Bowling us over

The Bowling Bird restaurant and wine bar is over to the West side of the Barbican tucked down Cloth Fair (a shortish street which runs parallel to Long Lane), opposite St Bartholomew the Great church and close to West Smithfield.  I have passed it literally 50 times to and fro and so I was really happy to be invited to the press evening where a bunch of journalists were presented with some taster fare.  There were a couple of reviewers from an online blog and one from the local paper over at Canary Wharf; a testament to how tempting our local restaurants are!  The advantage of this kind of presentation is that one gets to sample more of the dishes than might be available on a normal restaurant review visit.

Located in a landmark Blue Plaque building (poet John Betjeman’s old house) Bowling Bird is a decently spacious restaurant but it doesn’t seem that way because it is split into two main dining areas with each room having only a few small tables.  Thus you feel like you are in an intimate brasserie, but the size gives the owners more chance to make a living.  Some of the tables were pushed together for our largish group, but it didn’t feel awkward in the room.

Wood floors and basic upholstered pew and chair seating is comfortable enough surrounded by antique furniture, fixtures and mirrors, apparently collected over 20 years.  The massive cottage pane windows give you a charming view onto Cloth Fair with the Church opposite and the comings and goings of the passers by.  The road is not busy and, in point of fact, I can’t remember seeing the last car down that way.

One of Bowling Bird’s dining areas directly overlooking St Bartholomew the Great churchyard

Our host/waiter was very smart and warmly welcoming and obviously a wine lover himself.  The wine comes highly recommended here with some very pleasant, but unusual white and red wines served to the group.  The white was a nicely dry gruner veltliner from Austria and the red a malbec-based blend from Mendoza in Argentina – both exceptionally good and excellent indicators of what is available on a regionally diverse, and reasonably priced, wine list.

Checking out reviews on the web can always give a good indication of tbe likely dining experience and virtually all I read were very positive indeed.

The tasting menu provided to our group was effectively a sequence of sharing platters.  Only some of these are specifically on the menu as published on the website apart from the meat and the tostadas (a popular starter and I can understand why).  But what was served impressed us sufficiently to want to go back and try more.  One suspects that the kitchen is flexible enough to make up dishes to order assuming the necessary ingredients are present.

Some of the dishes we were served are set out below:

The Melon Caprese salad was a lovely twist on a classic and even more refreshing with the blueberries.

The Blue corn tostada (chicken / corn / spinach puree / hibiscus) were very popular and ideal for just a snack, to be honest, but if you were going here for a meal, you’d have to be wary of leaving enough space because these are very filling.

Langoustine and seafood pan (delicious combination if you see it on the menu) – slightly spicy.

Cote de Boeuf and Chateaubriand tasters

I’d always go for the Chateaubriand but then I’m a lean fillet addict and both were prepared to perfection, depending on your taste.

The chef came out for a chat and seeing that we were mainly women in the group, he whisked up a couple of desserts for us.  I get the feeling that the chef is very present and involved front of house and that if something is not on the menu, all you need to do is have a word!

With a flurry Mr Ben style, we had dessert platters on the table.  There is no dessert menu on the website and I suspect this comes in the form of a daily special.

Chocolate mousse cake, with herb-infused pineapple and lavender cream.

Deconstructed fresh fruit crumble

After a very sociable gathering, we strolled back the few hundred yards to the Barbican counting our blessings that a little independent restaurant like this would open in our back yard.

Please do take the time to visit.  The prices aren’t outrageous like many other restaurants in the Square Mile, and Cloth Fair doesn’t get all the passing trade that other venues will enjoy, so consider this a hidden gem and well worth a visit.  I’ve spoken to a few friends who have been already and no-one has a bad thing to say and, frankly, there is nothing to lose since Barbican Association members get 25% off anyway!

Note that Bowling Bird is open lunchtimes and evenings from Tuesday through Friday at the moment.

Bowling Bird, 44 Cloth Fair, London EC1A 7JQ, Tel: 020 7324 7742, E:  Web:

Helen Hudson