Flesh and Buns
41 Earlham Street
Man’s relationship with food has always been one of trial and error; luckily though, we now have the advantage of knowing what will and won’t kill us when consumed (unless I’m cooking which then becomes a game of Russian roulette). This trait has carried on strong to this day as we are subjected to a plethora of food trends, the next big thing shortly moving over and making way for the next next big thing to take over the mantel. As burritos and tacos gave way to traditional pizzas which gave way to the iconic hamburger which will (quite possibly) soon give way to…the Hirata bun. You know this is true when even the Metro says it; the METRO, everyone’s favourite free morning paper and the greatest source of breaking news (and with headlines such as “Unruly pooches scupper world record attempt for simultaneous dogs ‘staying’”, how dare you question their credibility?!).
Hirata buns are small flour based buns originating from Northern China which are stuffed with a variety of savoury fillings. They have already been made popular in the US by none other than Momofuku and though their presence in the UK food scene is growing through street food traders such as stalwart Yum Bun and the new(er) guys Bao, finding a permanent source provided to be more difficult for the average diner. Well, that was until Yum Bun opened up shop in EC1 but what if you wanted somewhere more central? Enter Flesh and Buns in all its Covent Garden glory.
Located just off Seven Dials, Flesh and Buns (the sister restaurant of the ever-popular ramen restaurant Bone Daddies) is set to become a permanent fixture in the London food culture offering to be the dealer for all us current and future bun addicts. As I headed underground (after the massive painted doors assured me I’d arrived at the correct location) and got shown to my place at the long table, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the lively atmosphere. The music was pumping; the service was friendly and prompt; all key ingredients for a good time. Now I just had to hope the food came to the party. Well, it not only came, but it parachuted in, landed in the middle of the dance floor, started cutting shapes like no one’s business and then proceeded to buy everyone a round (so yea, it was pretty good).
Given that the Hirata orders take 20 minutes to prepare and serve, we were advised to order some small eats to get the meal started, advice we wisely heeded; a portion of edamame and the soft shell crab maki sushi please. The edamame, served steam with a pinch of rock salt, was good and I enjoyed its natural sweetness. It was clear that good quality beans were used. The soft shell crab maki I loved. The crab was tasty and the overall dish could be enjoyed on it’s own with no need for soy or wasabi (unless you swing that way). It was however topped with a spot of jalopeno mayo which provided all the additional taste you needed. A very nice sushi but priced at £9.50 for 5 pieces is probably not what I’d consider the best value.
All the distractions out-of-the-way, I was here for the Hirata so I damn well was going to go to town on it. If this was not the lasting memory of my meal, I was going to consider it an absolute failure. So fittingly, I ordered not one of the “Flesh” but two; the fried sole served with a ginger and lemon mayo and the duck leg which came with a sour plum soy and pickled turnip. Each was also served with 2 of the wonderfully soft and fluffy carbo-castanets buns which, given the generous portions of flesh, proved to be insufficient. This however is easily rectified by ordering an extra portion of Hirata buns and trust me on this one, it’s well worth the additional £2.
The duck leg, prepared in a similar fashion to aromatic duck, was cooked to perfection. The meat flaked effortlessly as it literally fell from the bone. Given that it was fried though, there was the danger that the meat was dry but the deliciously tangy plum sauce more than made up for any lost moisture during the cooking process. The turnip pickle is the perfect complement to the sweet and savoury tastes of the sauce and duck by adding a sour dimension but word of warning, don’t add too much to your bun construction as it becomes the dominant flavour.
Well if I thought the duck leg was amazing, the fried sole was the business; it was just purely incredible. The sole was lightly breaded and fried till it was just cooked allowing it to retain all its natural juices and preventing it from going flaky and tasted divine on its own. Add to this the creamy mayo though and you are riding on a little Hirata bun cloud to culinary heaven. Enough said. This is my personal recommendation.
Rounding out the meal, T had previously spotted S’more on the menu and feeling the need to go back to younger and simpler days (don’t we all…), there really was no other dessert option to consider. To those who don’t know what S’more is, it is, put plainly, marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched between biscuits. Easy concept I know but delicious nevertheless. The overall dish was quite the spectacle as first, the table was presented with a campfire in a bowl on which to roast the marshmallows, followed by the component parts (marshmallow, green tea chocolate and gingerbread biscuits) on a separate plate. Is it gimmicky? Yes but sue me for enjoying it every now and then. Piece of advice, don’t overdo the marshmallow as it ends up too soft and just gets squeezed out of the sandwich.
As I left this meal, I did so with a feeling of complete satisfaction. In addition to the food (which I hope by now you gathered was amazing), I really enjoyed the vibe of the place. It was very laid back and easy which made for the perfect meal for an impromptu date night. This place should be near, if not topping, your must-visit list.