only by the flavours of the food. Service is effortless and informative which helped us work our way half way through the wine list and into the dessert category.
5.Veeraswamy, Regent St
This is a true golden oldie, opened in 1926 and apparently the oldest Indian restaurant in the UK. More recently they’ve branched out with Chutney Mary and Amaya which certainly hold their own but Veeraswamy is a real show and a treat. One particular incident holds firm in my memory; upon finishing a melt in the mouth lamb chop I was approached by a manager who had noticed my plate being taken away and was concerned that the lamb was underdone. I replied that it was maybe ever so slightly on the rare side but it hadn’t taken away from the dish which I thought was spectacular. “I’ve discussed it with the chef sir,” he replied “and we both agree it wasn’t as it should be and not up to our standard so I’ve taken it off your bill”. I protested but he insisted. I wonder how many of the new breed of restaurateurs, rookies like myself, would go to such lengths to ensure the quality of the restaurant is preserved for 87 or so years.
This blog was written for Completely London Magazine. Click here to view
Burns Night at Bonnie Gull
Happy New Year from the Bonnie Gull kitchen!
Having a Scottish co-owner/MD at Bonnie Gull means from time to time we have to indulge in a little bit of Scottishness, so on Friday 25th Jan we're hosting a Burns Supper at the Seafood Shack to humour him. Luckily we already source some of our best shellfish and smoked produce from various parts of Scotland as there seems to be something good in the water up there. The night will be a pre-sold dinner including a delicious 5 course Scottish seafood inspired menu (see below). I'm also informed there will be a piper at hand and maybe one or two complimentary whiskys floating about to get people in the mood! It's £42 a head and places can be booked by e-mailing email@example.com
Here's how the menu will look...
To start we want to introduce our Loch Ryan native oyster ...for those of you who haven't tried it it's a mixture of sea and fresh water which gives it a salty sweet flavour.
To follow this we will be making our famous Cullen Skink using the ArbroathSmokie to make this Scottish chowder style soup.
Next up is our gold taste award Inverawe smoked salmon with rye sourdough bread, curd cheese, capers, shallots and quails egg.
On to the main and it’s turf & surf Caledonian style - Scottish diver caught scallops with haggis, neeps & tatties
Finally I will be baking a few Echelfechan tarts (also known as ‘border tart’) just to spare you from the obvious deep fried mars bar!
Veggie? No problem just let us know and we’ll whip up some alternatives...Hope to see you there (in kilts!).
To book or not to book?
When did going for a meal become so difficult? It seems with all the best restaurants in London now you are faced with one of 2 issues...no availability for bookings or standing outside in the rain for an hour whilst you wait for a table. Of course for the restaurant either of these is a good problem to have. The serge in London’s enthusiasm for eating out has lead to more restaurants opening than ever before and in turn competition has meant that the quality has increased. London can now be considered one of the food capitals of the world – now that’s a comment the French would have scoffed at 10 years ago (actually come to think of it they would still probably scoff).
With this new found exciting restaurant scene however comes the issue of how to get in to the most exciting places. Most ‘pop-ups gone permanent’ – a bracket which we’ve been told we’re now firmly a member of – go for the no bookings approach; as do the latest new trend concepts, burger joints and pretty much anywhere in Soho. A queue of people standing out in the November rain (cue Gun’ Roses) is wonderful news for a restaurant’s balance sheet but not much fun if you’re standing in it. Personally I don’t think any burger is worth waiting around for 2 hours for. Also as competition crops up is this approach really going to create a loyal customer base that will see them through the bad times? Maybe some can pull it off but to me it’s a bit of a pop-up attitude, not something which lays the groundwork for longevity. Our Fitzrovia neighbours Bubbledogs seem to have sewn this up well though – a queue out the door for this champagne and hot dog craze backed up by a quality chef’s table restaurant which will keep them going well past the initial hype concept. Bravo.
