It seems, in the world of today, that every restaurant must have a concept. It can’t just be good food, either. It must be something more.
I won’t be the first to tell you I’d be happier if all restaurants had at least that: good food. Leave your avocado at home, my friends, just focus on the quality of what you’re presenting your guests with. That said, I’m not quite as old timey as I sound. I do like a place that is different from the rest, provided it’s for a good reason. You can understand then, why a restaurant like BOWLS. (their full stop, not mine) would grab my attention. Situated in Saint Anne’s Court, BOWLS. focuses on dishes of the Caribbean, South America and South East Asia, all of which work best in bowls.
On the idea behind the concept, BOWLS. owner Zarifa Ragimova said: “It was big news that bowls were served to guests at the Royal Wedding, but in many cultures across the world this is just the norm. I want to bring something to London that will become more than just a trend…. it will be the way we eat in the future. I want people to leave BOWLS. feeling satisfied, nourished and deeply contented, an experience that is good for the soul.”
The venue is intimate, friendly, cosy yet not crowded. Though if you come with a larger group, you may be pressed for space. Designed by CantorMasters, the interior strives to evoke the freshness of the food through its use of vibrant colours such as olive green, zingy turquoise and soft almond pinks. I’m not sure the colours made me think ‘fresh’, but they were certainly vibrant and the interiors are instantly recognisable.
The menu is straightforward: small bowls to start and ‘greedy bowls’ separated by amount of heat for mains, plus a scattering of sides. Immediately, I am captivated by the jackfruit. Making its rounds across social media, it’s something I hadn’t had a chance to sample during a visit to Southeast Asia last year, so I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by (again). In this case it’s a BBQ jackfruit bao starter (£7.50), which we ordered alongside BBQ jerk chicken wings (£5.50).
The chicken wings were smoky with a hint of chilli heat, cooked on a true coal barbecue and balanced wonderfully with fresh mango. The jackfruit bao, on the other hand, was altogether unique. The heat is captivating, it builds as you work your way through the fluffy bao buns. Full disclosure: the dish was too hot for me to manage both bao, but the second definitely didn’t go to waste. I am, however, thanks to the lovely spicing of the dish, none the wiser regarding the jackfruit’s taste.
For our mains, we continue with the Caribbean and South East Asian approach on either side of the table, selecting Jamaican Curry Goat (£12.50) and Bibimbap (£11.50) from the ‘Medium Greedy Bowls’ section of the menu. The curry goat, served as it should be with rice and peas is comparable to our visit to Jerkmaica. The rice and peas were cooked perfectly, the spicing extremely well balanced and the meat just fell off the bone.
The bibimbap (a Korean rice dish) was , however, the star of the show. Atop a mound of rice laced with a pleasantly spicy Gochujang sauce, sat a grilled bavette, shiitake mushrooms, mixed vegetables and a fried egg. Individually, the elements were lovely, but the still runny egg yolk to mix in with the rest of the dish brought the entire dish to the next level. Suddenly, my previously fresh and zingy plate was gloriously rich and creamy. We finished with a bowl (what else?) of fresh mango sorbet: a suitably fresh conclusion to a rich, flavourful meal.
Overall, what surprised me the most at BOWLS. was that each and every dish was comparable to previous experiences with it in restaurants that focus purely on that cuisine. Here, the concept might draw you in, but the quality of the food is what will keep you coming back.
BOWLS. can be found at 27 St Anne’s Court, London, W1F 0BN.