It’s been a busy couple of months…now that I’ve got a chance to catch my breath I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who have been to our new restaurant, Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe, which opened on Exmouth Market in April. Now that we’re through the teething issues and curve balls that a new opening presents, it’s nice to be able to look back at an exhausting but successful launch. It was not without its issues of course – not least a delay in our license coming through which meant in the first few weeks some of you had to bring your own booze. Thank you for your patience through this and also for your feedback, which has had a huge influence on shaping the menu and the service.
I’m pleased to say that the new Bonnie Gull has gone down really well with both customers and critics alike (bar one miserable bearded chap but I suppose he’s got a rep to keep!). As with all new restaurants there are lots of changes during the opening period and I’m really happy with the huge improvements that have been made in a short space of time as the team have quickly found their feet in EC1. If you dined with us in the early days I would encourage you to re-visit because now that the menu and service has settled it’s really blooming into a great restaurant.
The size and location of the new restaurant allows us to try a few things we can’t offer at Foley St such as 'Bonnie Hour' – a daily promotion between 4:30 and 6:30pm where we offer a range of £5 cocktails and fantastic Dorset Blue oysters for just £1! We’re also offering a pre-theatre menu for £14 between 5-7pm – the perfect start for evening at Sadlers Wells. To view our latest menus at Exmouth Market click here.
Our original restaurant, Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack on Foley St, continues to go from strength to strength. We’ve now got a terrace license which gives us a bunch of extra covers outside and turns our little corner into a buzzing spot on a sunny day. It’s busier than ever down there now so booking in advance is highly recommended.
On my way to the office this morning (yes, on Easter Saturday), I was delighted to pass a group of aged mods on mopeds in all their finery stopping for an ice-cream on Great Portland St. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the famous Mods & Rockers clashes, which primarily took place in the seaside resorts of Southern England in 1964. It also marks the launch of Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe, our second restaurant, with its strong influences from1960’s British seaside culture. It’s almost like we planned it (we sort of did!).
The first bit of bother took place over the Easter weekend in Clacton, Essex. It sparked a media frenzy that fuelled a second set of better documented ‘riots’ on 18th and 19th May that year in Brighton, Hastings, Margate, Bournemouth and Southend with reports of skirmishes reported as far north as Liverpool. Thousands of fashion-conscious, motorcycling youths clashed with each other and with police in towns that were not used to seeing this level of action. The media jumped on board to make the most of it but in truth it was all pretty tame stuff. The level of violence and aggression would probably equate to a bunch of Hackney hipsters clashing with some Fulham rugger boys over who started the trendy beard craze. Hardly devastating scenes I would venture. The media labelled both groups of youths as “folk devils”, reporting headlines such as “Dead Mod in Sea” when in reality it was just an unfortunate teenager who had drowned in an unrelated incident. Many of the images that came from the clashes have become iconic representations of British sixties culture but in fact many of them were staged. According to purist mod and author of the novel ‘Sawdust Caesars”, Howard Baker, "Reporters and photographers were paying off a lot of kids. You'd get a fiver or a tenner. We'd get pissed on it."
These images and other visions of 1960’s seaside Britain were central behind our inspiration for Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe. Working with our designers, Fabled Studio, we wanted to create a feeling of the perceived former glory of these seaside towns and the iconic image of Britishness that they created. Whether they were glorified by the media or just rose-tinted memories distorted with time, for some reason we look back on scenes from the British seaside with a sense of pride.
Our Seafood Cafe aims to take you back to this vision of British seaside culture…perhaps not flinging deckchairs at people but more dangling your feet off the pier licking a whippy ice-cream (flake and all) with the sound a merry-go-round behind you. It’s pretty timeless, innocent, warm feeling sort of stuff. Around the restaurant you’ll see subtle references to these days gone by - a vintage jukebox playing rare Northern Soul, a custom-made oyster chest made out of a pinball machine and ginghum formica tabletops. You'll also see the work of photographer, Chris Cooper, who went to Blackpool and Weston-Super-Mare for us to capture the image of the faded glory of the British seaside towns. Whether there was ever was any glory in the first place is up for debate but it certainly implants a nice memory and as it was a bit before my time, that’s how I’ll choose to remember them.
It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally here. After a full year of searching for a second site we have finally found a gem on Exmouth Market and finished our fit-out ready to open our doors to the public on April 22nd.
Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe will keep the same principles of our first site but with a more fast/casual offering. Expect to see the same fresh seafood direct from day-boats around the British Isles but with more quirky, simple and fun dishes such as ‘Smash your own 1Kg Devon crab’ and ‘Newspaper baked Cornish mackerel with choucrote & brambly apple’. We’ll also be serving a range of fresh rolls which are available for takeaway including a freshly picked crab bridge roll, a ‘Cockney Po’ Boy’ and a very special fresh fish finger sandwich. You can see more of the new menus on our website here.
This week we’re doing a bit of a friends & family soft launch to get some practise serving in the new site and finding out what areas we need to adapt to make it all smooth. The staff are adapting brilliantly and I think relishing the new space (which with 85 covers is much bigger than our Foley St site).
Personally I’m really enjoying spending some time in the sun at Exmouth Market. The local businesses and residents are all so excited to see our site coming together and we hope they will all be regular customers. It’s a fantastic little community and a wonderful mix of people and characters but what they all have in common is their welcoming, friendly attitude and pride for the area. We’re also looking forward to being in amongst so many great eateries and being part of a street that is all about great food – it’s a real dining hub for me and a joy to have a daily dilemma about where to go for lunch - with the likes of Moro (and Morito), Blackfoot, Quality Chop House, GB Pizza Co and the Eagle all within a minutes’ walk I think it will be hard to ever consider the prospect of a mere sandwich as adequate!
If you haven’t booked in yet you can do so here for April 22nd and after. Before then, if you’re in the area, come and say hello – we’re very proud of the new site and happy to show you around.
I can’t wait to see you there soon.