The downside to this trendy Battersea boozer? It’s impossible to describe to your mates without it sounding like some kind of wanky hipster hangout. They’ve got their own micro-brewery. They distill their own gin. They keep an escape game in the basement. There’s even a retro gaming room upstairs that lets you project ‘Street Fighter 2’ across an entire wall. ‘Jesus Christ!’ your pals will probably exclaim: ‘What’s it called? “The Artisanal Sourdough?”’ It is, however, a brilliantly down-to-earth place to spend a night. It’s a beautifully refurbed Victorian palace that’s full of wall-mounted taxidermy, scuffed wooden floors and pretty vintage tiling. Aside from their own-distilled gin, the 45 gins they offer – alongside a range of more exotic tonics than a Chinese medicine shop – means there’s plenty for spirit hounds to explore. And the games room? We defy you to find a more fun night out in Balham. It’s packed with ping-pong, table football, old arcade games and a totally nutso racing game. Booze and racing? Jeremy Clarkson would approve. Don’t let that put you off, though.
Mezcal and tacos are achingly, unavoidably ‘in’ at the moment, so it was a surprise that Cartel – a Battersea joint specialising in both – was near empty on my Thursday night visit. That might be because the box of a room (dominated by a spacious bar area) is clearly designed for buzzy weekend boozing. But it was more likely down to the dreamy alt-country music being blasted out at high volume, courtesy of a guitar-twiddling chap on the floor. A shame really, as it’s a pretty nifty place: bare-brick walled, with faux Mexican ephemera dotted about, and party-ready. This is primarily a place for knocking back cocktails (or straight spirits – there’s a hidden mezcal tasting room that staff can grant permission to), and the drinks are good. Pasión del Mezcalero was warming, citrussy and heady with alcohol while a Tommy’s Margarita (with agave in place of triple sec) was a zesty foil to the food, the highlights of which were moreish chorizo-stuffed quesadillas and brilliant mango-topped and pulled-pork-piled corn tacos. Excellent booze food, basically. Modish it might be, but Cartel mostly hits its target.
This Northcote Road branch is one of eight Draft Houses in London now - a sign, perhaps, that they must be doing something right. The focus is on carefully sourced and served beer but food plays an important role too, with a US influence coming through on the burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork buns and Americanised salads. It's the beer, though, that pulls in most punters - and the fact that they are available by the one-third pint does wonders for a little exploration. They obviously take their brews pretty seriously, with a regularly changing selection ranging from local brews like Camden Hells and Redchurch IPA to Stiegl Goldbräu, Pilsner Urquell and St. Stefanus Belgian Ale - all on tap. They brew their own beer too, naturally.
A family-friendly pub with toys and board games, cask and craft ales, a beer garden and a roaring fire for the winter months.
If you’ve been waiting patiently for a kitsch, tongue-in-cheek bar that pays homage to the playful side of Italy, with party-animal PM Silvio Berlusconi as the poster boy, you’re in luck.
You don’t expect to find a bar like Lost Angel along this sorry-looking stretch of the Battersea Park Road, but there is a precedent: this building was once home to Dusk, which brought a little glamour to the street.
Lost Society has occupied this warren of rooms since the 1980s, which makes it a veteran of south London’s bar scene. And its appeal continues, partly, no doubt, because of the variety of its offering.
With the Albert Bridge closed for repairs, this big, corner site gastropub should have become a quiet backwater, as passing traffic has virtually ceased. Not so.
Cheap eats in South London
Sri Lankan restaurant
Disco lights twinkle round the door, cheap wall art depicts idyllic mountain scenes, but it’s the cooking that attracts devotees of fiery food to this modest Tooting eaterie. Prices are divertingly low: especially when you factor-in the BYO policy. Street food snacks (‘short eats’) include croquette-like mutton rolls (with clove-spiked meat fillings). Follow them with rich, warmly spiced crab masala – claws and all. Worth getting messy for.
Unlicensed: no corkage charge.
Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £20.
If you’re happy eating on the hoof, Borough Market is one of the best places in London to find a lunch for around a fiver from Mon-Sat. Highlights include the Brindisa stall, Kappacasein toasted cheese sandwiches, and many more. The market exists in skeleton form from Monday to Wednesday, so pop along in the latter half of the week for the full experience. If you want to miss the crowds, a morning visit is advisable.
Takeaway meal per head: around £5-£7.
Saturday produce market
This friendly market in Lewisham College car park is a great place to grab a bite as you do your weekly grocery shop. A regular gang of star-studded street food vendors includes Spit & Roast with deep-fried buttermilk chicken baps, Mike & Ollie with Lebanese-style flatbread wraps, Fleischmob serving Austrian schnitzel, plus juicy beef patties in glazed buns from Mother Flipper.
From £4.50-£7.50 per dish.
Brixton Village Market – formerly called Granville Arcade – has become a centre for many excellent start-up cafés including Kaosarn, Elephant, Honest Burgers, Okan and Federation Coffee among others.
Meal for two: around £20-£35.
Tucked in a corner of the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre car park, Café East rewards intrepid diners who manage to find it. Inside, the sparsely furnished room has big square tables packed with happily guzzling South-east Asian customers. The menu is an edited-down list, each dish portrayed in an adjoining colour pic. Try the herby summer rolls and the beautifully flavoured pho noodle soup. Prices are low, making this an ideal place for groups to enjoy a veritable Vietnamese banquet. Unlicensed; no alcohol allowed.
Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £25.
This Balham restaurant may look suspiciously like a building site – all bright lights, rough-hewed woods and huge metal scaffolding poles (a deliberate design element) – but Balham’s Beyrouths, which serves the food of Beirut, Lebanon, is surprisingly polished. Friendly, efficient staff dish out a roll-call of crowd-pleasers: from well-made houmous (garnished with virgin olive oil and fresh pomegranate seeds) to juicy pieces of grilled lamb and deliciously smoky baba ganoush. Portion sizes are decent.
Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.
Tooting’s long been a place for great Indian food, but Chicken Shop is its first really stylish bar and grill. No prizes for guessing what they serve, but they do a simple thing very well indeed. No bookings: arrive off-peak if you don’t want to wait at the tiny bar.
Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.
South Indian and Sri Lankan café
Classic South Indian breakfast and snack dishes are beautifully rendered at this basically furnished Tooting café. Rarely have we seen such a perfect dosai: crisp on the outside, moist and rice-fragrant on the inside, served with rich sweet sambar (spicy lentil dip). Most of these meals cost under £3. The non-veg options are OK – mutton and chicken, mostly – but meat-free food is the star.
Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £18.
Eritrean and Thai café
This little licensed caff in Vauxhall serves fry-ups for breakfast, then a Thai menu for lunch. But it’s in the evening that it comes into its own as an Eritrean restaurant. More than 30 Eritrean dishes are produced, ranging from dorho (spicy chicken stew) to kitfo (finely chopped rare beef seasoned in ghee with herbs and paprika). We recommend the ‘special platters’, which feature a dazzling variety of dishes from the à la carte. Just one special platter feeds two people easily. To finish, try the Eritrean coffee ceremony at £7 for two people.
Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.
This no-bookings, cash-only Chinese café in Clapham is an offshoot of the original in Brixton Village Market. The seating may be cramped, and you might have to queue, but the food is consistently good. Try the pork buns, which look like meat-filled muffins, or a generous portion of spicy chicken ban mein noodles. And leave room if you can for some smacked cucumber: a new classic.
Meal for two with drinks and service: around £22.
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