Bodega Rita’s is a tiny sandwich shop, more like a big cupboard than a restaurant, at the bouji new Coal Drops Yard development in King’s Cross. It is a weird place, Coal Drops Yard.
The previous bouji new development at Kings Cross, Granary Square, is widely agreed to be a success, even, grudgingly, by those who initially claimed to have preferred its previous incarnation as a home of trance clubs, hookers and a driving range. Children frolic in the fountains, a string of international fashion victims trundles to and from Central St Martin’s, and Guardian hacks meet PRs for breakfast at Caravan.
Although it is only a few yards away, Coal Drops Yard is working less well. It is a large, windswept, mainly empty place, the kind of impressive but desolate urban environment you can imagine having a central role in an apocalypse drama. It has a canyon-like design, with two layers of shops and restaurants dominated by a huge split roof designed by the impish late-capitalist court sculptor Thomas Heatherwick.
Each half sweeps up, as if the whole thing were being pulled open from above by a giant. To judge by the shops, the giant would have to have an unexpected interest in smart menswear. Paul Smith, Universal Works, Tom Dixon. These places are fine to look at, but you rarely want to buy anything.
Another problem is that Coal Drops Yard is not on the way to anywhere else.
The restaurants are doing their bit, even if the shops are baffling. The Harts Group dominate, with a branch of their evergreen tapas-dispensary, Barrafina, an indoor/outdoor taqueria, a wine bar and a barbecue restaurant soon to open. There is also Hicce, Coal Office, a branch of Redemption Roasters, where ex-cons make you coffee, a fine “vermuteria”. At the southern end is an exquisite little coffee shop by Alain Ducasse, which has attracted attention for its £15 Yemeni option but that is really is an acme of affordable luxury. You pay £5 for a cappuccino, but what a cappuccino.
The Bodega team had a previous restaurant, Rita’s, and continue to run a catering business. The Bodega menu comprises sandwiches, some breakfast options, wine and a few snacks. There are good vegan and vegetarian options in the sandwiches, apparently, but we ignored them in favour of “The Tony,” which as its Soprano-ish name suggests is basically a riff on a New York-Italian sub, with salami, prosciutto, pesto, loose cubes of gianardiera, slightly spicy mayo and smoked cheddar cheese. Written down these flavours probably shouldn’t work but they do, aside from a slight sliminess of mayonnaise on cheese, just as they do eaten outside a deli.
The “Debbie Drowner” was even better. It takes its cue from the classic “french dip”, an American sandwich where you dunk a beef, onion and cheese baguette in a little bowl of gravy. Debbie Drowner was bread stuffed with cubes of chicken, bright pink onions, a sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds for texture, all garnished with a fat bunch of coriander. The sauce was earthy with cumin and hot with chipotle. They provided a spoon, or else you could just dip Debbie directly. Eating it put so much juice on my hands that by the end I felt as though I had done something vaguely obscene.
Between Monty’s and Max’s and Dusty Knuckle these are happy times for London’s elite sandwiches. Bodega Rita’s is right up there. Given how empty Coal Drops Yard is, it’s lucky they only need about eight people to fill it. When the sun shines you can buy a Tony and a beer, sit outside and marvel at how so much money can go so wrong.
Should you go? Yes
Would I go back? Yes.
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