Review: Beer & Buns, Appold Street EC2A

One of our favourite cuisines has long been Japanese - and since we went on holiday there last October, our love for the country's food has grown and grown. So when we got invited to try Beer & Buns, a pop-up izakaya in Appold Street, EC2A (that's a sort of Japanese pub, for the uninitiated), we jumped at the chance.

Beer and Buns is quite an unassuming place, tucked up a staircase behind K10, one of those Asian lunch spots which caters to the hungry lawyers, accountants and bankers in the square mile. When we turned up for dinner, the lunch spot was closing, and all that was left was a few steamed bao and a single punter. As the entrance to Beer & Buns is through the shop, you’d almost miss it, if it wasn’t for the neon signs pointing you right there (and the thumping of the upstairs music luring you in).

The veggie Hirata buns: halloumi & aubergine

When you come up the stairs, you enter a very different venue: a large open space covered in graffiti, tables papered with manga comics, old pinball games, fussball and tables made out of kegs with tall wooden stalls to sit on. Rock music is playing loudly and the atmosphere, even at 6:30 pm on a Tuesday night, was pretty raucous. It's a bit dark, a bit moody, and a lot of fun - and certainly a change to the stuffy City feel on the streets outside. 

The restaurant styles itself as a pop-up izakaya, but it’s way cooler than any Japanese pub we frequented when we were in Japan, truth be told. The menu is full of achingly cool Asian fusion food and the booze offering is the largest selection of craft Japanese beer in the UK along with a selection of unusual, intriguing, Japanese-inspired cocktails (think yuzu-flavoured, or sake-infused).


The most fun table covers we'd seen in a while

In terms of the food, the place specialises in - you guessed it - Hirata buns. These are fluffy steamed buns of about four inches in diameter, cut nearly in half and stuffed with a variety of fillings. There's a great selection catering for both carnivores and vegetarians alike: this was not the sort of place that veggie C felt hard done by in the slightest.

At £4.50 each or two for £8.50, they're reasonable enough value: and tasty enough that we heartily recommend going for two. They - and all the dishes here - are served in paper trays, take-away style. It's pretty fun.

Veggie C went for the halloumi katsu and the aubergine katsu. Katsu essentially means coated in panko breadcrumbs: think a chicken katsu curry, but replace chicken with halloumi or aubergine, and minus the sauce.

A lot of bun!

The halloumi hirata bun comprised a deep fried slab of halloumi, with a lemon dressing, harissa mayonnaise and handful of rocket. Salty, sharp, peppery, with soft cheese and the crunch of panko breadcrumbs, this was oozy and delightful. If there was one small criticism of this one, it was that Beer & Buns did go a little to town on the rocket, and while we love the stuff, we had to remove some and eat it afterwards to avoid having nothing else in the bun. We didn't feel too hard done by, though!

The aubergine in the aubergine katsu was done to the point where it was beautifully soft, which contrasted really well with the sweet, tangy tomato and coriander salsa and the salty miso sauce. When combined with the sticky bun, was really satisfying and a delicious mix of textures. For C, this was the stand-out of the buns: she could eat this every day.


The crab and bulgogi beef with kimchi Hirata buns

Meat-eating A went for the bulgogi beef with kimchi bun. The beef was wonderfully soft (like the bun) but the kimchee provided a sour note and a crunch that was, once again, extremely pleasing.

And finally, A also had the soft shell crab and papaya – along with the aubergine, this was his stand-out of the meal. The crab was done to perfection and had a real bite to it. Inside the soft bun, the mouth feel was wonderful (and that’s before we even get to the flavour).

If you're just after a quick bite, the buns would be great on their own, but we were pretty hungry so we also ordered two portions of fries alongside.

 One which was called Japanese poutine, which amused us and caused a bit of conversation at the bar. Poutine is a Canadian snack food, comprising chips, cheese and gravy. It is positively sinful and incredibly delicious. What made Beer & Buns' poutine “Japanese” was that the gravy was replaced with that delicious tangy Japanese curry sauce. If you think that sounds odd, we say don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. In our view, it's absolutely flipping brilliant. 


Sinfully good

The Korean chips are the similar, but the difference is that they included spicy Korean chili sauce rather than curry sauce. C preferred the former, and A the latter, although the truth is you can’t really go wrong with either. While not entirely calorie-free, they were unbelievably good. 

These sides, and the others on offer, all came in at around £3.50-£4.50 each - again, not too bad.


The bao dessert

We also found room for dessert - in hindsight, we're not sure how - and sampled the two desserts offered here for £4.50 a pop, a cinnamon fried bao and a chocolate brownie. They both more than passed muster: the cinnamon fried bao was light and sweet and doughnut-like, served with a big dollop of ice cream, while the chocolate brownie was rich and gooey and served with a butterscotch sauce and peanut praline. We preferred the bao, as the brownie was a bit rich after the feast we'd just had, but you can't go wrong with either.

All of this was washed down with a brace of Japanese craft beers and two cocktails. The beers were excellent: as you'd expect, a fantastic and unusual selection, and A went for one sharp wheat beer and one dry IPA-style one. 


The chocolate brownie dessert

The cocktails were equally good.  The strawberry sake fizz was a great balance of sweet prosecco, dry sake and fruit puree, while the frozen strawberry daiquiri was lovely (and truly dangerous as it goes down like a slush puppy, but is full of spirits). C was of the view that this one was one of the nicest cocktails she’d had in a long time. At an average of under £7 for a cocktail and a fiver for a pint, prices aren't bad either.


The cocktails at Beer & Buns

If all this food sounds slightly unusual, don’t be put off. We found it to be really quite authentic: following our trip to Japan, we can vouch for the fact that this is precisely the sort of food that we could well imagine trendy bars in places like Roppongi, Shibuya or along the river in Osaka serving up to hungry punters. 

It’s not the cheapest place we’ve ever been for a casual meal (especially if you’re in the mood for a couple of drinks) - if you eat your way through the menu and have a few drinks you're looking at about £30/head but it is well worth it.

In summary, an acid test for us whenever we do reviews is “Would we come back here as paying customers?”. In this case, the answer was a resounding yes: we loved Beer & Buns. We’ll be back, back soon, and we’ll be bringing friends.

The menu at Beer & Buns, Appold Street, EC2A

Featured Content: A and C did not pay for any of the food featured in this review but did not accept any additional payment for this post.

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