What's the draw?
Following a series of successful supper clubs, Marc Summers (ex-GM of Berber & Q) has joined forces with head chef Helen Graham (formerly of The Palomar and Barbary) to open Bubala's first brick-and-mortar premises. Taking into consideration the CVs of those on the hots and in the front-of-house, it should come as no surprise that the Middle Eastern-inspired vegetarian menu here bears all the hallmarks of Ottolenghi's Nopi, among its other influences. It's also, thankfully, worthy of proximity to those titans. With its 1980s-influenced soundtrack, industrial interior, and name that comes from a Yiddish term of endearment, Bubala is an ideal restaurant for sitting on your tuches and letting the days go by.
What to drink?
Wine might be better known for its pairing potential with fish and meat, but Bubala does an admirable job at highlighting quite how well vegetarian cooking can get along with the beverage. We start with a 2018 Catavela orange wine from Italian producer Denavolo, a blend of malvasia, ortugo, marsanne, and more – cultivated from high-altitude vines from the Emilia-Romagna region. Each successive sip was redolent with floral notes and a tight-lipped acidity, revealing more of that bottle's stony soil backstory. We also sampled a chilled Gris Question d'Equilibre rosé (also 2018) from Les Coteaux du Pic winery, its mixture of grenache and cinsault grapes tag-teaming our tongues in a light and fruity flurry. Combine that delicate pink with the bracing garlic of Bubala's plates and you're in for a good time and a long time.
What to eat?
Laffa flatbreads (fresh from Dalston's Ararat Bread bakery) are a must-order. Blistered with leopard spots of char, they fare best when waded through a flaxen puddle of hummus and burnt butter. Fried aubergine dressed with zhoug and date syrup is crisp on the outside and moussaka-like in the middle; the zhoug spread generously spiced with a cumin kick that mirrors the flavour profile of a good saag aloo. Halloumi in black seed honey is well-timed and caramelised – there's no rubbery squeak to be found here – and given a pleasant citrus lift by its sticky coat. As our table became increasingly crowded with dishes, a plate of confit potato latkes still made itself heard above the hullabaloo. Those carbohydrate accordions flaked and fell apart in all the right places, bookended by a crisp top and bottom like the slightly burnt edges of a good pasta bake – our only qualm was that the garlic-laced toum which those latkes came coddled with could have benefited from a touch more Aleppo chilli. Larger plates like the grilled romanesco in smoked tomato dressing were fine, but not spectacular. What was spectacular, however, was the tahini, date and tangerine ice cream: a dessert that's a little bit Terry's Chocolate Orange, a little bit rum and raisin and a whole lot of delicious. Tahini makes an ample salted caramel surrogate and prevents the ice cream from becoming cloyingly sweet and, while there's nothing subtle about it, it is a big, bold, and sexy bite of food. We'll back for another scoop.
Plates from £5.5, wine by the glass from £5. 65 Commercial Street, E1 6BD. bubala.co.uk