Exmouth Market is one of our favourite failsafe foodie stomping grounds. Caravan, Moro and Morito set the bar high for starters, and the humming crowds that spill onto the pedestrianized street clutching cocktails and nibbling on padron peppers and warm chorizo bites add to the European-epicurean-fiesta feel. Nostalgically British seafood café Bonnie Gull has just entered the gastronomic melee, its Cornish white-and-blue stripe awnings and fresh-from-the-morning’s-catch offerings lending a breezy, salty-air freshness to the street’s culinary platter.
Perusing the daily-changing menu should most definitely be done over a cocktail from the maritime-themed selection. The sexy coupe of Killer Nymph we tried was a seductive mix of tart rhubarb and grapefruit bitters, sweet sloe gin and a kick of invigorating effervescence courtesy of a light lacing of champagne.
Half shell queenies and smoked salmon blinis started the munching proceedings. The former are petite scallops, here served in a fanned-out flower arrangement and sprinkled with lightly garlicky pangrattato and paper-thin slices of cauliflower florets. Juicy plumpness and crunchy confidence was a winner. The potato blini was deliciously fat and meltingly moist; the salmon swirls atop, gratifyingly generous.
Devilishly buttery Lode lemon sole with asparagus, peas, broadbeans and mint – dusted with tiny white blooms – followed, and tasted like spring incarnate, a moreish mix of bite and velvety softness. The hearty baked crock of Dorset shellfish and perfectly flaky hake in a thickened tomato sauce with a spicy chorizo twist came in a white and blue edged Le Creuset pot, of course, and we washed it down with a glass of, controversially, red wine: the chilled Domaine Rimbert “Cousin Oscar”. An attractive coupling indeed – just one possibility from a mainly Italian, French and Portuguese wines.
The pudding was head-turning. As we guzzled the thick, rich and soft homemade “whippy” ice-cream and 99 flake, two tables around us swiftly followed suit. Bonnie Gull is that kind of place, really: laid-back and easy-breezy, with a close knit sense of community and fun – a beach shack, complete with wooden benches and shabby chic white painted chairs and tables, that’s been thrown from the coast and has landed, rather gracefully, on the cobbles of Clerkenwell.