Restaurant review

Bibo, London EC2: “Louder than a nightclub at midnight” – restaurant review | Food

Bibo in Shoreditch, a sophisticated Spanish restaurant by chef Dani García, was definitely an evening of premieres. A turning point in my career as a restaurant reviewer came when, right after eating my porcini mushroom cakes, I downloaded a decibel monitoring app to my phone. There was something cheekily cranky about doing it, it’s true, and it was definitely not cool too, but after a certain age you don’t care anymore and it’s wonderful.

In Bibo’s defense, however, it was brewing. Many restaurants these days are way too loud. I can tell by the way in some places I have to lip-read my guest almost the second I’m sitting down or nod unnecessarily while I guess the gist of what they’re saying to me. And how, time and time again, I suddenly get quite content, because going into details during an anecdote is futile. Dining with friends is telling stories, and stories are just details; it’s also about timing and evasions and withholding information to the perfect point. And none of that can happen in places like Bibo which, my new app told me, plays dance music at 84 decibels. Am I the only person who, cooking in my own kitchen, turns the radio down to focus when I taste and season, as if my senses can properly focus on one thing?

“Earthy and delicate”: porcini croquettes at Bibo, London EC2.

Bibo took over the space restaurant fans may remember as Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster at the Curtain Hotel, and now the London outpost of the Mondrian group. Bibo in the basement is admittedly right in the center of Shoreditch, so many visitors will, no, expect it to be loud and more like a cocktail bar or club that serves a few tapas mainly to fill the stomach. But I say: no! There’s something about his modern Spanish menu, sophisto-tapas, decor, and, well, his marketing as a passion project of a once-three-Michelin-starred chef that suggests he should feel like he’s instead. spend a sensual and elegant evening in Madrid, nibbling oxtail brioche and pulpo a la gallega in a distinguished terracotta-tiled room with a well-groomed floor staff carrying jugs of chuckling fish.

And the front of the house is certainly warm, quick, and full of recommendations for your order and, on the surface at least, the place has the look of a fancy Spanish restaurant. The open kitchen full of harassed-looking chefs is definitely up to something.

Butterfly bream making at Bibo Shoreditch.
A chef platters the ‘attractive’ butterfly bream at Bibo, London EC2.

Our first course, the aforementioned porcini croquettes, were quite earthy and delicate, but they were also lukewarm and not very crunchy. The slider style oxtail brioche bun was one of the best dishes we tried, with a rich pulled oxtail stew that clearly had serious TLC. On the other hand, the broccolini salad, which we sold very much, had a rather sickly black sesame mayonnaise that I did not want to swallow. And the signature brava tortilla was a lukewarm, sloppy mess, and its brava sauce and mayo topping had vanished from Jackson Pollock before it reached the table.

And did I mention that the music got louder and louder with each plate? If the standards are quite jaded in the kitchen, this is not entirely surprising, because the food here seems secondary. Due to the noise levels, I missed the finer details of the explanation that came with our huevos rotos: four fried eggs at the table before being mixed with cooked but now lukewarm fries. As any fool knows, eggs with potatoes are a timeless and winning combo in the UK and all over Spain, but when you’re faced with a large, oval plate of under-seasoned porridge, it looks more like a challenge. The butterfly sea bream, cooked a bit too long, was accompanied by an attractive and lively pepper sauce that also lacked seasoning. We saved it with lime wedges from another dish.

Tortilla brava brava with mayonnaise pattern filling at Bibo Shoreditch.
Bibo’s brava tortilla is topped with a scribble each of mayo and brava sauce.

A caramelized rice pudding was pretty cold again, and there had apparently been no attempts to make it crunchy and appealing tan, as it was sprinkled with raw brown sugar. The chocolate mousse was covered with a thick layer of whipped cream and was the other really decent dish we had that night.

At this point, however, it was pushing 9pm and the noise levels were louder than a nightclub at midnight. This became especially evident when a cheerful young woman at a nearby table continued to stand, wave her arms and walk towards the dance floor, before being reminded by her companions that she was in the process of dinner and that it was his croquettes. Each time, she sat upset, brooding and incarcerated. Here I was in a restaurant that looked like a nightclub, growing moss and desperate to be released; and there she was in a nightclub, forced to eat a full meal and equally desperate for freedom. Which of us Bibo is destined for remains a bit of a mystery, but in this case, I will gracefully step aside.

Bibo at Mondrian, 45 Curtain Road, London EC2, 020-3988 4455. Open weekdays, noon to 11pm. From around £ 35 pp, plus drinks and service.

The final episode of Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast series 2 releases January 11. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts


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