Once known and loved as the city’s most ineffably debaucherous neighbourhood, Soho is now London’s rightful home of the ‘No-Reservations’ policy. Now, most of the area’s restaurants are impossible to visit during a realistic dinner time, without forcing guests to queue around the block. As a result, eating out in Soho has somehow become less fun than standing on a packed Piccadilly Line tube all the way from Heathrow to Cockfosters.
With three successful restaurants already operating across London (Kensington, Shoreditch and Carnaby Street), Dirty Bones serves quintessentially American comfort food in an informal, convivial setting, with a prominent focus on the music that’s blasted throughout the dining space. The latest addition to the family has recently opened just behind Piccadilly Circus, and is one of the area’s few small restaurants to take bookings. Inside, the space is dark and cosy, while the increasingly popular soundtrack spans from late ‘70s funk, to 1990s Hip-Hop, back to American pop hits of the 1980s. The restaurant also has a prominent focus on playful, inventive cocktails. ‘Dirty Mary’, for instance, is a classic Bloody Mary with added hot sauce, pickle juices and a rim of crushed sour cream Pringles; ‘Rhum Old Fashioned’ substitutes classic Bourbon for spiced rum, and an ‘Uptown Spritz’ is a refreshing blend of gin, Aperol, Campari, ginger ale and tart pink grapefruit.
The new restaurant’s menu is similar to the other branches; concise but with a handful of new dishes exclusive to the Denman Street site. Against all odds, the ‘Cheeseburger Dumplings’ (£8.50) are quite enjoyable, though a dish of roasted squash (£6) is not. Paper-thin Gyoza wrappers are filled with minced beef, melted cheese and burger sauce, blurring the lines between Japanese and American comfort food with startling panache. Purists will hate every bite, but these dumplings aren’t just fun, they’re bold with insalubriously sating flavours. Wedges of charcoal-grilled and roasted butternut squash, no less, are placed on a bed of crème fraiche, separating the hot vegetable from an ever hotter plate, thus quickly souring like spoiled milk left out of the fridge for too long. In addition, a generous handful of chilli is welcome, joined by toasted almonds to bring texture – yet pomegranate molasses, here, resemble lurid strawberry sauce associated with ice cream, withholding a deeply unpleasant syrupy sweetness. Chicken wings (£7) are coated in a Louisiana hot sauce that’s less fiery than it is harshly acidic.
On the menu, ‘The Mac Daddy’ (£11) reads like another absolute disaster: “brisket and dry aged steak burger topped with pulled beef short rib, mac and cheese and burnt onion and ale BBQ sauce”. The whole precipice stirs nightmares of over-sized gourmet burgers towered with discordant ingredients, leaving a wanton stain on both your shirt and your mind – but it’s highly-recommended by our waitress, who insists it’s incomparably better than the famous ‘Chicken & Waffles”. The burger arrives resembling a monstrous pile of carbohydrates, but above all, it’s served on a plate (not a chopping board, thankfully) and the burger is cooked rare, as requested, without any health and safety spill about Westminster Council’s malevolent aspiration to strip diners of genuinely good burgers. Elsewhere, the barbecue sauce isn’t cloying and has a mere underlying presence, while the macaroni and cheese adds a ludicrous, carb-heavy decadence to the dish, making the entire burger taste so wrong, but so right, somehow each at the same time.
Short rib tacos (£16), on the other hand, showcase a lesser-loved cut of beef that’s amongst the cow’s tastiest, when properly prepared. Benefitting from slow cooking at a low heat for optimum softness, this particular hunk needs to be cooked for another hour or two, at least. Elsewhere, the dish has a DIY approach favoured by the likes of Hungry Horse pubs. The corn tacos are soft, as is traditional in Mexico, and free from gluten. White cabbage slaw has amiable crunch and enough sharpness to pleasantly slice through the richness of the beef, while the barbecue sauce is (again) subtle. A salsa of tomato and red chilli, alas, has so much acid, the taste is impossible to purge until the next morning.
On the side, a bowl of skinny fries (£6.50) is topped with shavings of fried lamb, red chilli and sweet miso (bizarrely). Without the miso, the dish’s being evokes childhood memories of visiting the kebab shop for doner meat with chips to eat while walking home from school, each Friday afternoon. The lamb, here, is overcooked and leathery, but the whole premise is promising. A welcome relief from chilli con carne, cheese or worst: cheese and gravy. One of three puddings, ‘Coffee & Doughnuts’ (£6) also evokes childhood nostalgia. I still loathe the abundance of milk used in the coffee gelato, to make it taste of coffee Revels, but the dense, sugar coated ring doughnut transports me back to happier days spent on Southend seafront during the late ‘90s, and that, simply, cannot be bad. Even better though, a freshly baked sweet waffle (£7) is topped with best friends – caramelised banana and peanut butter (here in the form of ice cream). Elsewhere, a deep Toblerone chocolate sauce unites all of the complementary ingredients to provide a truly remarkable dessert.
Though some of the cooking at Dirty Bones leaves a little to be desired – the classic American comfort-food dishes are largely executed well. Take advantage of the bookings system, order a burger washed down with plenty of cocktails and enjoy the fun, relaxed ambience. Alternatively, Dirty Bones’ brunch offering is a tried-and-tested hangover cure, while the restaurant also boasts what’s perhaps London’s best soundtrack.
Dirty Bones Soho can be found at 14 Denman Street, London, W1D 7HJ.