SW resident columnist and food expert Sudi Pigott rounds up the latest restaurant reviews, gourmet news, tasty tidbits and favourite foodie fronds from South West London this June
Good on the ever affable Ben for opening a second canteen to his St John’s Hill start-up a mere two years on. The new Ben’s Canteen in the heart of Earlsfield has an immediately appealing friendly laidback vibe. The bar area made out of reclaimed school desks (yes, the inducible all day breakfast Scotch eggs are on offer) has a wall of white painted out frames interspersed with mirrors. Cocktails are superb, especially passion fruit margarita and the epic, 27 ingredient Bloody Mary.The raised dining area has cool wallpaper that resembles distressed paint and high decibels.
The emphasis is definitely on rustic, blokeish comfort food with added spice and nods to fashionable dining crazes from deep South to Mexican and Korean with ultra-hot sriracha sauce accompanying gluten-free fish tacos. Among small plates, I especially liked flatbread with punchy braised lamb, harissa, yoghurt and pomegranate seeds and moreish piquant calamari chips. Full marks for creating a veggie Scotch egg, but the mac n cheese filling was just hearty for me. More appealing was soft shell crab burger with fantastic Asian slaw and guacamole and good, crisp bun. Sweet potato chips are a must. Best of all was the “palao” choice with beautifully judged grilled seabream and a red cabbage and carrot slaw. The waiting staff need to cut back on asking how it is going – we were interupted six times! Leave room if you can for properly squidgy chocolate and peanut butter brownie with marscapone ice-cream. It is resoundingly a place to arrive at hungry. 5-7pm 2 courses and glass of wine are £15. Otherwise expect to spend £25+ on food for a full-on chow, though grazing is far more affordable.
422 Garrett Lane, SW18 4HW; benscanteen.com
Brickwood Cafe is another brilliant newcomer serving superb coffee from Caravan. I like the hessian sacks from the beans lining the ceiling and bare timber walls plus stand-out brunch dishes including wild mushrooms with balsamic vinegar and poached eggs on Bread, Bread sourdough plus the over-sized red berry scones. Warm brioche with red fruits and mascarpone sounds appealing as well. There’s a small sunny garden too.
Brickwood Coffee and Bread, 16 Clapham Common Southside, SW4 7AB 020 7819 9614; brickwoodlondon.com
I’d long wondered who was behind Brew, consistently serving some of the best food on Northcote Rd and now more creative than ever with branches in Old York Road and Wimbledon Village and more planned shortly in Earlsfield and beyond. It turns out to be former butcher/Melbourne restaurateur Jason Wells an inveterie foodie with infectious enthusiasm for his ingredients and endless possibilities for culinary invention with a particular love of Israeli and Turkish food. He explains that his guiding principle is ensuring every dish is prepared from scratch. Hence the ever popular blueberry pancakes are handwhisked and left to rest overnight, the exceptional pesto is pounded each day for the Brew melt with gruyere, ham and Burford Brown eggs, not to mention tomato jam, cakes, granola, stocks et al.
Important too is that all the Brews feel comfy and create a warm family atmosphere without staff being over-attentive. Currently, one of his chefs is from Ottolenghi, another brought up in Uzbekistan and he encourages them to pitch new recipes each week for the specials. My current favourite dish has to be an inventive take on a Scotch egg made with lamb kofta and served with tahini. From the end of July Brew will be doing a pop-up at Dashwood Manor, where Pride & Prejudice was filmed, no less!
Brew Cafe, 45 Northcote Road SW11 1NJ; 020 7585 2198 brew-cafe.com
Buttermilk is enjoying a revivial as a must use ingredient, popping up in restaurants all over town and not least in superb buttermilk pannacotta with salted caramel and hazelnuts at Abbeville Kitchen or as a tangy dressing with roof-top carrots, goat’s cheese and oat granola at The Dairy. Try too as a dressing mixed with mayo or cream, mustard, chives or chervil to serve with salmon and Jersey Royals. It fits with the current obsession with American South (think cornbread) and Scandinavian culinary trends as it is a defining ingredient of both. The tart, crisp buttermilk deep-fried chicken at hip Marylebone Chiltern Firehouse is well-worth navigating the daunting reservation lines for. Real buttermilk is the stuff that remains in the churn after making butter. Look out for Ivy House Farm Dairy or Longley Farm proper buttermilk from goodnessdirect.co.uk Most commercial buttermilk is simply made from regular skimmed milk and inoculated with cultures to make it acidic and thickened with carageenan (seaweed) to make it thicker yet is still fine for baking.
Handmade strudel are the core of Slovakian Gita Drett’s Keik‘s at Balham Farmer’s market. I especially liked the sage, pumpkin and feta variation and Greek spanikopita with spinach, even more so when I discovered they use Shipton Mill and other top British producers from Odysea for cheese to Fosseway Organics for vegetables. Great too are Hungarian influenced sweet cherry strudel and apple and poppyseeds.
1 Belazu Green Verbena Harissa is a punchy mix of spinach, coriander, parsley, garlic & Moroccan preserved lemons. Stir into natural yoghurt with lemon juice, drizzle over halloumi & served with red chilli & spring onion & stuff in warm flatbreads, add to couscous, fishcakes or rub into chicken before baking. £2.69, belazu.com
2 Kush cuisine started by chef Ian and his wife Sonia Lewis are regulars at Balham Farmer’s market. Both their chilli, coriander & lime sauce and tamarind and lime ketchup are perfect, robust yet well nuanced flavours to partner with bbq fish or add to hummous and aubergine dips to razz up the flavour. £4.00 or buy online. kushcuisine.co.uk
3 Srirachia Thai chilli sauce (red chillis, garlic, salt, sugar) adds intense flavour to marinades & dips and is especially good with prawns or crabs. £1.90 Amaranth Deli recommend Suree brand. 527 Garrett Lane, SW18 4SR 0208 871 3466