Coal Vaults

Cocktails as inventive as the cuisine? Yes please


Reviewed by  Alison Taylor 




Generally, if I’m in Soho and the place I’m going to isn’t immediately obvious from the outside, I’m probably going to like it. If it’s in a basement, reached by a deathly steep staircase, then even better! No pain no gain and all that... And so the Coal Vaults adventure begins.

As the name suggests, this new Wardour Street bar/restaurant used to be a storage space for coal way back in the 19th century. More recently, you might remember it as a red-walled Korean joint or, if you really rack your brains, a late night drinking den. I’m on a date and it’s perfect because of the speakeasy vibe – immediate cool points - and the fact that it’s busy, moodily lit and the right kind of intimate. The snug alcoves and tall tables with stools feel cosy (though a bit uncomfortable and cramped) and the buzz from the bar and other guests rubs off so you’re unlikely to feel awkward.


The décor is industrial and raw – exposed brick, stainless steel hanging lamps and spruced up scaffolding ramps fashioned into tabletops (reclaimed is a theme). The bar is a tempting place to perch with its gleaming tiles, a beautiful copper bar top. Oh and the loo floors, toiled over by enterprising owner Martyn ‘Simo’ Simpson (he also presides over a successful building company so he’s pretty handy), are a mosaic of shiny pennies. Overall it has a New York-y vibe. It’s hip but, crucially, super friendly - the staff are personalities (no uniforms here) as well as being discreetly attentive and clued up.

The food and drink – it’s about small plates to share and cocktails to pair with your dishes. In fact, it’s the relationship between food and drink which really makes Coal Vaults interesting, not least because Jerome, the bar manager and creator of the insanely innovative cocktail menu, is a self-confessed kitchen addict. He tells us he’s happiest when he’s experimenting with new concoctions, such as his homemade spirit infusions (chrysanthemum vodka, anyone?) or condiments (‘Jerome’s chilli salt’ features on the food menu). The cocktail list in general is quite foodie – New Rose (Gin, Dry Vermouth) is flavoured with pink pepper and comes with pickled cucumber while the Marwar Pony (Scotch, Mazanilla, Lapsang, Ginger and Brown sugar) is served with smoked almonds.

The small plates are equally inventive. I’d say quirky, but that’s probably not how chef James Knox Boothman (A Little of What You Fancy, The French House) would want his creations described. Nonetheless, pulled rabbit with smoked black beans, sweetcorn and pineapple relish and ‘Five- hour’ shoulder of lamb cooked in hay and lavender are deliciously odd, as well as straight-up delicious. The pulled rabbit, in particular, was so delicately flavoured and seductively tender. Other notable dishes: potted crab with home-baked brown soda bread and charred quail with pan-fried chicken livers and puy lentils. The latter is not for the meat squeamish but my date had no such reservations. The dessert choice was pretty limited but salted flourless chocolate with mint crème fraiche and toasted almonds made me groan in a manner not appropriate at dinner. Not that anybody would bat an eyelid here.

The ELLEuk Score

Food: 8.5

Ambience: 9

Service: 9

Value: 7

Style of food: Cocktail- focussed dining with inventive, ingredient-led small plates.

Good for: A date (see above) or an occasion with friends. Book one of the vaults (three hold 6-8 people and two hold 10-12 people).

Address: 187b Wardour Street, London W1F 8ZB. Enq 020 7434 1550;

Opening times: 4pm -12.30am, 7 days a week.

Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £52 (based on sharing 5 small plates).

Price per bottle of house wine: Chateau La Vison Madoc £24 (red), Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc £19 (white)

Price of glass of house wine: £6 (red), £5 (white)

Price of bottle of house champagne: £80 (Pol Roger is the only champagne stocked)

Price of glass of house champagne: No glasses of champagne but Prosecco is £5 a glass and £25 a bottle.

Private dining: Yes

Garden/al fresco dining? No

Best table? One of the vaults or try and snag a corner if you’re dining à deux.

Bar? Yes, a very very good one. Don’t leave without sampling at least two cocktails.

Who goes? Soho aficionados and the cool fashion crowd: Lulu Kennedy, Charlie Casely-Hayford, Phoebe Collings-James.

Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road/Oxford

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