Across the street is the now world-famous Dabbous which has a waiting list of one year to get in...a year?! I was lucky enough to visit before it exploded and had an incredible meal but I don’t know what I want to eat on November 29th 2013 so can’t see me booking again anytime soon.
At Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack we’ve gone for a pretty simple approach – we offer most of our tables for reservations but keep a couple for walk-ins. We think it gives the best of both worlds. Our policy is to try and never turn anyone away empty stomached. Even when we’re full to the rafters we always try to offer people a seat at the bar, downstairs or outside for those brave enough (don’t worry we’ve got awnings and heaters). Would we make more money if we didn’t take bookings? Probably, but I can’t quite sit comfortably with making people stand out in the cold and then taking their money. At the very least we’ll recommend a good local alternative...like Dabbous – I wonder what their walk-in policy is?
Line caught wild salmon from the Tweed
For a preious few days every September I seize the opportunity to escape the Big Smoke and head up to the Boarders for a couple of days salmon fishing with my old man. We take the same beat on the River Tweed each year and although it's weather dependant, it normally produces a few good results. I took this picture of the first day's catch because if you're down at Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack this week and order smoked salmon - this is what you'll be eating! Unfortunately mine is the crappy wee one but my dad was generous enough to hand over the monster at the top of the pic. We had it smoked by Coldstream's legendary smoker, Ian Bruce and couriered down to the restaurant to serve up to discerning customers. Why not swing by for brunch this weekend and have it on your Eggs Royale...and if you happen to hear me claiming the catch as my own to other customers, don't blow the whistle! Alex
Northern Soul & Classic Ska: Taking the Seaside Back to its Roots
We’re just a few weeks away from the launch of Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack, so it’s about time we got down to the finer details. Whilst we’re knocking down walls, building kitchens and negotiating with suppliers, we’re also hard at work creating the perfect soundtrack. And seeing as the Seafood Shack is all about creating a nostalgic seaside experience, we think there’s nothing more appropriate than a bit of Northern Soul and classic Ska to whisk you back to the 60’s (and then revived in the 90’s) dancehalls like the Highland Rooms at Blackpool Mecca. Think Betty Everett, The Dells, Toots & the Maytals and you’ll get the idea. So whether it brings back memories or introduces you to something new, we hope you like the restaurant’s playlist as much as we do and get fully immersed in the seaside experience when we open in early October!
Don’t forget to sign up to our mailing list for all the soft launch and reservation info…
Behind the Scenes with Fabled Studio
With the aim of producing game-changing interiors, who better to put in charge of transforming the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack than Fabled Studio? We caught up with the Clerkenwell-based interior designers to find out what they’ll be bringing to our new Foley Street base, and most importantly, what they love about seafood…
Q: What is your aim for the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack?
To set a new benchmark in sustainable seafood cuisine and a dining experience that has a sense of humour and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Q: What is the inspiration behind your design for Bonnie Gull?
A faded romantic tongue in cheek take on the typical British seaside restaurant. An inner city shack bound together with washed up local materials.
Q: Will the Seafood Shack reflect the style of the recent Bonnie-on-Sky pop-up?
It will be a departure and an evolution.
Q: What are you most looking forward to from the restaurant?
Being at the beginning of this empire from the start!
Q: What's your favourite seafood dish and why?
Tom – Battered Sausage and chips
Simon – White Bait and Chips
Steven – Spaghetti Vongole
Q: Can you give us any insider info from the Bonnie Gull project?
1km of rope has gone into this project as well as the bell from the Mary Rose!
Q: What's the most exciting element of working on a restaurant opening and what are you enjoying from working on this project?
Seeing everything come to life from our initial ideas at the Studio and then seeing everyone enjoying the space when it’s open! There’s a few special things we’re looking forward to seeing come to fruition with Bonnie Gull!
Q: What does Fabled Studio have planned for the future?
We’ve got some great projects tabled for opening towards the end of this year and early 2013 that we’re looking forward to unveiling – as well as learning to use a crab cracker without firing the shell across the room!
