Sushi and hirata buns in a rock 'n roll setting
Category : Restaurant
| Cuisine : Japanese
Address : 41 Earlham Street, Covent Garden, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9LX, UNITED KINGDOM - Directions
Web : www.fleshandbuns.com
Opening Times : Mon-Tue 12pm-3pm & 5pm-10.30pm, Wed-Fri 12pm-3pm & 5pm-11.30pm, Sat 12pm-11.30pm, Sun & Bank Hols 12pm-9.30pm
Closest Tube : Covent Garden
Flesh & Buns was opened summer 2013 by former Nobu chef Ross Shonhan, following on from his jaunty rockabilly ramen joint in Soho, and has already attracted a retinue of hirata bun devotees. While hipster buns (the edible kind) have populated the pop-ups and weekend markets of Hackney for a brace of years now, they hadn't yet set up shop in the West End. Shonhan identified this gap in the market and filled it nicely, creating a Japanese joint borrowing from the best of Asian street food cultures, and sitting comfortably between the high-spec cuisine of Zuma and Nobu and the untrammelled, unfussy fun of restaurants like his Bone Daddies and Yum Bun.
Located on the eastern end of Earlham Street, it's difficult to miss the entrance at Flesh & Buns, where a projector shows vintage Japanese cooking documentaries backed by a soundtrack of classic rock. The conceit continues as one descends the staircase and enters the main dining room, which is bisected by a high-top communal table lit by zinc pendant lamps, booths along the periphery, an open-plan kitchen to the south and the bar on the opposite side. Formerly the Freedom Brewery, the massive space features exposed brick walls painted red and white in homage to the Nipponese flag, and has the type of acoustics that really resonate, imbuing the dining room with an exhilarating buzz and clamour.
After taking their seats, diners are promptly presented with a drinks menu, with a shortlist of Japanese spiked cocktails, a carefully curated selection of chilled and warm sakes, shochus, Japanese whiskeys, wine, Prosecco, bottled beers and ice cold Asahi available on tap. By the time our food had arrived, we were frothing in anticipation after watching plates arrive on our neighbours' tables. Our excitement was well warranted, with starters firing on all cylinders. The sushi matched the standards set by many more expensive Mayfair institutions - we were particularly taken by seared tuna tataki served with garlic chips and an almost addictively sharp jalapeno ponzu; as well as a California roll utilising the freshest crab.
We were also enamoured with small dishes like broccoli with yuzu kosho mayo, ostensibly selected as a stopgap measure in nutrition, as well as a beautifully seasoned and crisp bowl of calamari. Segueing into main courses was an exciting transition. The titular hirata buns (translating as 'tiger eating pork') were brought to the table in a massive bamboo basket, and were doughy, delicious. We opted to fill ours with a crispy duck leg with sour plum soy, a riff on the Peking duck with pancakes that's so ubiquitous on Gerrard Street. However, for those looking for a more carnivorous option, there's a variety of different cuts of steak, as well as crispy piglet belly dished up with mustard miso.
Dessert was equally cinematic - a large brazier with Japanese characters was presented to the table alongside marshmallows on skewers. After giving them the perfect golden exterior, we sandwiched them between two graham crackers and matcha chocolate - a Nipponese interpretation of the American campfire classic, s'mores. It was a great conclusion to a boisterous evening. Flesh & Buns is as well suited for a warm-up before an evening out on the town as it is for a quick lunch in Theatreland.