Last Saturday I decided to treat the Ewing to crabs (behave) at London's latest pop-up turned permanent, the Bonnie Gull. After starting life as a seafood shack in Hackney, this 'clarion call to British seafood' has swum across town to new home in Fitzrovia.
Occupying a rather cute corner spot with blue and white awnings, inside is nautically inspired with whitewashed tables and chairs, a chalk board map showing where today's catch hails from and a sparkling raw bar, heaped with spanking fresh sea food piled up on ice. The Ewing was instantly charmed.
The menu is a perfect exercise in brevity. For brunch they offered a small selection from the raw bar, an English breakfast; a handful of egg options; kippers and a choice of three mains. Fish'n'chips, crab or gnocchi. It's rather nice to know that your eating what's fresh, available locally, and in season.
Razor clams came on their shells, in a trug full of ice. These looked the biz, and tasted very good thanks to being seasoned with chilli, garlic and parsley and served with a piquant cocktail sauce. A word of warning for the squeamish (although, if these kind of things creep you out then you're probably in the wrong place) while the clams look great served whole it does mean some DIY dissection to remove their digestive tract; a messy and gory job.
Far simpler were the Loch Ryan oysters and periwinkles (advertised on the menu as cockles, but these turned up instead). Again, thumbs up for the shell-shaped serving platter and silver pins given to us to extract the sweet squiggles of sea snail from their shells, these were also great dunked into the Ewing's mignonette sauce.
And onto cocktails; these didn't materialise until we were well stuck into our starters, but they proved worth the wait. My Smoke on the Water cocktail consisted of Chase smoked vodka, dry vermouth, an (absent in this case) black salt rim and a smoked salmon chaser. The martini was nice; bracing and strong. But the magic really happened when you ate some of the salmon afterwards. The persistent smokiness of the fish with the tingle of alcohol was a lovely combination.
The Ewing's Beetcar: Portabello Road gin, lemon juice, beetroot, fresh ginger, coriander and egg white, served martini style. This was a beauty to look at, and, despite its 'healthy' star ingredient, there was plenty of alcohol there too. An earthy and fragrant combination of flavours with a savoury edge that would make a good choice instead of a bloody mary. (Also available here too, complete with oyster garnish.)
And so to the main attraction: Devonshire cock crab with Shack Mayo and sourdough. And what a beauty it was. I love crab; many people (the Ewing and my dad and sister included) prefer it to lobster, (although I still have a rather large soft spot for lobster rolls with mayo and celery, or grilled with lashings of cheese sauce). It certainly also has far more flavour and is far less expensive than their crustacean cousins.
Of all the crustaceans I have enjoyed, from snow crabs in Florida, mud crabs in Sydney and spider crabs in Spain, the humble brown crab remains my favourite. And this was one of the finest I have eaten. These bad boys were huge (the fuzzy photos don't really do it any sort of justice) Two huge, partly cracked claws and other assorted smaller limbs full of sweet white meat were delicious, but the real revelation was the brown crab. Extracted from the body; thoroughly picked over; mixed with Shack Mayo and put back into the cleaned shell; this was simply outstanding.
Often the brown meat (made up of the rich liver and digestive glands) is disregarded for being too strongly flavoured. A tragedy as all crab aficionados know that all the real 'crabby' flavour lurks within the shell. Eating this glorious mixture on slices of crunchy toast, before thoroughly chasing all the last traces around the shell with a teaspoon, is pretty much as good as life gets (throw in a few glasses of Piquepoul and a sea view and I might think I'd died and gone to heaven).
The Ewing was also in her element and spent a good hour picking over her bounty, armed with just seafood pick, claw-crackers and fingers. The poor waitress looked amazed every time she approached our table, only to find her still diligently attacking the huge mountain of shells in front of her.
Eventually she downed tools, and luckily there was still just enough room for us to both share a pudding. Choices were between a brownie with caramel sauce and a lemon tart with creme fraiche; we picked the latter, and it was a very fine choice. The curd filling was lip-puckeringly tart, causing us to pull happy grimaces at each other, which is as all good lemon puds should be. While the base was a little pale and underbaked it was atoned for by a lovely, brittle, bruleed sugar crust.
Our lunch at the Bonnie Gull was long, boozy and filled with laughter; just as all good meals should be. Service was very eager and charming, if slightly ramshackle, but the friendliness and welcoming nature of the place meant we would have happily stayed there until dinner time and eaten it all again. (We nearly did, finally leaving just as they switched to the evening menu.)
There may be plenty more fish in the sea, but the Bonnie Gull was certainly our catch of the day.