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January in the UK is the worst possible time of year to start a healthy eating regime. Instead, these short, dark, rainy days call for comfort food in generous helpings.
That’s why I was excited to visit Coin Laundry on the famous Exmouth Market in London’s Clerkenwell, where head chef Nik Prescot has created a menu of retro dinner party favourites.
Who could resist an affordably priced bar/diner offering cheese and pineapple, prawn cocktail and chicken kiev – and even a fresh take on black forest gateau? Bring. It. On.
Food and drink
The prawn cocktail didn’t disappoint – big, juicy prawns and perfect seasoning, whilst cucumber and spring onions cut through the richness of the sauce. The ‘spag bol croquettes’ from the bar menu were less successful: these low-rent arancini sound fun but lacked depth of flavour, despite an expertly thin and crispy crumb.
For mains we opted for the chicken kiev and the intriguing rabbit balti pie. Maybe it’s because I wanted it to resemble the infamous Birds Eye frozen version, but I was a bit disappointed with the kiev, which is billed as the restaurant’s signature dish. Although served authentically ‘bone in’, it was on the dry side and the garlic butter didn’t extend to the whole length of the breast. The kiev comes with a choice of butter leaf lettuce or romanesco cheese – we opted for the latter which was tasty but almost raw.
The divine rabbit balti pie was the discovery of the evening. Unexpected, tasty and well executed with a delicious coriander sauce, it’s worth going just to try this. On the side, we tried a dish of garlic mushrooms (which were rather too salty) and the chips with curry sauce (highly recommended).
We finished with black forest trifle – a scrummy deconstruction of the famous ’70s gateau – and a rib-sticking pineapple upside down cake.
The cocktail list looks to have been designed with a sense of humour – the vodka-based ’70s Porn Star was challengingly sweet with passion fruit and vanilla syrup and is served with a shot of Babycham on the side. The Sparkling Sherry Cocktail was far more successful, and to the bar’s credit there are more bitter offerings available. However, I’m pretty sure that the mint, chocolate and cream Grasshopper fell out of fashion for very good reason.
From an interesting selection of bottled beers, we sampled the hoppy Gentleman’s Wit from nearby Camden Brewery and the darker Abita Wrought Iron IPA, which comes in at a school-night-unfriendly 6.9% alcohol.
Look and vibe
This noisy, industrial-inspired interior is classic gastro pub. It’s a winning, paired-back aesthetic featuring exposed brick, vintage decorative tiling and wooden floors. Large plate-glass windows make the most of the bar’s enviable position on a prominent corner in Clerkenwell.
The upstairs room sidesteps 70s cliché in favour of a non-era-specific retro vibe. Formica-topped tables and shabby-chic mismatched kitchen tables make for a casual, homey vibe.
A framed print of Grace Jones presides over the black gloss bar, where jars of pickled eggs jostle for position with an impressive selection of high-end spirits.
Downstairs, a damp-smelling basement (where you also find the pokey and ‘humorously’ labelled ‘loos’) falls short of the cosy ‘retro common room’ promised but perhaps that will come, should the planned ‘book clubs, club nights and pop-up shops’ materialise.
Around £40 per person (based on two cocktails, starters, mains, sides and desserts and two bottled beers).
The bottom line
Go for the kiev but stay for the rabbit balti pie. #whoknew
For bookings and more information, visit Coin Laundry online.