The last time I had food in a bucket was ten years ago when the fanciest hangover cure in town was a bucket of curly fries from Varsity, the sixth worst restaurant in Loughborough according to TripAdvisor at the time of writing. That is below Loughborough Baptist Church, which apparently has some sort of tuck shop, and above Pizza Hut and four other eateries too new to have garnered any reviews at all.
Varsity had a thing about unconventional crockery. As well as the curly fries, you could also get a burger on a plank of wood, or the infamous ‘Dog’s Dinner’, which was sausage, chips and beans in an actual dog bowl. It’s exactly the kind of thing the folks behind the We Want Plates movement have campaigned so tirelessly against.
That said, I doubt the plate people have been to Bucket, a newish restaurant in Notting Hill that manages to turn what would anywhere else be considered unforgivably naff into something quite charming. This is probably because they’re filling their buckets with things like mussels with lobster bisque and brandy – which is as marvellous as it sounds, why has nobody else thought of that – instead of flaccid strips of lightly seasoned low-grade tuber. The only downside, I quickly discovered, is that it can be quite tricky getting to the bottom of a bucket in order to soak that boozy bisque up with the basket of (complimentary) crusty bread. (Side note: why don’t many restaurants do this any more? It’s such an easy win; nothing endears me more to a place than free carbs.)
Bucket’s concept is that there is no concept – ‘Order anything in any order’ – which was quite refreshing until we realised we were more confused than ever. Buckets come in two sizes – one about the size of a sandcastle and the other the kind you’d use for washing the dog – and come filled with fritto misto (£13.50/£26.00), calamari (£11.50/£22.00), whitebait (£9.00/£17.50) or sauteed prawns (£16.50/£32.50) – all pretty keenly priced for a seafood restaurant in the posh part of town. There’s also those mussels but in a rainbow of flavour combinations, including coconut and chilli and the traditional white wine, garlic and cream.
You definitely want to get a portion of some kind of fried stuff as well though, because the owners of Bucket are very, very into their dip and do six different kinds. At 50p each there is no point in fannying around arguing over whether you want the siracha or seaweed mayo so you may as well order all of them for the sake of variety. (If you really must choose only a couple you want the roasted garlic aioli and the red pepper harissa mayo.)
But there’s all sorts of other food presented in more traditional receptacles, too. One of my favourite dishes of the evening was the giant squid steak, an unimaginably tender piece of meat that looked like a slab of halloumi, flanked by a couple of cute little side squiddies. Since watching The Little Mermaid as a child I’ve had a vague fear of giant squids – there’s just something about the idea of a many-tentacled thing as big as a bus lurking hundreds of meters under the sea, in the pitch black, that gives me a fizzy minky – so it was quite gratifying to have a go at eating one. POWERFUL, that’s how it felt.
Tuna tartare is one for the purists – a little mound of fresh-as-fuck fish seasoned simply with a little salt, pepper and sesame seed oil.
I wanted the lobster mac and cheese but unfortunately Rosie had stitched me up by announcing an hour before our reservation via Whatsapp that she wasn’t eating carbs or drinking alcohol, which in my view is basically catfishing. Fortunately I am a strong, independent woman so had no qualms in ordering a couple of Old Fashioneds (insanely good, made with Barbadillo sherry) while she had some sort of mocktail, and also single-handedly taking down the entire bread basket (I will admit I’m slightly ashamed of this but I couldn’t let that tasty-tasty mussel juice go unmopped). Unfortunately though, I am not capable of eating a whole portion of lobster mac and cheese by myself and hate waste, so the kitchen very nicely made me a mini one and it was sublime, all cheesy and oozy with crunchy top and a gooey bottom.
Bucket describes itself as a ‘beach shack’ which is quite hilarious considering how gorgeous the fit-out is – all immaculate rattan furniture and beautiful lighting – and that Notting Hill is 40 miles from the nearest sea, but it’s true that it’s more of a bohemian seafood joint than a traditional fish restaurant. Shellfish are the main event here, and there are lots of comfort food-type items designed to lure in hungover locals, such as a prawn and crayfish burger; lobster, prawn and cheese toastie (!!!) and this monstrous fishfinger sandwich…
There’s a big emphasis on sustainability – everything is MSC-certified – but the prices are very reasonable, especially for the west. Sadly I’m a beast in the east these days, so it’s never going to be my local, but if you’re a sucker for seafood but don’t want to shell out on fancy fish restaurant prices, you need to get it on your bucket list.
Bucket, 107 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 4UW
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.