Bubala — a vegetarian Middle Eastern restaurant, which has been doing the pop-up circuit for the past six months — will open its first permanent site on Commercial Street, Spitalfields, early this autumn. It’s the debut restaurant for Marc Summers, previously general manager at Berber & Q, the Middle-Eastern grill restaurant in Haggerston. Bubala will open — with head chef Helen Graham, formerly of The Palomar, The Barbary, and The Good Egg — on the site formerly occupied by Gul and Sepoy, which closed year ago.
The 30-cover restaurant (rising, later in the year, to 50 once the upstairs opens,) will serve a fully vegetarian menu, designed for sharing, and centred around the “bold flavours, herbs and spices from the Middle East.” That’s the general pitch, but is specifically inspired by Tel Aviv’s modern cafes, which both Summers and Graham have been visiting over the course of the past 18 months, as well as Lebanon. It also indicative of an important moment in the history of London restaurants post-Ottolenghi: the latest in a string of restaurants loosely unified by their modern Israeli approach, their focus on vegetables, and their concerted reimagining of Sephardic Jewish culinary traditions in London.
Vegetables, Summers says, will be “given a lick of flame on an open grill and served with traditional, and more unusual, flavour combinations.” Highlights will include: sliced, salted, and deep-fried aubergine with zhoug and date syrup; cabbage braised in a dried mushroom stock with pomegranate molasses and served with zaatar chimichurri; and confit potato latkes, served with toum, a Lebanese garlic sauce.
Bubala will also serve a layered Yemeni flatbread called malawach, which Summers likens to Sri Lankan roti and Kerala parotta, as well as a flat bread bought from Ararat on Ridley Road in Dalston. Summers says that the restaurant serving all vegetarian dishes is something it will do without shouting it from the rooftops. It’s feasible, he suggests, because, based on anecdotal evidence from the pop-ups and residencies the duo have run, 75 percent of custom has been not from vegetarians, but from customers who “just want to eat less meat.”
At dessert, when the restaurant opens, there will be just one dish: A tahini, date and burnt mandarin ripple ice cream, made by the team.
The drinks menu will feature a few cocktails, plus red and white house wines on tap (from Uncharted Wines), and a selection of bottles from Lebanon and the wider Middle East.
The name, deriving from a Yiddish term of endearment, loosely translates to “darling” or “sweetie” and is often used by grandparents, paying homage to Summers’ background. Summers also said that the Commercial Street site is especially meaningful for himself and Graham: his grandfather grew up in a house on the street behind the restaurant, while Graham’s grandmother lived on nearby Brick Lane. Summers says it “represents his old and new lives.”
Summers added: “I feel like there is such appetite for Middle Eastern food in London; the flavour combinations and gentle spicing techniques are perfect to showcase vegetables and vegetarian cooking, and the sharing menu will be a great way for friends and family to come together over food, which is exactly the kind of place we want to be.”
Bubala will open early autumn with walk-ins and reservations available.