William Sitwell reviews Bubala, London: 'Every dish was tempting, like endless naughty hugs from the chef'

Our critic overdoes it at a Middle Eastern restaurant
Our critic overdoes it at a Middle Eastern restaurant Credit: Rebecca Hope

Bubala is a Yiddish word that means darling. I looked it up and the ‘Urban Dictionary’ goes further, suggesting that you can actually interchange the word for any pet name. So it’s really whatever you like to call your other half: your ‘love muffin’, ‘hot pants’, ‘snookums’ or ‘babycakes’.

I took my snuggluffagus to Bubala on Commercial Street, by Spitalfields in the City of London, with a friend and her cutie patootie. It’s a cosy gaff with an ‘our first restaurant’ vibe. There’s a little bar, and simple furniture, decor and strip lighting that feels as if this Middle Eastern restaurant was done up over the weekend by a bunch of friends. And it’s all to the good for it. There’s a spirit of bonhomie, enthusiasm and adventure oozing from the staff, who encourage you – very successfully – to order most of the menu.

The food happens to be mostly vegetarian, and when it’s not, it’s vegan. But don’t let that put you off if you’re the sort that would go down with the ship demanding meat.

Dinner was a sea of endless dips and dishes. Flatbreads were our oars as we navigated through the ocean getting more and more stuffed. Perhaps, for the uninitiated, untrained non-veggie, when there’s no meat you overcompensate. With no prospect of flesh and fat, you order dish after dish assuming you could never get full.

With no land in sight we ploughed on, scoffing falafels, glazed aubergine and hummus. There was one mighty rich dish called ‘ful medames’, which is a sort of fava-bean stew that came with yogurt, lovage pesto and a type of flatbread called malawach.

'Flatbreads were our oars as we navigated through the ocean of dips getting more and more stuffed'  Credit: Olivia Williamson   

It was so good we ordered another. Later, I lay awake in bed feeling like Samuel Pepys, who was always moaning about the terrible discomfort in his tummy. And he never put it very delicately either. I’d have felt better if I’d eaten a nine-pound rump steak. My rumblings could have powered a small village for a week. Forget the cows, I feel I should be personally culpable for any global temperature rises and glacial melting.

It was quite a mean blow to my body and soul, because I really enjoyed dinner. Every dish that arrived was tempting and hospitable, like endless naughty hugs from the chef. Everything glistened and gleamed. And perhaps therein lies 
a fault. I feel my body ingested vast amounts of oil, particularly from the flatbreads (especially the malawach). And if veggie food is supposed to be healthy, I think the chefs should go easier on the oils and salts they were flinging here, there and everywhere.

We also had a plate of excellent potato latkes – flaky, soft and perfect – and then a rather disappointing tahini ice cream, which was more interesting than tasty.

There were a couple of bitter notes too. I know a plate of pickled veg is supposed to look like it’s been taken from the cellar of a dead witch, but eating it should be more palate-teasing than this. It was so tangy and acrid, it was like being dragged out of bed at prep school and having a bucket of cold water thrown over you before being made to do naked star jumps in the snow.

I wish also that places like this would find more fragrant, softer and more balanced chardonnays than Bubala’s Spanish Flama d’Or, which was miscued for me, but I didn’t have the patience – or heart – to torture them into conducting a wine tasting during busy service.

Still, Bubala is, I am sure, the start of a great journey for the staff/owners. They understand how to create atmosphere and bustle, their food is inviting, full of taste and originality, and it’s also excellent value.

So take your shmoopie, your honey pot, your sweet cheeks or your pudding, be modest with your order and you’ll leave very happy.

Read William Sitwell's latest restaurant review on telegraph.co.uk every Friday from 6am