Last week saw the much anticipated opening of the Coin Laundry, a new restaurant and bar in Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell, which has become a foodies’ haven over the last few years and London-Olios were invited.
My expectations were completely blown out of the water as soon as we entered Coin Laundry which sits on the corner of Exmouth Market and Rossoman Street. It’s big, it’s roomy, there is space between the tables, the ground floor is flooded with light and there is also a big basement with a second bar. I had expected a converted laundromat (I wonder why?), so something a lot smaller and darker.
The pre-publicity had concentrated on the Coin Laundry’s 70s and 80s retro theme, so the next surprise was how modern and contemporary the restaurant actually looks. The careful restoration of the previous restaurant and pub that used to occupy this site has revealed many original features including the original tiling. Yes, there are some retro touches, but you actually have to look for them rather than them being in your face. Carefully selected movie posters, neon signs and iconic photographs are dotted around the stripped down brick wall. And there is a vintage pinball machine. Oh, and did I mention the robot behind the upstairs bar?
What is retro (but only slightly), is the food and drinks menu. But Head Chef Nik Prescot did not go down the easy route and copy a few recipes from cookery books by Prue Leith or Marguerite Patten (not that there would be anything wrong with that!), he twisted, turned and modernised the old dinner party favourites and comfort foods that your mum would have put on the dinner table.
– It got me thinking though. Who decides something is ‘retro’? Why are foods, which have been enjoyed for decades, suddenly looked on as naff? Why would I suddenly decide that something I loved to eat in the 1980s doesn’t pass muster in the new millennium? I personally never stopped liking Prawn Cocktail with Marie Rose Sauce and I make it frequently. And if you tried to tell somebody in Germany that a Black Forest Gateau is ‘retro’, they would laugh you out of the ‘Konditorei’. I bet, that all those people who were going on and on about nouvelle cuisine in the 90s, stuffed their faces with ham, eggs & chips as soon as they got home. –
But I digress. I was talking about the food at Coin Laundry – which we loved. We got to try some of the bar food as well as mini portions of main dishes, but looking at the menu, there is plenty more I would love to see on my plate. And talking of spaghetti Bolognese – the spag bol croquettes are fantastic! A real treat, served with heaps of freshly grated parmesan. And the prawn cocktail is just the way I like it– smothered in Marie Rose Sauce. Anything with mushrooms gets my vote anyway, so the garlic mushrooms were right up my street. And I will have to go back for a full sized rabbit balti pie with coriander sauce – I really loved this dish. The cheese and pineapple is a good example of turning a ‘naff’ dish on its head (though I do admit, we like traditional cheese and pineapple chunks for a nibble now and then, those to flavours just seem to be made for each other) and making it ‘different’, by serving it as pineapple jelly with deep fried cheese, all warm and oozy. Yum!
The dish that has received the most attention in the pre-opening articles about Coin Laundry is their Chicken Kiev. There are only a limited number available every day and the retro monitor on the counter counts down the number left. They are delicious, made with hand foraged wild garlic and a secret bread crumb blend. So if you want to try one of those, get there early!
If you are too late for the Chicken Kievs, there is plenty more on the three menus – Morning, All Day & Bar – to choose from. How about buttered crumpets, apple & raisin ricotta blintz, corned beef & Bovril bake or green eggs on toast for breakfast? Or smoked haddock rarebit, cauliflower cheese steak or Barnsley lamb chop for lunch or dinner? Or just sardines on toast, tomato soup and cheese toasty, chips with curry sauce, spam fritters as a light snack? Or a pickled egg? That is just a small selection of dishes available and the ingredients are top notch, from Neal’s Yard cheeses to meat from the Well’s Farm in Tunbridge Wells.
Cocktails also have a retro touch, but are, again, given a modern twist or made with the Coin Laundry’s special ingredients. We didn’t try any of the Sodastream cocktails, but they are there waiting for you. The first cocktail we tried was the Coin Laundry Americano from the ‘Bitter’ menu, a blends of vermouths served with a separate dinky bottle of Campari soda. The Pisco Inferno from the ‘Sweet’ list has a special little kick as the pisco, pineapple shrub, lime and beaten egg white mix is topped with a sprinkling of pink pepper. The White Chocolate & Raspberry Bellini, one of the ‘Bubbles’ on offer, is beautifully smooth and not too sweet.
We tried all three cocktails from the ‘Revival’ menu: an excellent Tequila Sunrise, a creamy and minty Grasshopper and (this was by special request as I always liked them, but could never bring myself to buying a bottle of Advocaat) the Snowball, here made with calamondin lemonade.
The wine and beer list are both international and feature organic wines and craft beers.
A special mention should go to all the staff we encountered on the night: friendly, professional, knowledgeable, fun and most of all infectiously enthusiastic – what a great team to have on board.
We could see ourselves easily spend a whole Sunday there. We would have a late, leisurely brunch, read the Sunday papers, have a game of Scrabble (there is a selection of board games in the basement) and later dinner and drinks with friends. In the press release it mentions couches, but we didn’t see any on the night. I seriously hope they are still on their way, because a sofa would be just perfect for reading the papers.
The basement space will also be hosting a regular programme of events from book clubs to club nights and pop-up shops.
The Coin Laundry is open all day, from 8.00am to late, at the weekend very late (2.00am).
Coin Laundry is a new venture from the Urban Leisure Group, a young and dynamic collection of restaurants and bars dotted around North, Central and West London (Ask for Janice, Central & Co, Alice House).