★★★★ | BOWLS, Soho, London
One of the tastiest, and fun, and coolest restaurants in Soho is not on the trendy streets of Old Compton Street or Dean Street, it’s on that walkway called St. Anne’s Court. Most people use St. Annes Court for easy and quick access to Wardour and Dean streets. But next time you pass through St. Annes Court, look for BOWLS – and go right in.
Once you walk in you will be enveloped in warmth, with smells that you can’t quite put your fingers, and tastebuds, on. And once you are shown to your seat, you will feel like you’re in a friends house. All of this is due to owner and manager Zarifa Ragimova. Moscow born, she has really put her heart and soul into this restaurant, which is just over 2 months old. She trained at Le Cordon Bleu London, and her hard work here has paid off. Right next to the bar as you walk in there is a painting of her co-created by her boyfriend Will – it’s stunning. And further in you can see bowls on the main wall from all over the world, and heading downstairs there is a clever and stylish lit up guardrail, and downstairs the walls are painted in tropical style – beautiful! Oh, and let’s not forget the food.
BOWLS menu is a mix of Jamaican, South American, and Southeast Asian – a combination that really really works. Starting with the Painkiller Slush from their cocktail menu – it sure was a killer – deliciously so! With Gosling’s and Koko Kanu Original Jamaican Rums, orange, pineapple and coconut, this yellow looking drink, served in a coconut bowl, was ever so sweet and ever so delicious – the best drink I’ve had in a very very long time. My dining companion had the Bloody Marley – and while it was not an actual bloody mary, it was more of a cocktail, with white tequila botanical tea, bloody mary mix and lemon and tomato juice – and quite refreshing he said. Lots of other drinks to try, which I will on my next visit! £8.50 each.
The food menu is nice and concise, and not overwhelming at all. From the choice of six starters, we had the BBQ Jerk Chicken Wings (3 very large pieces – at only £5.50), with mango and spring onions, which was assigned a hot chilli symbol on the menu but was not very spicy but was finger-lickin’ good. The BBQ glazed pork belly bao – two – were very large, but a bit on the dry side. Perhaps a bit more BBQ would’ve made them tastier.
However, when it comes to the main portions – the Greedy Bowls – BOWLS excels. 5 mild choices, 2 medium choices, and 3 hot choices are on the menu. As I am a wimp, I had the mild Braised beef cheek. It sure was a cheek – a very large one at that, and was served with sweet potato mash (superb), sauerkraut and pickled carrots. The combination of all this was very clever, and wonderful. And while the beef was oh so tender and delicious, mild was just a bit too hot for me. I would’ve liked to have seen a non-chilli dish on the menu, but since Caribbean, South America and South East Asian foods are known for their spiciness – perhaps it’s not an option. My friend gobbled up his Laksa – a large soup dish with prawns, fish slices, tofu, and vermicelli noodles – which fell into the Hot category – but the hot spiciness level didn’t hinder him. He said this Singaporean dish was perfectly spicy.<
And for dessert, we had to try two of their three items on the menu. The Chocolate Truffle Cake was just to die for. Warm, very rich, and not too big, it was a nice large finger slice with a bit a fruit on top. And The Churros were just divine. Served with a wonderful white chocolate & raspberry dip, the dozen or so were crispy, warm and luckily not drowning in sugar – for a perfect finish.
Other dishes on the menu that might take your fancy include Tuna Poke, Zari- Pho- Braised Pork Belly, Homemade Broth, Soft Boiled Egg, Chilli, Thai Basil, Bean Sprouts, Spring Onion and Flat Rice Noodles, and Pan-fried Sea Bass or perhaps a Coconut Rundown Curry. Starters (Prawn Tostado, Butternut Squash croquettes, and Seared Tuna Salad) and sides (Cassava fries, fried plantains, kimchi and Truffled Courgette Fries) all sound oh so very good. Perhaps for the next visit.
‘BOWLS make dishes taste better’ – this is their tag line, and they are right. The food, from the starters to the main dishes, are served in varying designs and in bowls from large to small, and all pure comfort food. And the vibe is FUN! Having walked by the restaurant a few times in the past couple months, it’s constantly buzzing and busy – and with its central location, makes it a great place to meet friends after work as well as a nice weekend meal. You might also catch a night when the DJ is on the decks – all to make BOWLS extra spicy. I guarantee you will leave Bowls feeling satisfied, nourished and deeply contented, an experience that is good for the soul, and the tummy!
27 St Anne’s Court,
Soho, London W1F 0BN
020 3146 0445
Monday – Friday: 11:30 am – 3:30 pm (last reservations at 3 pm)
Saturday: 11:30 am – 4:30 pm (last reservations at 4 pm)
Monday – Wednesday: 5 pm – 11 pm (last reservations at 10.30 pm)
Thursday – Saturday: 5 pm – midnight (last reservations at 11:30 pm, Reduced menu available only between 10:45 pm – 11:30 pm)
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.