South for Soif

Published on BespokeRSVP on 9th July 2012:

In South West London, we enjoy a slower sort of life. Not quite on Caribbean time but certainly noticeably less hurried than anywhere else in London. This translates to our restaurants too – more laid back, less formal. And that’s perhaps why it’s the perfect location for a delightful wine-centric restaurant by the name of Soif.

I chose a funny sort of day to visit Soif; inadvertently, I had booked in for lunch when I already had a long-standing reservation for dinner at The Waterside Inn. In the back of my mind, I was thinking how they were a world apart; where one had maintained 25 years of three Michelin stars, the other was still in its relative infancy. Having visited its sister restaurant in Covent Garden, Terroirs, I was expecting some very good things though.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Their handful of dishes were loosely split into starters, mains and desserts. Not quite tapas but certainly great for sharing over a glass of wine, or indeed several bottles if the mood takes you. And that’s really what Soif is all about, their wines.

The list, extending to six pages plus sweet/fortified and digestifs, offers some very affordable and, more importantly, interesting natural wine options. Indeed, when I later showed the list to a grape geneticist friend, he was very tempted by the varietals on show and even more intrigued by the mock offer of an ’82 Petrus at £1m.

But back to the food.

Duck rillette with toast and buffalo mozzarella, broad beans and savoury made contrasting starters where one said comforting winter and the other colourful summer. A sparkling something seemed apt and glasses of Camillo Donati Malvasia Rosa Rosato Frizzante and Benoit Courault Le P’tit Chemin Pet Nat were sunk. Needing some contrast in texture too, half a dozen well-shucked Maldon rocks followed as a palate cleanser.

Slightly more heavy set mains of turbot with samphire and Jersey Royals and loin of pork with roasted potatoes buttered cabbage and apple sauce arrived accompanied by Adegas Sameiras Blanco 2010 and AA Denavolvo Dinavolino Bianco 2010. There is a sense of Sunday brunch about the lunch. Perhaps much of it is down to the fact that the lunch rush seem to start from about 2pm with families and groups of friends.

A rather seasonal strawberries and cream was on the menu though I took on the bitter chocolate mousse and hazelnut sablé instead, keen to sample their pastry offering. Its intensity on the palate begged something even sweeter to tame. Happily, the staff recommended something mysterious that did the trick.

Satisfyingly filled with wine and food, I leave reflective. How interesting was the assault on my palate from the wine where, for once, the food took more of a back seat. How well adapted this little gem was to South West London living without being in any way inefficient. And how perfect a place it would be for long discussions late into the night. There aren’t many places that will tempt North Londoners south of the river. Soif is surely one.

The Rookery, Clapham

Published in Scout London Magazine June 19 – 25 2012 Issue number 6:

The Rookery, Clapham in Scout London

With a seriously busy bar and the feel of a converted pub, The Rookery doesn’t immediately seem like somewhere to eat. Packed to the nines until at least 9pm, there’s quite a commotion to contend with in order to get fed, but provided bumping elbows with your neighbours and talking over the hubbub is something you’re comfortable with, there’s some serious cooking to be found on the neatly condensed menu. Cornish smoked mackerel, Dexter beef and Gloucester Old Spot pork paired simply with asparagus, broad beans and fennel shout loudly about being British and seasonal but quietly get on with their job on the plate. A patriotic cheeseboard is about as showy as it gets and having devoured it you’ll be convinced of this modest venue’s potential. In light of this, the fact that by far the biggest menu is the drinks list is slightly disappointing.

Trinity, Clapham

Published on Foodepedia on 21st September 2010:

4 The Polygon, Clapham, London, SW4 0JG

Trinity is the second Clapham restaurant of chef patron Adam Byatt, with the first being the now defunct Thyme, and it works very hard to amalgamate fine dining with its friendly neighbourhood restaurant ethos. From the outset, there’s the unassuming entrance. Soft lighting gently framed the windows with only a small discreet plaque revealing the restaurant within, Trinity. Facing a disused building, it manages to be in the centre of Clapham Common and yet at the same time sneakily tucked away, giving diners accessibility and an incredible sense of privacy.

Mondays are traditionally very quiet for restaurants. For Trinity, this meant a merry-go-round of taxis stopping to set down groups of eager diners. Their a la carte, tasting and prix fixe menus offer extensive choice without pricing out the average visitor.

Pigs trotters made an interesting starter for me and my companion had the poached Loch Duart salmon. Trotters may be unusual but getting the entire dish served on a block of wood was definitely unexpected. Finely diced meat from the trotters were served on a slice of toasted sourdough with a single stick of crackling balanced delicately on top. Sauce Gribiche decorated the base and three perfectly fried quail’s eggs, centre still runny, framed the block. It seemed like a lot for a starter but somehow managed to remain light enough to make a pleasing appetiser. Suffice to say that it tasted as good as it was scrupulously presented.

A fillet of slow cooked Dexter beef served with artichokes, triple cooked chips and steak tartar made a deliciously filling main, the kind that makes it hard not to quip about a match made in meat heaven. Aside from being a demonstration of the skill and effort required to produce the dish, the taste and texture also perfectly reflected the quality of the ingredients used. For my companion, there was a slight quibble about the bones in his lemon sole and seeds in his Muscat grapes. It seems that having to work hard for the pleasure of tasting something wonderful was just a bit too vexing.

There was a good selection of desserts to round off the meal as well as the option for a cheese course. All the courses were accompanied by beautifully matched wines, a highly recommended and thoroughly pleasurable addition to the meal. My companion raved so much about his dessert wine I’m not even sure he finished his dessert, although I’m quite certain it tasted divine if my raspberry ripple souffle was anything to go by.

Overall the food was excellent, as expected, and meticulously prepared. The restaurant was run with military efficiency and impeccable attention to detail in every step from taking of the coats to seating at the table to a refreshing Bellini and welcoming flat bread. The staff were friendly, helpful and unobtrusive; effortlessly creating the relaxed atmosphere. And let’s not forget the fragrant loose tea and freshly brewed coffee at the end of the meal, served with a cookie jar.

And as an endearing extra, we were each furnished with a bag of hand-made mini meringues before we left. There has never been a local eatery so hospitable.