In A Word
Drink heavy, Modern European
Coal miners with expensive and complex drinking habit.
Subterranean creatures and those who like dark, warm and cosy spaces…
Tapas/antipasti/meze people – rather than going for a huge sit down meal, think of some drinks and sharing a few platters with friends before heading off to a restaurant or a marathon binge drinking session. Or whatever you do in Soho.
Cocktail aficionados, there are some novel and inventive new recipes for you to try here.
Coal Vaults is not so much a restaurant as it is a bar. A bar which does a little food, perhaps in the style of the Tapas Bars of Madrid. They describe their premises as their ‘little Soho basement’ which is, quite right. It is little (cosy), and it is a basement.
The atmosphere is lively. Think, mid volume music – funk, soul, things with brass. Lots of smiling, and people who look like they love to make cocktails.
It’s a hip crowd, being served by hip serving people. Everybody has hips. Also there is what looks like some city workers letting their hair down (they also have hips). Friendly, and a kind of ‘exclusive’ vibe, but without any of the elitist trappings.
Back to that cellar thing, it really is a vault – no coal in sight, but to enter you must first descend down a deep, dark stairwell, emerging through a thick, curtained door to a land of cocktails and popcorn and people wearing trilby hats.
Tables come pre-prepared with popcorn, a bottle of water and your cutlery. When you arrive there’s a brief period in which your brain says ‘cinema’ – which passes once you ‘acclimatise’ to the faint smell of popcorn.
I don’t like popcorn, usually, but this is some kind of super Satanic popcorn that once you start eating, you are unable not to finish. There might also be bacon in there.
As you compulsively devour popcorn, you might find a few intervals amidst the feverish feeding to look at the menu. Said menu’s emphasis seems to be on cocktails – none of which I recognise by name (probably a good thing).
You’re seated on high tables and stools, for the main part – which gives you that feeling of not being ‘settled’, again reinforcing said bar theme.
At one point a woman meets a friend who she hasn’t seen in a while and finds out that she’s married! (the things you overhear in restaurants, right?). Sometime after, bar staff and kitchen staff hang out by the bar for 2 minutes – the chefs negotiating a smoking break. A little after that, and before heading up the stairs, said chefs watch me taking pictures of the cocktails with what appears to be amusement.
From my experience of Coal Vaults’ food I can say it’s pretty delicious and offers an innovative and tasteful selection (in more ways than one).
What I can fault however are the portions. For what you pay here, the portions really are not substantial. At all. Unless you’re a baby, or maybe a supermodel. Or a supermodel baby.
It’s a bit like ordering a main and receiving something slightly smaller than a starter portion. This however, is an easy problem to rectify, the food is good, they just need to put more on your plate when they serve you! *extremely subtle hint*
We enjoyed the following
Pan Fried King Scallops
Incredibly intense, small pieces of blue cheese interspersed with wonderfully grilled cauliflower (I have never had cauliflower like this before)
Butternut Squash Salad
CANT REMEMBER WHAT THIS IS
Again, the policy here seems to be quality over quantity, and whoever they’ve got coming up with cocktail ideas is 1. very good at what they do 2. a bit of a risk taker with ingredient combinations.
We tried a few…
I started with this one. Basically like coffee, chocolate and alcohol. Lizzie described it as an ‘alcoholic mocha’ – which is dead on. A mixological masterpiece and one of my new favourites.
I CANT REMEMBER WHAT THIS IS EITHER
Coal Vaults definitely feels like the kind of place that you would take someone to impress them with your knowledge of 1. people who make obscure cocktails 2. ‘cool’ subterranean spaces to acquire said cocktails in London.
Pair this with it’s brilliant location and you’ve definitely found a winner for the Soho elite, or anyone who seeks out new drinking holes (and this is, in a way, literally a hole)
I would suggest that you go there and buy lots of drink, but no food. You will have a mighty fine time.
I would return and see if it is possible to get an off menu version of the Bolivia cocktail that is served in pint glasses 😀