Flesh & Buns review, Earlham Street

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I have so many reviews backed up that I’ve started to feel a little panicky. It was the boy’s birthday last month, which naturally meant at least two expensive meals out – the first of these being Flesh & Buns on Earlham Street, Covent Garden. I agonised over whether to take him here or Clove Club for weeks – but in the end the F&B menu just looked more exciting. And a little bit faddy. I’m a sucker for a fad, me. And we’re going to Clove Club for our Christmas presents to one another (aren’t we sweet) so stay posted on that front, foodies.

Firstly, Flesh & Buns is a massive big basement in Covent Garden occupying an old bar  I remember drinking aged sixteen. Weird. We were seated on a long communal table in the middle of the room, on stools – which made me quite anxious. Especially considering how much food we were about to order. Gurl needs to spread out, know what I’m saying.

But actually, what happens is that you’re so compactly stuffed in with so many other people, and everyone is talking so loudly, that it becomes quite intimate and private. Like your own little sound barrier between one another. I couldn’t hear a thing the woman sitting next to me was saying, though I can’t say the same for her. My voice tends to carry.

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So we started off with the crispy squid – which was out of this world. Perfectly covered in a light, grease-free batter, the squid flesh was soft and yielding – not a hint of rubber – the coating fiery and warming, sprinkled with Japanese pepper and a drizzle of lime. Those little suckers were screaming out for a dip, so we asked for same wasabi mayo to accompany – creamy with that hidden spicy punch at the end. Delish – but not without it’s controversy. There was quite a debate between ordering these or the prawn tempura, which turned into a full blown argument when the couple beside us ordered the latter – long, crispy, utterly scrumptious looking bastards. Order them both. Learn from our mistakes.

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You can’t go to a Japanese restaurant without ordering some sushi so we got our fave – soft shell crab roll. A real thing of beauty, elegant looking – with crunchy crab shell, fresh vegetables and sweet, mushy sushi rice. But I would go as far as to say the soft shell crab roll at Mr Taro is better – considerably larger and cheaper too.

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I insisted on the yakitori chicken because I mistakenly thought it would come battered and deep fried (don’t ask me why. I don’t know). They were good, with little gems of onion spiked between the snowy flesh – but nothing special. Having no reference point, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if the sweet, cloying coating was bottled or home made. There are much tastier morsels to be had elsewhere on the menu.

Finally – the star event. We pigged out and ordered both the crispy piglet belly with pickled apple and miso mustard AND the seabass with kimchee pickle, fresh tomato salsa and coriander miso. It was his birthday. And we are greedy. How many times do I have to tell you?

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First – the crispy piglet belly. Fucking hell, it was delicious. I always think pork belly looks all gross and fatty but then you eat it and it melts – actually melts in your mouth, and you’re left with this porky party on your tongue, all meaty and rich and AWESOME. The miso mustard lingered pleasantly at the back of the throat – the perfect antidote to the sweet bun, crunchy salad and fatty meat. Christ, this is making me hungry.

I’ve not had steamed buns before – I am a fool. They reminded me of Char Sui Bau, the dish I lost my Dim Sum virginity to. Pillowy soft, moist and moreish as hell. Springy and malleable – the memory foam of buns. Order an extra portion per person – they only provide two each. You’re going to need more. And some napkins. Lots of nakpins.

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Next – the sea bass. Now I wanted duck or flat iron steak but the boy wanted something lighter and it was his birthday. And I’d already pissed him off with the tempura prawns. So we got the sea bass. Another reviewer has described this particular fish as being too delicate for all those other big flavours – and I agree. The subtle fragrance of the meat was completely lost amidst the coriander miso and fresh tomato salsa – despite being cooked to perfection, the skin expertly charred. Stick to the red meat.

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We finished with the pièce de résistancethe s’mores. What is that exactly? Let me explain. First, take a brick of marshmallow, suitable for building walls or other such industrial duties. Add two caramelised biscuits and a layer of white chocolate flavoured with green tea. Throw in a Japanese table top brazier (or a portable stone fire-pit, as I like to call it). Toast the marshmallows to scorched, gooey globs of fluffy heaven then whack them in between the biscuits and chocolate. Stuff it in your face. Order another portion and repeat. Mmmm. Double points if you persuade the staff to stick a birthday candle in the marshmallow and sing ‘happy birthday’ loudly with you until everyone is staring and the boy is cross at you for causing a scene. He hates birthdays. I love them. It’s the perfect combination.

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To summarise, F&B is THE shit. I want to go back and eat more. But only when I’m rich. If you’re after top-notch food, atmosphere and service you can’t go wrong here – but be prepared to pay top-notch dollar. Our bill came to £170, but to be fair we did have lots and lots of cocktails. The boy and I love our cocktails – it’s the only time I drink them because they leave me feeling suspiciously sober when I am, in fact, rat-faced. Plus, it’s like a whole separate menu of tastes and flavour with your meal. Awesome.

Also worth mentioning – the unisex toilets have weird random letters on them that confuse everyone – especially drunk people who are convinced they are sober due to aforementioned cocktails. But they do have anime porn all over the cubicle walls so I forgive them.*

In summary – go eat at Flesh & Buns immediately. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and go get you some buns. But maybe book ahead – they get terribly busy. And whatever you do, for God’s sake, order the prawn tempura.

*If toilet porn is your thing, check out LMNT on Queensbridge Road, Dalston. My go to posh restaurant (it has actual massive glittery sphinxes and hieroglyphs everywhere). And it serves incredible nouveau French cuisine at a fraction of the cost. Actually don’t go, it’s mine, you can’t have it. Bugger off.

Check out the Flesh & Buns website here.

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