This pub has long had one of London’s best locations, right on the edge of Wimbledon Common, well away from traffic. The area feels, and looks, like rural Surrey – which is exactly what it was until the 19th Century.
The old Fox & Grapes was a bit of an underachiever, but now Claude Bosi and his team have taken it over, given it a huge refurb, added three guest rooms and serving smart gastropub food at smart restaurant prices.
A menu based around British pub favourites has been deconstructed, refined, and put back together.
Highlights included a square chunk of roast pork belly. The skin looked dense but was as crisp as fat Pringles, while the meat below was full-flavoured and not too fatty; masterfully cooked. This was accompanied by some rich, dark black pudding on a translucent, golden cider sauce.
Another dish that impressed was a fillet of pollock, also with perfectly crisped skin, but with the flesh of the fit just-cooked past translucence: perfect. The Puy lentils below it were doused with a mustardy sauce, a combination that evoked France, not the British gastropub.
A starter of pork pie was properly made using hot water crust pastry, but the jelly inside – get this – was flavoured with apple. Ooh la la. You know you’re not in a normal gastropub too when a starter salad comprises pretty-as-a-picture warm beetroot, red endive leaves, soft goat cheese, pert salad leaves, walnuts and a honey dressing. Salad cream was neither provided nor required.
The puddings were less of a wow. A dessert of junket – a medieval dessert of ‘set’ milk – was just a little too watery. The cinnamon in the accompanying buttery shortbread illustrated a cultural difference: the American at our table liked it, while the Scot thought the added confection wasn’t strictly necessary – John Knox would not approve.
French-born chef Bosi’s other gaff is Hibiscus in Mayfair, which has two Michelin stars. But his brother Cedric is managing this restaurant-posing-as-gastropub, and on our second visit Claude was dining, not cooking. Service and bookings in the first weeks were still muddled, but the place has a nice vibe, full of appreciative diners who had travelled from afar and arrived by taxi or four-wheel-drive, parked on the Common’s roads nearby. The Fox and Grapes is already a hit, so book well ahead to get a prime dinner slot.