Flesh and Buns, Covent Garden
6 December 2013
Flesh and Buns. It wouldn’t be my first choice for a restaurant name.
Had I not known it was the sister restaurant to the very lovely Bone Daddies, the noodle bar in Soho, I wouldn’t have given it a second look. Having had one of the very best bowls of noodles that I have ever had in my whole life ever ever, (honestly, you must try it, even though you might feel ridiculous amongst all those youthful beards), I was prepared to overlook the irritating name.
I’d even sent in the other half, on a reconnaissance mission and the feedback was almost entirely positive. Japanese food he told me, not bad at all. A bit too young for us, he said, but worth a go. A bit too young? If I took any notice of that, half the restaurants in central London would be closed to me.
This describes itself as an Izakaya restaurant, which is a Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food. You’re welcome. I must admit that I was hoping for a food establishment which also served drinks. Especially at lunchtime, when I invited one of my new colleagues, let’s call him J, to join me for a foray into foreign food, allowing me to review the food, whilst simultaneously reviewing his first month at the firm. I like to multitask.
It’s in a basement. It’s a bit self-consciously grungy. The menu is divided into what are described as raw and snacks, small plates, flesh and buns and desserts. We started with the yellowtail sashimi, lime soy and green chilli granita. I had failed to spot the word granita in the small print, so when the sashimi first hit my mouth, I thought the fish was still a little bit frozen and I had a momentary panic. Once I had got my head round the fact that there was actually meant to be an icy dressing on it, I calmed down. My first instinct was that it didn’t quite work. My first instinct was right. The icy granita overpowered the delicate fish. I managed to eat it though, of course.
I also managed to hoover down the delicious beef skewers, which had been marinated in something we couldn’t quite identify. Star of the show was, without question, the deep-fried chilli squid, served with a slice of fresh lime. Crisp, fresh, tangy, gorgeous. I could have eaten a bowl the size of my own head.
But given that this is all about flesh and buns I felt that we were duty bound to order those very items. The buns are what are known as hirata buns; pale and spongy steamed buns, about four inches square, cut in half, ready to receive. Each “flesh” comes with a pickle and a sauce or dressing. There are many different types of flesh on offer, including sirloin steak, fried sole , whole baby chicken or lamb chops. We went for the crispy piglet belly, (I know, piglet – sorry), which comes with mustard miso and pickled apple and also crispy duck leg, with sour plum soy and beetroot pickle.
And a bowl of salad items, for you to stuff into the bun, but for some reason I didn’t notice that until the end. Maybe because the pieces of lettuce were too big to fit into the bun. Maybe because they didn’t actually tell you how you should assemble the buns and maybe that was a mistake because it isn’t entirely obvious. Not even to me.
There was a lot of meat. The crispy piglet belly was slightly lacking in depth of flavour, although beautifully crisped. The duck leg was not dissimilar to the sort of crispy duck you might get in a Chinese restaurant and I liked that better. We shredded it into bits and stuffed it into the rolls. I think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t entirely overwhelmed by the whole flesh and buns concept. I suspect that I may not have got it entirely right. I see that others who have visited have stuffed their buns to overflowing, drowning them in the accompanying liquid and thus needing to make much use of the terry towelling facecloths delivered to the table after the meal. Which we found that we didn’t need.
I feel, in retrospect, that we may, in our approach to the whole flesh and buns shtick, been a little too English, a little too reticent, a little too well-mannered. We didn’t even finish it. Shocker.
And meanwhile, I could see lots of interesting food being taken to adjoining tables – delicious looking sushi and sashimi rolls which I wished I had ordered instead and the ultimate in dish envy: something involving real fire. Yes, I am a child. Had I known about the fire thing, I would have forced myself to order the dish described as S’more, notwithstanding that we were technically full. This comprises large blocks of marshmallow which you toast on a fire brought to your table which bits of toasty marshmallow you then shove between two chocolate biscuits. What’s not to love? But they didn’t tell me, for which they are not forgiven.
Best for: weird and wonderful Japanese beers with some food attached
Worst for: pyrophobic marshmallow lovers