We've Got The Keys!
Pop-up stars we are no more. For this week we took the keys to our permanent residency!
In case you’d missed the news on Twitter and Facebook, we’ll be opening up in the heart of Fitzrovia in early October.
And the best news is, we've got the address! You'll find the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack at 21a Foley St, London, W1W 6DS. Taking over a former fish restaurant, we thought it was time to inject some fresh blood into this 17 year old joint.
Offering a menu of affordable responsibly sourced and 100% British produce, the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack will be open for lunch and dinner during the week and expanding to brunch at the weekends.
Head chef Luke Robinson will be changing the menu almost daily and showcasing the day’s fresh catch. We will also feature a spectacular raw bar serving a selection of fresh British shellfish and cocktails.
Now the real hard work begins…
Introducing Luke Robinson
He’s gone from a 14 year old fussy eater to Jamie Oliver trainee to Bonnie Gull head chef. So we sat down with Luke Robsinson to find out more about him and what he’ll be bringing to your dinner tables come September…
When and why did you become a chef?
I’m 28 years old and originally from Sheffield, South Yorkshire. When I was a young lad I was a nightmare, I wouldn't eat anything. My first job was in an Italian kitchen when I was 14 and I remember having a risotto which had all the things I wouldn't eat inside it, and I was amazed that it tasted so good when a chef cooked it. I cottoned on to how cooking well could genuinely make people happy and there began my lifelong obsession with food. Fourteen years and still going strong.
What are you most looking forward to at the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack?
Having a play with the freshest seafood that we can get our hands on and building up the team and concept of the restaurant, from previous experience I know that as you build up the larder and repeat techniques the results become better and better
What dish on the new menu is your favourite?
I love the Scottish langoustines pickled apple endive and roast pork belly – they’re great compliments of flavour and a good balance of sweet, salty, bitter, pickle and fat. We’re going to be getting them in alive and they’re such an underused and fantastic seafood, at the moment most of them get sent to Spain and the rest of the med.
What do you think about the closure of the Really Interesting Crab Company?
A real shame, we were really looking forward to working with Adrian. His hand dived scallops were still popping when I got them back to my house in London after a ride on the train. I think the closure highlights a lot of the problems in the industry and that price is ruling over common sense. A bigger company or organisation can make more money and land more fish but the treatment of the catch becomes secondary to the money to be made.
What will you bring to the Seafood Shack?
My style of cooking, knowledge of seafood and my will to succeed
What do you think sets the food at Bonnie Gull apart from London’s other restaurants?
We are going to be a very high quality product at a very accessible price point. Certainly seafood-wise there are very few restaurants who will be offering the same.
Do you have any favourite ingredients?
I am really focused on taking everything from the UK, using extra virgin rapeseed oil not olive oil, cooking with British cheese and charcuterie. I will be using many of the great suppliers introduced to me during my training with Jamie Oliver.
What are your aims with the food and overall feel of the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack?
Great quality speaks for itself so I will try to keep the plates simple, British and tasty. The shack will be relaxed and informal and a great place to enjoy the seaside in central London.
The Importance of Sourcing Local Produce
Independent suppliers who focus on quality and sustainability are getting increasingly hard to come by. And now, with the sad news that our crab supplier, the Really Interesting Crab Company has had to cease trading, there’s even fewer to choose from.
We’ve been dishing up the companies delicious whole brown crabs every night at Bonnie-on-Sky, and had of course planned to continue with this valued partnership at Bonnie Gull’s permanent Seafood Shack.
The news highlights the hardships facing the fishing industry in today’s tough and corporate dominated market. Fighting heavy competition from supermarkets and chains, independent suppliers are constantly facing a battle of survival. And the fact that it’s taken its toll on such a highly regarded company, with over 50 years fishing experience goes to show just how tough it is.
The sad loss of the Really Interesting Crab Company proves more than ever the importance of sourcing local food, and the role restaurants play in their choice of food suppliers. Bonnie Gull has, and always will source quality, sustainable and local produce, so please help us in supporting – and eating – local produce.
