Coal Vaults, Soho
You’ll be forgiven for rolling your eyes when you hear that this Soho eatery and cocktail bar is a repurposed 19th century coal storage facility. Is there an urban industrial space left in the world that doesn’t now serve locally sourced tapas? But put your cynicism to one side, because the Coal Vaults team have done a thoughtful job with a genuinely interesting subterranean spot. The sparse decor and dim lighting create a novel atmosphere and the authentic, vault-like seating areas, which are snugly set apart from the main restaurant, feel nicely intimate.
The Thursday night crowd is a fun mix of Soho drinkers, expensing £9 cocktails with reckless abandon. It isn’t too couple-heavy, which takes the pressure off an early date, but there’s definite potential for traction here.
They make a lot of the cocktail menu at Coal Vaults. As a consequence the offering can feel a bit overwrought – it is quite hard to envisage what a drink will taste like when the ingredients include sherry poached rhubarb, agave, and a polenta chilli snap. Having said that a lot of thought has obviously gone into the menu and some of the combinations, such as the Marano (a Gin and Berry confection served with a glass of Prosecco), work very well. If you’re looking for a boozy date, you’re in the right place. Go all out, order from the hip, and worry about the hangover in the morning.
The food was a pleasant surprise. The concept is small plates featuring local produce, which often represent an interesting twist on a British culinary idiom. For example, the “pulled rabbit”, served Mexican style with black beans and sour cream, was a real triumph. Similarly, the brisket of beef served with apricots worked well. Sharing small plates is a foolproof date winner. Order a couple each, swap bites and compare notes. Try not to talk too much nonsense about the flavours. Don’t be alarmed if your taste buds stop working properly after the third drink. Finish by sharing a dessert.
There’s great potential here if you are willing to get into the spirit of things. Grab a private vault and let the waitress suggest a couple of cocktails while you discuss the food. Take your time ordering in instalments and keep the booze flowing. The strong spirits and dim lighting are a heady mix and conversation will flow. You’re in Soho, so head down Wardour Street afterwards and find another cocktail before angling for a nightcap at Hotel Backyourself.
Few faults – your intrepid reviewer cut his finger on a langoustine (served with chilli mousse). It’s a dangerous job, this, but someone’s got to do it.