Here’s the background: young chefs and partners open a restaurant in Clapham, cooking modern British food with elan (think flavour and seasonal sensibilities gleaned from a Le Manoir background, fervent interest in British ingredients, and a clear Copenhagen influence on technique and presentation). It’s quality, smart but accessible food, beautiful to look at and honestly priced. People express surprise that such a progressive restaurant is in Clapham (North London racists … though I have to admit to being one of them). And it’s full. Every night. Most lunches too.
Roll forward eighteen months and The Dairy’s still totally rammed. Booked up three or four months in advance. So the same folk open another restaurant. Also in Clapham (cue more “what, Clapham?” gasps). One of the chefs from the first restaurant is transported to head the new kitchen. And together the merry band of co-owners set about that difficult second album.
Any nerves they or others might’ve had about the follow-up are unfounded – it’s a cracking place. They’re making this restaurant game look easy.
So that’s both the background and the conclusion. I suppose the rest of this post should expand a bit on what The Manor is actually like.
Situated in a double fronted building on a quiet road off Clapham High Street (yes, I know, Clapham. Yawn), the restaurant’s set out in a U-shape, running from a bar area as you walk in, though a dining room that turns ninety degrees a couple of times to come back on itself. Most diners can see a pastry section in one corner (more on that in a bit). It’s white, airy and light, thanks to a large skylight. Which makes it a top place for lunch and I suspect a buzzing and chatty one at night.
Ordinarily I try to avoid the critics opinions before forming my own, but I happened upon Fay Maschler’s review just before writing this, and was both sad and pleased to see she’s already said what I was going to: the food is a bit of Fera and The Ledbury, mixed with The Clove Club and Lyle’s.
But it’s also ToastED and Dabbous and The Ten Bells and Texture. Which actually just makes The Manor very Now. The chefs cooking at all these places have got such interlinked CV’s that the similarities should be no surprise. Which is great. For the moment. It’ll be interesting to see how far their paths diverge.
There’s a £42 taster menu with seven or eight dishes, but we preferred the look of the a la carte. That menu’s broken into a six snacks (£5.5-£7), a couple of veg-centric plates (£8.5), three fish (£8-£12) and three meat (£10-12.50). Those prices indicate it’s a multiple small plater, and indeed the excellent waitress suggested seven or eight things between two is about right.
House bread was bang on (malty, lovely crumb, thick crust) and came with smoked chicken scratching butter, then three of those ‘snacks’ to start.
A bowl with curled ribbons of charred celeriac, picked crab, toasted hazelnuts, a ridiculously airy buttermilk and crab emulsion was probably my favourite of the three. Just a really clean and refreshing dish, with well defined flavours that complemented each other.
We also had fermented potato cakes and another ethereal emulsion. This time it was a smokey aubergine one, and essentially represented new wave baba ghanoush and man’ousheh.
The third snack should’ve been close to dish of the year. Picture layers and layers of pressed, crispy chicken skin – like a cross between deep fried cubes of potato Dauphinoise, classic pork belly cubes and the fattiest of pork scratchings. Ridiculous (in a great way). Two of those glorious golden cubes sat astride a few lengths of fermented white cabbage ‘kimchi’, which had a great lactic fuzz in the mouth. So far, so great. Yet both of those things were dominated by the heavy smear of a sorta BBQ sauce. For me, a clever, crafty dish undone by the HP.
This was followed by a plate of hangar steak tartare, cursed by a similar fault. Let’s be clear – no one’s going to send this back (nor the chicken skins before it). But a heady, almost sickly sweet caramelised onion (and a few other things) ketchup meant that what could’ve been a chopped meat contender to rival Manfreds‘ house effort and James Lowe’s raw fore rib, oyster and chickweed of a few year’s back, became a bit one note and brash. The pieces of roast onion and warm, near melting lumps of beef fat mixed with the chopped meat were sublime. But the lasting flavour was of ketchup, not of beef.
From then on, no complaints whatsoever. Smoked cod with sorrel and new potatoes was perfectly done. Soft and subtle, with the citrus edge of sorrel livening things up. After that, a stunning plate of roast squash (amber cup or acorn, perhaps), pumpkin seeds, a fried piece of pig head terrine, and perfect pork belly. There was a hint of five spice throughout the dish. It’s easy to be bored by belly these days, but this plate was banging.
The climax of the savoury courses was a perfect tender and just pink breast of hay smoked partridge, with similarly perfect and slow cooked leg, a couple of sweet parsnips, wonderfully acidic parsnip cream, fermented grains and a bit of crunch a top the breast via a ‘malt granola’. A really well balanced and classy dish.
We were invited, as everyone is, to have our puds whilst perched at the pastry bar. Their sweet dishes are inventive and playful, with liquid nitrogen running as a common theme throughout. My pal, a dessert dodger by preference, went for the lightest, apple focused option (fermented apple puree, jelly, apple parfait, meringue and ‘brittle’ nitrogen dipped sorrel). A crisp palette cleanser. I, a dessert double-upper where possible, chose the ‘off the wall’ alternative, which featured Jerusalem artichoke ice cream (and a few raw and crisp bits), poached quince and ‘smashed’ creme fraiche (more of that nitrogen). A very happy ending … though there were hemp ‘space cakes’ and coffees after that too.
All in all, I had an absolutely stellar meal at The Manor. Yes, I’d personally prefer more subletly in a couple of dishes, but much better that food be Marmite-like than simply plain vanilla.
Service was brilliant throughout, the menu is tight, the wine list is both good and affordable, and just a few weeks in, the place is already rocking. I bet it still will be in eighteen months time. When, no doubt, they’ll be showing everyone how easy it is to open a third restaurant. Probably still in Clapham.
The Manor in 3 words
Modern British dining
£60 pp – including wine, coffee, service and more than enough food. You could probably spend a little less, but not much more.
themanorclapham.co.uk – 148 Clapham Manor Street SW4 6BX – 02077204662