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 slivers, daikon threads and herb sprouts. The raw fish was up to Japanese restaurants standards, and yellowtail sashimi was well-priced (£5 for three pieces) with all the trimmings, including a cumin-flavoured shiso leaf.
Peru is more dominant in other dishes, such as lovely giant white corn lightly caramelised and served with coriander and the citrus kick of yuzu. No Peruvian menu is complete without lots of starch, in this case chunks of cassava with aubergine, both deep-fried; a simple but excellent dish.
A few things were perhaps a bit too try-hard, such as the scallop ceviche: the scallop and citrus dressing was good, but the delicacy of flavour was drowned out by the mint, pomegranate arils and raw red onion. This was the only disappointment out of six dishes; the others shone. Many Claphamites were doing what we did: pop in for a drink, then end up staying for dinner, as the prices are remarkably reasonable. Mommi’s standards are currently Machu Picchu high, at Mercado Central prices; get there while it’s still that way.