Restaurant review: Bounce, 121 Holborn, London EC1
Saturday 19 January 2013
Normally when I'm shown to a far-flung table in a deserted corner by the loos, I'm tempted to complain to the management. But never have I felt more grateful for a Siberian placement than at Bounce, where our table was for table tennis. Thanks to our isolation, the wild flailings, reckless volleys and inter-generational conflict of our family ping-pong game went largely unnoticed by the early adopters who fill this super-cool new bar.
Bounce is the latest development in themed socialising for jaded urban fun-seekers who demand more from a night out than a few drinks and something nice to eat. We've had bowling and burgers, and table football for hipsters; now, from the team behind All Star Lanes, prepare for ping-pong and pizzas.
A cavernous former nightclub buried under a Holborn office block, Bounce looks stunning – dark and sexy, two words not conventionally associated with table tennis. It's the kind of place you'd expect to find in Manhattan rather than just off Hatton Garden. Designers Russell Sage Studio have pulled off the same magic trick they achieved at Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen, making a bland, modern space feel like some rediscovered old light-industrial treasure, without any hint of the ersatz.
Acres of ping-pong tables stretch off in all directions, surrounded by moodily curtained corners, come-hither booths and enough reclaimed fixtures and fittings to stock a breaker's yard. A monumental bar wraps around a corner of the room, giving it the feel of some Prohibition-era speakeasy, albeit one filled with suity men slamming small balls at each other. And floating above the playing area, for those whose preferred indoor sport is eating and drinking, there's an attractive mezzanine restaurant area serving posh pizzas.
We felt we'd earned a carb-fest, after an hour of fierce play (or, more accurately, five minutes of fierce play and 55 minutes spent hunting under tables for lost balls). "I'm slick with sweat," Harry announced appetisingly, as he flopped down at our table after trouncing the six-year-old. Too late, we discovered that of all the vintage ping-pongiana covering every wall, we had opted to sit next to some 1960s photos of voluptuous dolly birds playing in the nude. That certainly added a new dimension of awkwardness to a meal with two young boys.
The menu, which is also available to order table-side, keeps things simple; some basic antipasti, a handful of mains, and a selection of hand-thrown pizzas from the enormous wood-fired oven. Only the pizzas were any good; the bases nubbly and just thick enough to hold with the fingers without risking the dreaded droop. Of our shared starters, shaved slices of raw courgette came ineffectually dressed with lemon and chilli, while burrata had been robbed of any of its creamy character by overchilling, and came with chunks of the kind of beetroot you snip out of a store-bought vacuum pack. Our only off-pizza foray was also a mistake; a Vesuvian cauldron of wild boar stew, the meat badly trimmed and tough as an old plimsoll, served with nothing more than a couple of slices of plain ciabatta.
There's a perfunctory selection of desserts, including an unseasonal Eton mess – possibly in tribute to that great champion of wiff-waff, Boris Johnson – and a decent chocolate mochaccino (trans: mousse in a coffee cup). With coffees and a few beers, our bill for four topped £100; steep, given that the food was really just a side-order to the ping-pong. And with table-hire at £26 per hour in peak time, and £18 off-peak, it's not a cheap night out.
But it's a fantastically fun one. The music is great, the staff upbeat and appropriately bouncy. Even at 6pm on the first Monday in January, the place was packed. Pushing through the excitable crowd surrounding the exhibition table imported from the London Olympics, it was hard to spot anyone without a drink or bat in their hand, and a big grin on their face.
As an event destination, Bounce would be as perfect for a first date as for an office party, though it probably helps if you can already play a bit. And I say that as the proud holder of a News of the World Table Tennis Diploma for most promising player of the week, awarded at Clacton Butlins in 1973. I've still got the certificate, if anyone from Bounce would like to get in touch.
Social ping-pong is apparently all the rage in the States, and Bounce looks set to get the scene going here. It's the biggest thing to happen to table tennis in the UK since Chester Barnes rocked the game in the Seventies with his controversial square bat. If you stick to the pizza, you'll eat pretty well there. And if it doesn't roll out into a successful brand, I'll eat my bat.
Bounce, 121 Holborn, London EC1 (020-3657 6525). Around £20 per head, excluding drinks. Ping-pong tables: £26 per hour peak time; £18 per hour off-peak
Tipping policy: 'Service charge is 12.5 per cent. All tips and service charge go to the staff'
Side orders: Game on
Try your hand at 10-pin bowling at this popular spot, which serves a good range of pizzas and craft beers.
The Lanes Bristol, 22 Nelson Street, Bristol (0117 325 1979)
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Tuck into a tapas platter of chorizo picante, fennel salami, manchego, mahon, vine tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil while you enjoy a game of table football at this brilliant bar.
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