Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Restaurant review: Flesh and Buns

Tasteless tuna tataki

"In general, I don't like people. I take my life in my hands and cycle to work everyday just to avoid the group misery on the tube..."

I've just got back from holiday in lovely Northern Ireland, hence the gap between this post and the last. However, this time away from London has granted me some much needed perspective on my visit to Flesh and Buns. As such, rather than giving the place a vaguely positive review, with the odd caveat, I can now see it for what it truly is: absolutely the kind of wannabe hip, clip joint you should avoid.

To offer some context, Flesh and Buns is a "new Izakaya restaurant from Bone Daddies." I can't pretend to be an expert here, but Google tells me an Izakaya restaurant is a casual Japanese drinking and eating den, popular with salary men, students and the like.

Sounds amenable, and, if you recall a previous post, Bone Daddies is a ramen restaurant in Soho, which I liked. Therefore I didn't have too many reservations about heading down to Earlham Street in Covent Garden for a pre-cricket tour farewell dinner with VD.

Descending from street level, the Flesh and Bunners have installed booths and tables either side of a cavernous underground space. These are split by a high table which runs almost the whole length of the restaurant; flanked at either end by a bar and an open kitchen.

If you are dining a deux it looks like the only option is to perch on the high chairs either side of the high table, bumping elbows with those either side, before deciding this isn't the right place to discuss that itchy rash you've both developed. Some people like this communal, collaborative, 'lets all jolly along together' blitz spirit dining experience. I am not one of them. In general, I don't like people. I take my life in my hands and cycle to work everyday just to avoid the group misery on the tube.

Bathing in your neighbour's BO isn't an insurmountable problem if the food is good. But this, I am afraid, is where Flesh and Buns falls flat. At best, you would say it is hit and miss, and moreover, it is over-priced.

Rice crackers with a couple of fridge cold, tasteless dips were £6, and for £10 you can have the blandest tuna tataki you are ever likely to encounter. I couldn't really tell what the kitchen had done to the tuna to prevent it from tasting of absolutely anything at all, but I could have been eating a damp sponge for all I knew.

A salmon kimchi roll was fine, but I didn't detect the kimchi and it wasn't any better than you'd get from Itsu or Abokado. Much better was a pair of chicken yakitori skewers, which were piping hot from the grill and came with a sweet and sticky glaze.

The main event though is the titular flesh and buns. A combination of something's flesh - fish, fowl or farmyard animal - and steamed bread buns, with a couple of sauces and salad. If I was feeling reductive, I might describe our pork belly buns with mustard miso as a glorified ham salad sandwich.

This is not necessarily to denigrate it though. I love a hot pork sandwich with mustard and a smidgen of apple sauce as much as the next man, and this was a good one. But £14 is a lot to pay for the privilege, especially when the pork belly (still a cheap cut despite its popularity) wasn't much bigger than a pair of post-it notes.

A final coup de grace comes at dessert, where £8 will get you a pair of marshmallows, four biscuits, two modest pieces of matcha (green tea) chocolate and a portable campfire. This is to make that American classic - the s'more. A dessert of toasted marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate digestives and eaten by obese children away at summer camp.

I took part in the ritual, grinning like an idiot as I toasted my marshmallow over the "campfire" before sandwiching it between biscuit and chocolate and stuffed it down my gaping gullet. Sure, it tasted good, but I realised that while I had gained a s'more, I had lost a more valuable commodity: my dignity. I'm in my thirties now, and while this sort of carry on is ok if you're twenty-two or watch X-Factor, it just isn't for me.

So what kind of revelation did I experience in Northern Ireland which has brought me to this pretty scathing conclusion? Well it was the realisation that a fair proportion of the London restaurant scene is being driven by faddy, emperor's new clothes style, smoke and mirrors bollocks. Flesh and Buns serves overpriced, mediocre food in a loud uncomfortable room, but it has a cool name, is a bit hip so who cares?

Our food plus a couple of drinks each was just shy of £80. Despite the friendly and efficient service, this is another place that I won't be returning to...

Flesh and Buns, 41 Earlham Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9LX

020 7632 9500

Reservations accepted

Open Monday - Sunday for lunch and dinner

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