Barbican ON FIRE

Casual dining in the Barbican Centre

On the mid level in the Barbican Centre (below the Library level but above the Lakeside level) you will find Bonfire.  You’ve probably noticed it.  You may even have visited it.  We used to take our kids there for burgers when they were in their teens, but it never seemed anything out of the ordinary and so it never became a regular haunt for us as a family.  Indeed, when it first opened there was much criticism of the fare and its presentation. But a couple of recent visits were very positive – not obviously for gourmet fare, but for good, and reasonably priced family friendly comfort food.

I was grateful for the invitation to give it another whirl and so we popped in for a Wednesday lunch.

If you haven’t visited recently, the décor is what I’d call industrial American diner with Graffiti styles and lighting to match; it feels quite “cool” (although I’m starting to doubt my coolness radar now that I’m getting on a bit). 

There is a good view of the open kitchen so you appreciate the engine room.

I remember taking kids out to eat and I have no doubt that it is a very welcoming venue for families; they have the essential kids’ menu and colouring-in paper place mats with crayons which is a great start to a happy meal and the lusciously delicious milkshakes are a speciality of the House.

With a really quite decent and cost-conscious range of drinks available, Bonfire is also very popular with the city crowd; it is great for just drinks and snacks and they can always grab something more substantial if they are hungry later on without needing to take out a mortgage.

We started with a selection of nibbles and starters.

Onion rings and Croquettes (£5 each): Beef brisket | Cheddar cheese (V) | Garlic and mushroom (Ve) and a selection of sauce pots (£1.25 each)

The sauce pots (dips) are varied and very tasty.  Garlic mayonnaise, Cajun spice, BBQ, Cheese, Hot sauce and Gravy.  I’m not really one for dips, but the Hot sauce was mouth-watering (if you love the heat) and the Cajun spice was the milder equivalent for the more sensitive among you.  My dining partner really liked the garlic mayo one, particularly with the onion rings.

All the starters are prepared from fresh in the restaurant and very moreish.  My favourite was the Garlic mushroom croquettes which are a meal in themselves as indeed are the other croquette options.  We couldn’t allow ourselves to eat them all because we’d never manage anything else.  It was one of those times I longed for Tupperware!

Other snacks on offer include:

Salted potato crisps (V) £3

Fire spiced corn nuts (V) £3

Roasted nut mix (Ve) £3.50

And a range of Chicken Wings:

BBQ (coated with hickory smoked BBQ sauce) £6

Cajun (dry rubbed with Louisiana Cajun spice) £6

Buffalo hot (coated with Buffalo hot sauce with blue cheese dip) £6.50

We chose one of the well filled speciality Burgers for main, along with a Superfood salad.

The cheese burger with 6oz beef patty, Montgomery Cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, red onions, pickles, Bonfire relish (£8.50) and extra bacon (£2)

The burger was fresh and filling in a light and fluffy (freshly made) brioche bun; a bit of a handful but the challenge was accepted.  You can opt for a no bun burger where, instead of the bun, you will get extra lettuce and a portion of speciality Bonfire relish which is a mix of tomatoes, red peppers and onions.

Superfood (Ve) salad with black rice, quinoa, broccoli, black beans, pomegranate, avocado and extra virgin rapeseed oil (£9.50)

The salad was mine and it was just what it promised; everything fresh and crunchy and plentiful.  You can order bacon (£2) and chicken (£3) to add to the salads, but this is filling enough for sure.  If I had to pick something to moan about, then I would suggest that they could serve this meal in a larger bowl because it felt a bit cramped rummaging with not much spare space.  My companion noted that the previous time he’d visited he’d had the cobb salad which he rated highly.

Other salads include:

Classic cobb with Iceberg , blue cheese, cherry tomato, bacon, egg, avocado, chicken, hazelnuts, blue cheese dressing £9

Hail Caesar (V) with Little gem, parmesan, parmesan croutons, Caesar dressing £9

We couldn’t resist ordering some yam fries which you don’t get the opportunity to enjoy every day and were a sweet and salty combination twist on regular fries.

Yam fries (Ve)  are thin cut sweet potatoes (£4)

We also fell victim to the Bonfire’s own take on cheesy chips “plus”.

The ‘Works’ : Skinny fries with melted cheese, topped with bacon bits and onions (£6)

Oh my word!  I’ve deliberately left the photo un-cropped so you can see the size of this portion.  I know that this is by no means fine dining, but when you are longing for such a combination of comfort, then know that this little gem of a dish is on our doorstep and make a beeline.  I’d feel guilty ordering this just for one, but I’d get over it!

Mains include:

Bonfire burger with 6oz beef patty, tomato, lettuce, red onions, pickles, Bonfire relish £7.50

The cheese burger with 6oz beef patty, Montgomery Cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, red onions, pickles, Bonfire relish £8.50

Shakespeare Tower burger with 2x 6oz beef patties, tomato, lettuce, red onions, pickles, onion rings,B onfire relish £12

Jalapeno chilli burger with 6oz beef patty, smashed avocado and jalapeno chilli, lettuce, red onions £8

Crispy chicken burger with buttermilk fried chicken breast, Montgomery Cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, garlic mayonnaise £8.50

Fiery chicken burger with buttermilk fried chicken breast, coated with Buffalo hot sauce, blue cheese mayonnaise £9

Squeeky cheese burger (V) with grilled halloumi, smashed avocado, rocket £8

Beetroot burger (Ve) with beetroot patty, lettuce, pickles, red onions, tomato chutney £8

All the beef at Bonfire is from 100% Hereford cattle and the chicken is 100% free range.

For dessert, there was a typical diner choice of: Chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream (V), Baked cheesecake (V), Classic ice cream sundae (V), Three scoops of ice cream (V) or Burnt marmalade cake (Ve) all at £5.50.

I’ll be going back for the Burnt marmalade and Cheesecake shortly, but for this visit we settled on the Sundae and a Bonfire Milkshake (with the option of an added shot of Baileys to enhance it to an 18 classification).

Classic ice cream sundae (V) £5.50

You know those Sundaes where you dig in and just find ice cream with some sauce thrown in and your heart sinks?  This is not one of those.  It has brownie bits and chocolate sticks and is truly heaven enough for two.

Vanilla House Shake £5 (with Baileys + £4 and no-one will notice!)

The key for me at Bonfire is quality, position and price.  The food is great and freshly prepared; they really care.  It is licensed so alcohol is also available for adults drinking or dining there.

You can’t find a better location for cold days and warm days alike (given the balcony). 

The price is right for a fun meal in comfortable surroundings.

And on the warm or hot days one has the added option of being able to eat out on the big terrace overlooking the lake up until 8.30 pm at which point terrace eaters and drinkers are ushered inside to avoid disturbing Barbican residents.

They are planning to offer kids parties soon which should be a winner.  If I still had toddlers of my own, I’d debate a season ticket and be in there at least once a week!

They also have a Christmas Party package with festive decorations until 23rd December for groups of 8 or more priced at £25 including 3 courses with the option of Turkey burgers, which sounds fun!

Bonfire, Barbican Centre, Level 1, Silk St, EC2Y 8DS

Telephone: 020 7382 6180