After three great weeks of serving up the freshest seafood on Platterform’s rooftop, it’s sad to say that Bonnie-on-Sky is now over.
We’d like to thank everyone who came along – especially during some awful downpours! Whether it was for one of the legendary Bonnie Blooms, Po Boy’s or the killer whole Devon crabs, we hoped you enjoyed it as much as we did.
What were our highlights? Well, for head chef Luke Robinson it was the “Compliments and thanks from the customers as they are the most important people in this industry, and the first beer after work having done a full house!”
And in case you missed it, check out what ELLE UK, Marie Claire and Subsistence had to say about it...
We’re now focussing on Bonnie Gull’s first ever permanent restaurant, which will be opening in the West End in September, so keep checking back for details. And keep up to date with daily news and updates through our Facebook and Twitter pages…
We’re now hard at work on the September launch of Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack. From designing the interior to getting menu inspiration from fishing trips in Northumberland, it’s a busy time for us.
And what’s more, we’re planning three soft launch nights where you, our loyal and hugely appreciated customers, can come and give us feedback on the venue, food and service before we officially open to the public… interested?All you have to do is e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the invite and like our Facebook page where the dates will be revealed soon…
Scottish haddock is back on the sustainable list!
It was announced a while back but we’re only just being able to reap the rewards of the good news. So good in fact, we had to share it with you… North Sea haddock is officially sustainable- which means it can be served on the plates at Bonnie-on-Sky. It’s the first Scottish whitefish to be certified with the gold standard of sustainability. Not only is this significant news for the Scottish fishing trade, it’s also great for our menu!
Or to read more about sustainable scottish haddock follow this link
It’s been a hectic few weeks, sourcing the finest seafood from around the UK and prepping the interior with the Platterform guys, but our pop-up is now open and bustling!
Perfect for taking a nostalgic trip to the seaside with the added bonus of the city views and buzzing atmosphere, Bonnie-on-Sky is open Wednesday-Sunday until the 21st July. Think whole Devon crab, beer battered North Sea haddock and sweet Queen scallops teamed with experimental cocktails, art projections and stunning views across the capital.
While bookings can be made online, they’re in high demand and there are very few spaces left, so we’ve made sure everyone can enjoy the British seaside experience in the heart of the city by setting up a deckchair lounge where you can sample our snack menu, sip a cocktail and soak up the atmosphere.
And what’s more, you can really get into the seaside spirit by getting all Peeping Tom with Bonnie-On-Sky’s amusement pier telescopes, and, being on a rooftop, we’re offering some serious views.
So come and check it out while you can. If you want to come for drinks/bar food just turn up any time (last orders at 10pm). Dinner reservations can be made here, and if you can’t get a booking, don’t worry because our permanent home will be open in September.
So, we’re finally back! And we think it’s high time we give you a little behind-the-scenes insight into what we’ve been up to for the last few months...
We’ve got some great treats lined up for our July pop up – Bonnie-On-Sky - tackling the wind and rain of the Devon coastline in the quest for the finest of crabs for Bonnie-on-Sky.
Of course, the best quality and most sustainable of shellfish from top suppliers is still our number one priority, so this week we really geared up our prep work and made a trip to meet with The Really Interesting Crab Company in Paignton, Torbay.
With over 50 years of crab fishing experience between them, these guys really know their stuff. While they offer everything from hand-picked cockles to Brixham mackerel, it was their brown cock crabs and Portland Pearl oysters that really blew us away. Worth a special mention is the king scallop we tasted – still clapping away in its shell it was cut out in front of us, washed in seawater and then cut into thin sashimi style strips for us to taste. Much sweeter and more full of flavour than any cooked scallops I’ve ever had...a must for our raw bar.
We’ll be doing a Q&A with co-founder Adrian Bartlett in the coming days, but in the meantime, here’s a taster of what we saw on our trip, and what you can expect to see on our menus!