Bonnie Gull, Exmouth Market

Bonnie Gull has been near the top of my ‘must try’ list for *ages*, so when my friend suggested going out for a nice meal for her birthday this was the first place I thought of.

It’s on Exmouth Market, a pedestrianised street in Islington which is one of my favourite places, though I don’t go there nearly enough. It has loads of cool bars and restaurants and a real European-y feel to it I think. It’s always busy and there are plenty of places to sit outside and people-watch in the sun with a glass of wine and some nibbles.

When we arrived at Bonnie Gull unfortunately there were no tables left outside. I was a little disappointed by this at first, but happily later on in the evening it started raining so WE HAD THE LAST LAUGH HA! Instead we got a seat in the window from where we could watch the world go by.

As it was a celebration we started with oysters and champagne. I know, right? Check us out! Slightly spoiled the cool illusion by having to ask our lovely waitress which oysters we should try, though I don’t regret it AT ALL as it led to my favourite exchange of the entire evening;

Us: ‘we don’t know much about oysters, but we wanted to try maybe two each and wondered which ones you’d recommend’

Waitress: ‘well, it depends what’s important to you, do you like meatiness, saltiness or creaminess’

Us: *pause for 5 minutes as we ROFLd*

(Sorry Mum…)

In the end we decided to go for the meatiest and creamiest ones (*snigger*) (FYI, those were the Porthilly Rock and the Carlingford Rock, menu here), which came with the usual condiments and our ice cold champagne. Until a little while ago I kind of thought all oysters tasted the same, and frankly I wasn’t that fussed about them. It was after having that delicious oyster at River Cottage that I decided this was something I needed to get involved with. To my surprise (and delight) I could really taste the difference between the two oysters we tried here and I thought they were both delicious. We had them with a dribble of shallot vinegar enhanced the sweetness of the oyster without masking the taste.

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After the oysters, we ordered sourdough with mackerel pate and anchovy butter, and some of the fattest, juiciest olives I’ve ever eaten to snack on while we contemplated the rest of the menu. The pate was nice, but a bit too oniony for my taste (I make a mean mackerel pate, so my standards are pretty high), but the anchovy butter was great; really rich and fishy and delicious.

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The main menu at Bonnie Gull is split into ‘Sea’, ‘Shore’ and ‘Land’ (fish, meat and veg) sections and the plates are small and designed for sharing. We had foie gras & chicken liver parfait (I know, I know, but unfortunately it’s just bloody delicious and occasionally I can’t resist), pea pannacotta, beef dripping chips and… from the specials menu… SMASH YOUR OWN CRAB! Too exciting!

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I know foie gras is a bit controversial, but if it’s your thing then this is an excellent place to order it. The parfait was rich and creamy and came with sweet brioche which brought out the sweetness of the pate. The portion wasn’t huge, but because it was so rich and sweet it didn’t need to be. The pannacotta was wonderful, smooth and fresh with a really intense pea flavour and with the crunchy veg sitting on top of it it looked all pretty and healthy and lovely as well. Less healthy were the chips but OMG these were some of the best chips I’ve ever had – they were so huge they were almost roast potatoes! The outside was mega crunchy, the insides were super fluffy. Everything chips should be.

The real star of the show for me was the crab. As I may have mentioned before once or twice, I heart crab. I had assumed that after my crab picking demo at River Cottage I would be able to butcher this baby with my eyes closed, but alas, ‘twas not to be. I took up the hammer and made a right hash of it (on the plus side, the crab was DEFINITELY dead by the time I’d finished), but the meat (when I eventually found it) was delicious, juicy and delicate and the claws were huge so there was plenty of it.

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For pudding we shared the Eton mess and the lemon posset. Both were absolutely gorgeously presented but my photos were rubbish (we’d had quite a lot of wine by this point) so I’m not showing them to you, you’ll just have to go and take a look for yourselves. The posset was deliciously sharp, though it was supposed to come with lavender shortbread and to be honest I couldn’t taste any lavender. Maybe it was too subtle for my palate. Maybe it was the wine. Whatevs, it was still delicious. The Eton mess was also lovely and came with basil jelly and pistachios which made it a bit different from the usual.

Bonnie Gull lived up to my every expectation. If you’re a seafood lover and a fan of cool, relaxed restaurants on beautiful streets in Islington then this is about to become your new favourite place.

You’re welcome!

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