Trinity remains Clapham’s best restaurant, a destination for special occasions and celebratory splurges. It gets the right balance of smart (neat napery, cutting-edge cooking) and casual (smiling staff, hubbub of conversation). Recent price hikes might cause some eyebrow-raising (main courses now cost £25-£38), but the cooking is as good as ever.
Recycled furniture, workshop light fittings, a bar serving craft beers: it might look like another beer and burger joint, or maybe a New York Italian ‘small plates’ place, but the Dairy doesn’t churn out a formula. Seasonal British ingredients are treated with a level of finesse that would be the envy of many Japanese restaurants.
This bakery-cum-café has been going strong for the past decade, and come noon every weekend, there’s a queue of up to half an hour, out the door and on to Clapham High Street, for a table. So what’s the attraction? What the Danes call hygge, the Germans call Gemütlichkeit; a relaxed cosiness, created by smiling staff and toasters on the table.
No sign of a recession at Tsunami: on our weekend visit, smartly dressed thirtysomethings packed the place. This suburban sushi restaurant and cocktail bar has found a recipe for success and is sticking to it. The international waiting staff were warm and welcoming, the dining room glam but not intimidating, and the menu packed with modern Japanese crowd-pleasers.
This no-bookings, cash-only Chinese café is an offshoot, a second branch of the original in Brixton Village Market. It’s typical of a new wave of restaurant entrepreneurs who have moved from running a supper club to setting up premises with little experience or capital, spread the word by social media, and built up a loyal following. The experience gained at the first branch has paid off. On our three visits the service in Clapham was smooth, the kitchen consistent.
"Four-course set lunch menu for £25, Wednesday to Saturday."
Most of London’s really exciting new restaurants open in the centre of town – and you’ll pay two limbs for the pleasure of eating in them. So when somewhere special opens in a residential area, word gets around. This last happened in Clapham in 2013, when The Dairy – a wine and British tapas bar –introduced an innovative, but reasonably priced small plates menu to the neighbourhood. The Manor is run by the same team, but this time has a fully fledged dining room as well as a bar.
On a prime spot at the fashionable end of Clapham Common, Madeleine is one of several cafés with a handful of outside tables serving the constant traffic of Commoners heading from Clapham Old Town to the tube. It’s also the best of the bunch, not just because it looks charmingly French, but also because all the baked goods are made in the in-house bakery, which you can watch through a large pane of glass at the back of the dining area.
This tiny neighbourhood tapas bar captures the feel of its counterparts in Spain perfectly; informal with welcoming staff, and a simple menu to complement the wines by the glass. Hams hang from the ceiling, diners eat at the bar counter; drinkers mingle in. The food preparation area wedged behind the bar makes a caravan's galley look spacious.
Setting itself apart from your average tapas joint, Boqueria offers a fresh, modern menu that merits repeat visits. The vibe is laid-back, and the L-shaped space has been thoroughly optimised, with aluminium stools along a stylishly spot-lit (and well-stocked) bar leading through into the main restaurant; downstairs is an upbeat bar area with more tables (available for private hire). References to the mother country are plentiful.
Though your waistband might complain, your conscience need not as all the fish at this great little London chippy are sustainably sourced, with coley topping the bill. And that ethical alternative to haddock and cod is popular for good reason: it more than passed muster, with flaky and tender flesh beneath a perfect honey-coloured batter. The twice-fried chips were good too: chunky yet crisp.
If you can imagine a girly burger joint, Haché would be it. Named after the Gallic term for ‘minced’ (go to Paris and ask for a steak ‘haché’ and you’ll be served a good-quality patty), the restaurant is full of feminine French touches: from pretty vintage chandeliers to the creamy walls with ornate, oversized mirrors. In the open kitchen at the back, classic ‘man food’ is prettied up wherever possible.
In a quiet residential street not far from Clapham Common, Bobbin is an appealing neighbourhood gastropub. It has a changing rota of proper ales (perhaps St Austell Tribute or something from Sambrooks), good wines by the glass, a cosy front room, and an airy conservatory at the rear. The menu’s the main focus, with typical gastropub dishes done well.
Of all the ‘destination’ diners in the locality, Abbeville Kitchen is the least known. That’s a pity, because the Med-leaning cooking is terrific, but the venue suffers from an ailment common to restaurants in mainland Spain (where such things don’t matter): unexceptional design. There’s a mismatch of styles, with junk-shop dark-wood chairs and a hodge-podge of tables against a backdrop of smart, coral-hued weave, papered on to the walls.
This self-styled ‘quintessentially British bistro’ succeeds on so many levels. The staff are chummy and welcoming; the room looks rustic and quirky, with stripped floorboards, an appealing grey, white and yellow colour scheme and cutlery kept in drawers under the tables; and there’s a very enticing selection of bar nibbles, own-made preserves and fruit gins on display that sets the tone for the slightly homespun approach of the kitchen.
High summer on Clapham Common, and everyone and everything is out – the sun, the bare legs, the six-packs (both kinds). But when the bevvies are finished it’s time to head to the pub. Every year Clapham’s bars face onslaughts as sunburned and inebriated groups descend on them like Visigoths on Rome. This was a new experience for No 32, which opened days before the hottest weekend of the year so far.
"20% off all food orders before 7pm every night, and all night on Monday to Wednesday."
What do you do next if you’ve built two successful furniture businesses from scratch, and want a new challenge? Open an Indian restaurant. Or at least, that’s what Aamir Ahmad and his colleagues have done. Their background in fashionable interior design explains Zumbura’s good looks – but instead of the clean, modern lines of their Ocean and Dwell shops, the look includes South Asian influences.
The gentrification of Abbeville Road continues apace with the opening of this branch of a fast-expanding and upmarket fish and chip shop chain in the summer of 2014. Past the takeaway hatch, wood-panelled booths and industrial lighting give it a knowingly retro look, back to the days when the seas were our to plunder and fish suppers were a staple of the working classes. But K&M have moved with the times, and offer sustainable coley among their options: a good, meaty fish, particularly appealing in the matzo meal option (the white fish can also be battered or grilled for traditionalists).
Clapham High Street’s a great place to meet up for a drink, with a couple of dozen bars and pubs vying for your attention like plaintive puppies in a dog’s home. But what many of them lack is ambition in the kitchen. They often start out well, but within months they become weekend drinking holes, with the food as mere ballast. Mommi is different. Although its large corner site superficially seems like a dozen others in the street – outdoor tables, sturdy-looking doorman, prominent bar counter – the grill and ‘raw bar’ have been set up to attract all-week custom, drinkers or not. Most passers-by will, like us, be drawn in by curiosity, and a drinks list that offers something a little different. There’s a Japanese-style (but Belgian-brewed) white ale called Kagua, with a distinctive citrus aroma; wines by the glass that are all South American, including a tannat from Uruguay; and pretty cocktails, all helpfully pegged at £8.50. Then you notice the open kitchen, with its dozen or so international staff wearing Japanese-style chef headbands. There’s a charcoal grill and sushi counter, preparing Japanese-Peruvian dishes (not an improbable fusion, as many of Peru’s best restaurants reflect the strong Japanese influence there). The small plates are beautiful to behold, Japanese tableware with artistic ingredient assembly. Raw tuna is seared (tataki), leaving the inside ruby-red, and featured the non-Japanese truffle oil along with toppings of perfectly crisp fried garlic sliver
"Happy 'Janu-Mommi'! 40% off your food bill when dining with us from Sunday to Thursday, from 5.30pm."