Friday nights you’ll usually find me in a pair of trackies excitedly planning an early night. Or putting on a predictable chick flick with a drop of wine and a cashmere throw. Less likely will you find me in a cool and trendy bar tucked in the outskirts of Paddington at 10pm (shocking!) and actually quite enjoying myself. I don’t think Mr K could quite believe it—pizza, craft ale, and a girlfriend who didn’t have to be coaxed along.
We got rather lost trying to find the place, and Google maps didn’t seem to know where it was either. Which is silly because it seems to be the only bar in the area, so you know you’ve found it when you see crowds of post-work people flowing out of the doors and hear a soul-tapping beat. By the time we’d found it, we’d certainly worked up an hefty appetite.
Punky, industrial, and trendy-without-trying. The decor is a mixture of wooden and metal tables and chairs, a ‘battered’ and distressed feel with bare walls, random graffiti drawings amongst retro posters, and stripped-back floorboards. One end of the place is the dining area, the other is more for post-work banter and a knock about on their custom-built pool table. There’s even a Botanique flower stall outside to brighten up your day.
Downstairs is a maze of little booths and party rooms—basically total ‘man room’ heaven; clean and edgy with a hinted speakeasy vibe. There’s an old school foosball table, a distressed tan leather couch (think Joey from Friends), retro Nintendo consoles, and karaoke. I feel like I’m not cool enough to be venturing through on my way to the bathrooms (which are equally stylish and clean, and I hugely appreciate the range of botanical soap flavours to choose from).
Carefree, fun, relaxed. Staff are busy but attentive and super friendly.
The menu is so innovative and exciting you’re left stuck deciding between cheese curd & olive doughnuts, or N’duja croquettes with wild garlic mayo. Usually I like to read the menu online before my visit and plan in advance what I’ll order, but as their website is one landing page with no hints as to what to expect, I’d come with no clue what I’d be eating (and no preconceptions).
We started with grilled baby squid with smoked corn and bacon crumb (£6) which sounded too avant-garde to pass up (I’m still lusting after those curd and olive doughnuts mind you), and a small charcuterie plate which ideally could have come with a few cornichons or wedge of bread. I still maintain that sweetcorn’s sole purpose in life is to rescue that can of John West tuna from the back of your cupboard, but the squid was pleasantly different and tender—and the smoked sweetcorn and corn veloute was nothing you could have ever expected.
Due for a personal training session the following morning, I opted for a steak salad with mixed onions and a roasted bone marrow butter, and consequently spent the time between starters and mains worrying that ordering salad in a pizza hangout was a rookie decision, but it turned out to be the tastiest and most instagrammable salad I’ve ever seen, with melt-in-the-mouth seared steak so rare it was purple.
Tender soft white pickled onions adorned the plate, paired with succulent caramelised red onions and tiny slithers of spring onion, and the accompanying bone marrow butter was a creamy, ‘meaty mayo’ in flavour and consistency, and practically melted over the meat. I let Mr K try some (it’s too good not to show off), leaving him sighing in awe and saying ‘that bone butter though’.
Mr K, who couldn’t get enough of the whole pizza-and-ale thing, chose a wood-fired pizza with smoked sausage, hispi cabbage, chilli, and smoked mozzarella (£10), which was satisfyingly soft, fluffy and crispy.
The skin-on fries that accompanied the salad were the perfect ratio of crisp to soft, herby and utterly moreish, and the slow cooked courgettes I ordered as a side dish were the perfect accompaniment and the best kind of substitute mash—creamy, mushy, it just fell apart on the fork, with Parmesan on top and bits of chilli (I can see myself attempting to recreate the dish and ending up with a soggy mess of what looks like blended cucumber with the taste of paper soaked in water).
There was no way we were leaving until I’d tried the chocolate pizza (and it was my reasoning behind ordering the salad and not a pizza for the main course). The dough was fluffy, the sauce was gloriously Nutella-esque, and it was topped off with roasted peanuts, raspberries, and blobs of crème fraiche.
There’s a fantastic selection of beers, wines, and inventive cocktails beautifully garnished with flowers (£9), which is why it’s a good post-work hangout. I had the Mas Puech Picpoul de Pinet (£6/glass, £25/bottle) with tangy, sharp flavours and softer undertones of pear and gooseberry.
Of the eclectic selection of craft beer, all on keg are local brews (£4.60/pint), while bottled include German and American beers and sessionable beers as well as hop-packed IPAs, Pilsners, and Weissbier.
In a nutshell
Wow. Simple, understated, and exactly what the locals need in Paddington to hang out and enjoy everything that’s wonderful and quirky about London. An unforgettable steak salad, innovative food combinations, and off-piste presentation (none of that slate/board malarkey, no fussy garnish, and definitely nothing you were expecting).
Heist Bank, 5 North Wharf, Paddington, London, W2; 0207 723 8080; www.heistbank.com