Granary Square and Kings Cross is coming up roses right now. As if it already wasn’t good – with Caravan Coffee warehouse, Illustration HQ and the amazingly well fit-out Dishoom, over the last couple of months there’s also been a flurry of openings with The Lighterman and Ruby Violet Ice Cream Parlour to name a few. I’ve also just been introduced to The Star of Kings Cross Pub in the area which is pumping our some serious craft beer love for the fanatics like myself.
Big, airy and breezy – there’s a couple of rooms to set up in, pinball and arcade games plus a basement where gigs, comedy and the like set up in on a nightly basis. So if you’re in the area and short of ideas I’m sure you’ll find something in here that’ll get your juices flowing.
After having a chat at the Decatur oysters stand on Druid Street Market a week or two ago with one of the brewers from Fourpure we got onto where we’ve been that’s decent (as you do). Rob Davies said there was a place that he and his friends tended to frequent above Granary Square called CoBa. He made claims that he would take his partner and a few people in, order a few bottles of tine and amazing food and walk out not much lighter that £30 a head. I had heard of CoBa but not had a chance to check them out but this recommendation tipped the scales this week.
Heading up to York road where those who have paid a visit to EGG nightclub know all too well, CoBa perches on a corner where it’s become the local go-to for many people in the neighbourhood. There’s not too much competition out here and they have the market well wrapped up. We arrived early and got a seat but as the evening progressed, the place filled up quickly and there was soon a few groups perched at the bar sipping cocktails. There’s a full residential area about to open so this place is only going to get busier. Luckily they take bookings – so do yourself a favour…
Vietnamese is a difficult beast – not only here but also back in Australia. Up market places tend to do Pan Aisan while those peddling Vietnamese are known for their huge bowls of Pho for cost price but should you ever venture from that section of the menu, what arrives tends to have been transferred from freezer to deep fryer to plate with little regard for anything other than your money. Not so at CoBa.
We kicked things off with a couple of cocktails to get us in the mood. The better half went for the stunning CoBa’s G – their take on a G & T with Hendrick’s, elderflower liqueur, mint, cucumber, tonic and egg.
After seeing that they infuse their own tequila with actual tea on their Instagram – I had to give it a try. This is their Long Summer Tea with Tequila, rum, Cointreau, gin, cranberry and jasmine tea with a slip of argave syrup to top it all off. All I can say is that this was a perfect accompaniment with some of the spices that started rolling onto the table a few minutes later.
Then the food started rolling in. First to hit the table was the special beef skewers. Where the hell do I start? The beef is cooked perfectly and that sauce (which you will see I will keep touching on) is thick, rich and packs a proper Vietnamese spicy punch! I couldn’t get enough of it.
The pork and prawn pancake special was also a high. Fat juicy prawns perched up on small, warm pancakes encased in lettuce and topped with herbs and spices. You grab one, dip as much as you can into its accompanying sauce and take a big bite. This sauce a sweeter and lighter version than the one with the beef but gets soaked up beautifully.
The star of the show and easy to see why it’s their signature dish – simply names prawn toast had all the elements of the childhood and family favourite except this version was a seriously pimped up version. Not that oily mouthful you’d get at your local, this came oil-free and fat with minced prawn and slathered with yet another spicy sauce/mayo that made everything sing to the same tune. This is one of those dishes you trek back to a restaurant for (also see: Chick ‘n’ Sours wings, Blacklock’s dripping bread, the Dogs at Rockadollar).
CoBa, specialising in all things they do BBQ, it’s a no brainer to put in an early order of the BBQ lamb cutlets. Two perfectly cooked pieces almost sliced up so that it’s easily eaten with chopsticks. The lamb also seems to have been marinated prior to being thrown on the fire so there’s all these flavours playing in your mouth before you add the fourth different sauce into the mix.
That’s the thing here. At many other places, Asian or not, if you order a bunch of dishes with sauces accompanying them, you’ll regularly find the same sauces/flavours turning up with different dishes – you know it, we’ve all seen it. It saves time, the chefs don’t have to worry about having a large range of something they may not deep as important as the hero of the dish. Seems things are different here and each sauce is made to align itself perfectly to its dish.
Don’t expect the papaya salad here to blow your head off as it does at Som Saa. This is a calmer version from across the border and works perfectly to put out the flames licking your tongue from the hot mess you’ll eventually find yourself in.
After certainly eating more than we should have we lean straight into the mains. I made a point a couple of posts ago about how there aren’t any places I know in London that are able and willing to scale down dishes for you when you want to surf the menu. It’s a thing back in Australia – and I tend to utilise when I’m solo dining. Well we found that CoBa are regular adopters of it. It makes sense as Damon is a Vietnamese Aussie!
Upon seeing how full we were he suggested that the day’s special of spicy chicken ramen could be served with a small portion as we also wanted to try another main. Well the ‘small’ version was still pretty heft but man did it pack some flavour. The duck stock (bottle that for your next winter cold) was luscious and no one’s scimping you on meat in this ramen. Just a joy to slurp in your corner of the restaurant.
The BBQ prawn noodle salad had my name all over it. A dish famous in Vietnam and also in Laos, this is a salad utilising a bunch of different vegetables all hiding the cold noodles below. Pour over the sweet and spicy sauce then mix it all up to your heart’s content. I love how the sauce collects in the bottom of the bowl so with each mouthful you ‘turn the salad’ so that your mouthful is the part of the salad thats just been sitting in that space. And those fat prawns. Killer of a dish.
We wanted dessert but our bodies weren’t having a bar of it. Plus the line of waiting customers had continued to grow so we gave up out seats headed out into dusk and wondered what just happened. A very good yet affordable Vietnamese place that wasn’t too far fro anyone to travel? An opportunity to put Kingsland Road well and truly behind us? Indeed it was.
Coba was opened last year with Damon Bui and his partners after a successful run with his Table For 10 supper clubs. Post meal we were sitting in the glow of the meal just saying that if we could turn back time we would definitely be a frequent visitor to his table. Should you find yourself in the mood for Asian, dining solo or with friends I strongly suggest you add this to your dining options wheelhouse.