Places To Eat In London: Bar Douro, London Bridge
My imagination captured by the beautiful blue and white tiled interiors, and then fuelled by seeing it pop up on the Instagram feeds of almost every food person whose opinion I trust in London, when I lived in Borough I was keen to eat at Bar Douro in nearby London Bridge; it was on my walk home from work, for Christs sake! I never made it. First, my habit of giving friends their choice of a carefully curated three from ‘the list’ (my mammoth, 100+ list of places I want to eat in the city) to select from when we made dinner plans backfired – no one ever chose it. Then, when it was my turn to choose date night and I booked a table we had to book last minute as J was feeling unwell – only for him to pull through an hour or two later so that we ended up perching at the bar of the equally delicious Applebee’s Fish. Finally, with the move to East Dulwich London Bridge became local to me again, and my wonderful, amazing best friend chose it over the other options I gave her – Arabica in Borough Market, Plaquemine Lock in Islington and Fare in Old Street. I’d finally made it to Bar Douro.
Arriving early, I ordered a lovely white port and tonic, served tall to sip while I waited for Sherin. It is a thing; we both arrive super early for things, so neither of us know who will get there first! The bar is a beautiful place to sit; we were offered outdoor seating (we went in August) but I went for the bar where you can sit and watch the chefs work in the open kitchen. Just a note visiting – even if it is cold outside wear layers, as sitting in front of the stoves, and in a very small restaurant it can get quite warm and crowded!
Two things I always like to know about in reviews is if I should be bothering to order bread, and what the house wine is like. The bread here is a good sourdough; get it if you’re an olive oil lover as the house extra virgin that comes for dipping is beautiful, or if, like me, you’re getting the prawns – all of that fishy sauce is too good to waste! As for the wine we had the white – fresh and minerally it went beautifully with all our food, and I liked you could order a carafe for two of you to share as well as a glass or a bottle.
We started with some nibbles. The crispy polenta bites, still beautifully creamy on the inside and served with what I think was a tomato chilli relish get a massive thumbs up from us. They accidentally brought us the smoked Portuguese sausage croquetes rather than the salt cod fritters, which arrived later, so I got to try both. I think the sausage ones were better (and came on a beautiful, hard to resist Portuguese blue and white tile!), but they were both crisp and full of flavour. I’d call the sausage ones a nibble, and the salt cod a starter.
There were two dishes at Bar Douro I was pretty obsessed with. Sitting waiting for Sherin I’d watched them put together a couple of plates of the giant garlic prawns already, so I just knew I had to have them. Simply cooked king prawns, with an unctuous pan sauce from the cooking juices, reduced, and what I think must have been prawn head stock. Such incredible flavours, my only complaint being they could have been hotter: they come warm, instead of piping hot so they cool quickly. However, if shell on prawns are your thing, you’ll adore these.
The other dish I loved I think was the best dish I ate out all summer: a simple tomato salad, made from a mixture of chunked heirloom and cherry varieties, dressed in a white port vinaigrette. The wonderfully ripe tomatoes sang, the dressing was simple but still that little bit different and served to enhance the flavours of the tomatoes, rather than bury them. It’s autumn now, but when the tomatoes are at their best, if you’re reading this review during the summer months, you can’t go wrong here. Order them by themselves for lunch, if you must.
Our next two dishes were a hit and a miss. I say a ‘miss’ – everything we ate was delicious, it is just that our smoked mackerel escabeche was more like a lot of nice things put together on a plate, rather than a cohesive dish. On the other hand, the first thing that will get to you about the biggest dish we had, the grilled quail with red onion cebolada and pine nuts. Flavoured with cinnamon it was another of those dishes I saw coming out of the kitchen before ordering. The quail was impossibly juicy and tender, the onions very more-ish, and the pine nuts gave it that little bit of interest that set the dish apart.
Pudding is always important. I had mine with a nice glass of 10 year aged Tawny port, and we shared the two dishes on the menu we were most excited about, the Portuguese classic pastel de nata custard tart, served with cinnamon ice cream, and the caramel mousse, which came garnished with a generous handful of chopped, toasted hazelnuts. The nata was everything we wanted it to be, warm, creamy and crisp, the pastry melted in our mouths, and the cinnamon ice cream was the perfect foil. The mousse was a lot sweeter and richer, one for sharing it had wonderful flavours and textures – get it if you always have a sweet tooth after a big meal!
No meal is entirely perfect, and regardless the service at Bar Douro was great, the restaurant beautiful, the atmosphere great and everything tasted good, with some showstoppers thrown into the mix. It really was worth the wait, and with the long bar seating making it hard to talk to people not sitting next to you, I’d recommend it for your next date night or girls catch up.