Date night. Tom’s turn.
Date nights are a bit of a nightmare mission for the both of us, really. I wasn’t sure how he’d go about surprising me with somewhere amazing I hadn’t heard of. Which one of us idiots decided it had to be a surprise each time, anyway? Turns out, he absolutely nailed it and I’ve been desperate to tell you lot about The Bonneville in Clapton ever since. It’s the freakin’ business. I sat there listing all the people I wanted to bring back, whilst scoffing mouthfuls of my starter at the rate of someone who’d finally broken their Atkins diet. Everything about this unique little gem is perfect. I fell hard and fast in love and it’s a love which will last a lifetime. The food, the interiors, the atmosphere and …the toilets. Might I even dub them as the best toilets in London? Yeah. I think I just might.
I realised I’d walked past The Bonneville countless times without even clocking its dark green-fronted facade which I can only guess must once have been a pub. From the outside …it doesn’t look overwhelming, but that’s what I love about it. I’d probably never have noticed it or ventured in if it weren’t for Tom taking us there. Plus, that’s what this website is all about – telling you about the best hidden London gems.
Upon entering The Bonneville, it’s like we’d travelling back in time to London during some kind of Victoriana gothic era. I’m not really into gothic stuff …at least, I didn’t think I was. However, this place got me so into it, I left wanting to suck on some sweet elderly man’s neck as he passed me by. Through the doors, two heavy red velvet curtains hang, asking you to part them and walk in, like a Brothers Grim fairytale. As we did, The Bonneville revealed itself in all its glory. An incredibly ornate bar in dark panelled wood dominates the front of the restaurant, with what seemed like hundreds of beautiful up-lit bottles of booze and carved-wood detailing. A candelabra sits on the end of the bar with months of built-up purple wax stalactites holding five lit candles. Rustic tables and chairs sit waiting for Londoners to come and fill them. A massive taxidermy stag head looks over the restaurant. Finally, the barrelled ceiling of back-lit stained glass is the real draw, interior-wise. It was rescued and upcycled from a 1930’s cinema in Victoria, for goodness sake. The whole place is breathtakingly awesome. We arrived just before 7pm to an empty restaurant, which made me panic. This place looked so cool, why the hell was no one eating here? However, I was amazed that by 7.15pm, the place was packed and carrying a lively atmosphere.
Onto the food, where a menu of classic French golden-oldies are accompanied by original, innovative dishes using French flavours and pairings. I went for a plate of moules mariniere which were ridiculous – and huge – causing me to exclaim that they were “the size of my head”. They were easily the best quality and flavour of mussels I’ve had in ages. Tom went for white asparagus with parma ham and an egg yolk reduction. We’d been on an incredible trip to Paris the weekend before and had seen white asparagus everywhere, so we were chuffed to see them on this menu in East London. It was an impressive dish – well, at least the single mouthful I was allowed to try was, before Tom wolfed it down whilst uttering enjoyment-themed noises. Keeping it real with date night romance.
We supped our way through a smooth red wine the waiter had recommended, whilst waiting for the mains, which arrived quickly after we’d finished. The main courses were just as good as the starters. I had a succulent wedge of pork belly with vegetables and a jus which was full in flavour and Tom went for their steak and was not remotely disappointed. Portions were also really hearty and we found ourselves unable to fault anything about everything we’d eaten. We finished off with a charming little creme brûlée which was a little dish of perfection – and I say that as someone who’s had many creme brûlées in Paree.
We took our time over finishing our wine before deciding to call it a night. We’d had such a lovely time at this tiny, unassuming French restaurant in East London and felt like the night couldn’t have gone any better.
Then I nipped to the toilets.
Oh, Monsier Bonneville, whomever you are. The wonders you’ve created in your lavatories are worthy of a standing ovation. I found the dark, oak staircase which led me down into the belly of the restaurant, with its spotlit steps. As I neared the bottom, I reached what can only be described as a little cobbled low-lit street with a drain cover in the stones which was eerily breathing dry ice across the floor. Spot lights around the lower edge of the walls made the dry ice look like a cold, wintry mist and led me through Victorian London to the toilets. I felt like Oliver freakin’ Twist and I loved it.
I can’t recommend this restaurant enough. It’s another ace addition to Clapton which makes the area better and better the more we discover of it. Just don’t all rush at once – I don’t want to have to be added to a waiting list next time I want human head-sized mussels, yeah?