Middle Eastern Vegetarian Food | Spitalfields | ££ | Instagram: @bubala_london
More than suitable for vegetarians, vegans & GF | Best for a date and small groups of people
“I went to Búbálá”, I excitedly said to my Israeli boss here at DNBS. She smirked, “I don’t know it…”
“Búuuubalá?”, to which she shrugged.
“Tal, I’m sure you’ll know this place, it’s vegetarian tapas, on Commercial Road!”
“Ohhh, Bubelah?”, to which my face frowned in place.
“Oh, yes I know it! It looks amazing, how was it?!”
Well, first things first, Latin people have fairly different ways of pronouncing words in comparison to Israeli people or English language natives. We sing our vowels and stress them with all we got, we could be dying but our vowels won’t. A similar scene happened when I asked my Australian friend if we should finally go to “Búbálá” for dinner, which after ten minutes of us shouting “What?” back and forth resulted in “OMG yes! I’ve been wanting to go there for ages”. (And ages it was, since we had to book three weeks prior, but I’ll get to that.)
Bubala, an alternative, more germanic spelling of ‘bubelah’, from the Yiddish, meaning ‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’. It is used in an endearing way, often by older members of the family when addressing younger members. It’s a Yiddish word nowadays also used by Hebrew speakers.
So darlings, say it with me, bu – be(h) -lah.
Once you get the name right, you can proceed onto the next step: booking. Make sure that if you want to go at a decent dinner time, you know your calendar for the following three weeks, because that is how long in advance you’ll have to sort out your reservation – and we went on a Tuesday, just saying.
The struggle is real. But don’t let it demotivate you, this place is honestly worth it. Despite the long waiting time, this is not one of those over-hyped Instagram restaurants only good for updating your profile. Nor should it be dismissed once you hear the word vegetarian, if you are a skeptic omnivorous, meat-lover. To be honest, most of the times you will barely know what you are eating, the fact that it’s delicious and most probably vegan will suffice. This might be my Western naiveness talking but, out of this dish description, I understand only three words: Ful medames, lovage pesto, yoghurt, homemade malawach. It sounds good though!
I feel it has become trendy here in London not to know what half of the words in the menu mean. Especially in those organic, vegan, everything-free brunch cafés. You don’t really know what you’re ordering but you understand enough words to know what to mildly expect and that probably you’re having some type of superfood that is most often than not very good for you (in theory, at least).
I’m honestly making fun of myself, because I fit perfectly in the description above. And I love it. Just so you understand, this is where I stand: I don’t eat meat, but am not vegetarian since I occasionally have fish, which would make me pescatarian, but I also don’t have milk or butter. Which would make me a vegan who occasionally indulges on fish, eggs, cheese or yogurt. Or I’m just a weird wannabe millennial – not even for a proper millennial I’m qualified.
Despite however much of myself you grasped in the irrelevant paragraph above, here’s the deal: delicious food is delicious food no matter what it is. And this one is even better because it is good for you.
Tuesday night in Spitalfields, busy as any other day. I got to the restaurant first and was sat down at the bar counter, where our table was set. I would discourage most people of coming here if you are more than two, as the space is very small, the tables are few and you cannot choose to either eat at the bar or at a table. On the other hand, this contributes to a very cozy and intimate atmosphere, adequate for ‘bubelah’, even deemed cute.
As my friend is badly intolerant to dairy, we decided to forgo any cheese or yogurt and accidentally went vegan. Who ever said they could not go vegan have certainly not yet been to Bubala. The menu is based on the concept of sharing – as any other cool restaurant nowadays – and depending on how hungry you are two to three dishes per person should be enough.
If you want to do it à la DBAS, this was what we ordered: Pumpkin tirshy; Laffa flatbread; Shitake & oyster mushroom skewers; Fried aubergine, zhoug, date syrup and Tenderstem broccoli, smoked tomato, ras el hanout freekeh. However, be aware the menu changes constantly.
The talk was so fluid and engaging we had to take a moment to stop and appreciate what our taste buds were experiencing – we did have a lot to catch up on, after all, it had been three weeks. Never had I ever had vegetables like this, vegetables don’t usually taste like this, but if they all did, we would have no farm animals.
We started off hearty, the Pumpkin thirty is essentially a pumpkin hummus, that scooped with the laffa flatbread becomes the definition of comfort food. However, out of everything this was probably my least favourite dish. The aubergine was a twist on a classic, flavour bursting melting in your mouth goodness. The mushroom skewers were probably my favourite, I almost drank their sauce and the broccoli was extremely well prepared, whatever was on top of it contributed to an incredible contrast of textures and flavours, as it was crunchy and slightly sweet.
The allure here lies in the simplicity of the dishes, good ingredients and cooking them to perfection in order to obtain the best natural flavours out of them.
I cannot recommend this enough. For anyone who is not vegetarian, Bubala is eyeopening. For all the vegetarians out there this is simply encouraging and a great night out to celebrate the beauty of nature.