Editor's note: Nuala folded in January 2019.
Nuala opened in late December 2017, near the Old Street roundabout. Its executive chef and part owner Niall Davidson was originally a butcher by trade, and as a chef worked at Chiltern Firehouse and at St John Bread and Wine. Head chef Colin McSherry has worked at Dinner and The Fat Duck, and is in day-to-day charge of the kitchen. The atmosphere feels quite cosy, with an open kitchen with multiple grills and open flames visible from the dining room.
The wine list had around a hundred labels, and was rather unconventionally split into groups with headings like “tried and trusted” and “out of the ordinary” rather than by country or primary grape variety or style. Examples included Domaine Rigas Xi Ro 2015 at £38 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £18, Jolie Laide Trusseau Gris 2016 at £65 compared to its retail price of £34, and Brovia Barolo 2012 at £94 for a wine that will set you back £34 in a shop. The superb Emidio Pepe Montepulciano 2001 from Abruzzo was £149, yet this wine has a current market value of £173, which is the kind of kindly wine pricing that is rare indeed in London.
Sourdough bread was made in the kitchen from scratch and had very nice texture and a good crust (15/20). A starter of sweetbreads came with cauliflower and a veal jus. The sweetbreads were nicely cooked, and the cauliflower had excellent texture, the jus adding a pleasing richness, the earthy cauliflower being a good foil for the sweetbreads (easily 14/20). Steak tartare came with stout sauce and fries made with dripping. The meat was chopped to a good consistency and had plenty of flavour, was well seasoned, and the sauce worked well (14/20).
Highland beef rump was of high quality, the meat having genuinely good flavour. I was less taken by the buttermilk mash, and perhaps something acidic or sour would have been a useful additional element to this rich dish. However this was a classy piece of beef (14/20). Salt baked celeriac was cooked with Berkswell cheese, and came with wild garlic and toasted walnuts. The combination of flavours was excellent, and I would have scored this dish higher had the celeriac not been just a little overcooked; this was still a very enjoyable dish (13/20). On the side, cabbage with bacon was fine (13/20) but gratin dauphinoise with lamb fat gravy was a little disappointing, the potatoes having lost their texture, so the dish tasted mostly of cream and gravy rather than really tasting primarily like a potato dish (11/20).
For dessert, chocolate mousse came with coffee and smoked chocolate crumble. This worked well, the chocolate suitably rich and the crumble providing contrasting texture, the coffee flavour nicely in balance (14/20). Rice pudding was actually wood-fired and came with rhubarb and oat crumble. This sounds weird but worked very well, the acidity of the rhubarb bringing a clean, refreshing taste to the rice pudding (14/20). Coffee was from Root and Branch in Belfast, and was pleasant.
Service was very good, with a friendly waiter from Durban and an excellent sommelier (Emily Honey Spencer) who used to work at Sager and Wilde and also Noma. The bill came to £157 each but this was with some very serious wine. If you had three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine plus coffee then a realistic cost per head would be around £65 or so. This seems to me fair for what was a very enjoyable experience.