Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Cordon du Chap: One fox I can appreciate...

9 Camp Road 
Wimbledon Common
London SW19 4UN

Cordon Du Chap (out of a possible five) : ❁❁❁❁

It is only recently that Wimbledon has started to see the fragile shoots of good gastronomy establish themselves amongst the suburban sprawl. This seems surprising as it is an affluent area with plenty of people ready and willing to fritter their cash away on their own pleasures! But for as long as I can remember, SW19 has been the haven for chain restaurants and mediocre bistros, at one point the culinary highlight was ‘Tootsie’s’ (now thankfully replaced by the better-than-average Light Cafe)! So it was with a whoop of joy that I greeted the arrival of Claude Bosi and his gastropub venture at the Fox and Grapes. 

For years the Fox and Grapes lay across Wimbledon common and had a reputation as dog friendly establishment popular with walkers. It served a nice pint of foaming ale (Courage) and a packet of crisp but little else. You really went there for the atmosphere, it was like an old-fashioned village pub with friendly service, stained carpets and the re-assuring smell of stale beer. The loo facilities were little more than a hole in the ground and from accounts of female frequenters the women’s weren’t much better! 

Claude Bosi, of Hibiscus fame had taken on the premises and completely refurbished it, whitewashing the previously brown walls, stripping acres of tattered varnish off wooden beams and giving the place the atmosphere of a restaurant-come-pub rather than vice-versa. I have been a few times before this review, and on my first visit they got it very wrong! The establishment was obviously behind schedule on their build and there were empty fixtures and wires sticking out all over the place (luckily this was remedied the next time I visited), but even worse, dogs were not allowed in the establishment (another error quickly reversed when traditional clientele dropped away). The service was slow and the menu cooked without confidence. However, these were teething problems and thankfully never occurred again on any of my subsequent visits. 

The place has now been open for a couple of year and I am pleased to say that it has gone from strength to strength serving plate after plate (at London prices of course!) of great food. On my most recent visit I had a very well considered 3-course set menu which I must say at £19.95 was exceptionally good value. 

To start with there was smoked eel set in a cucumber jelly with horseradish cream. For many this will sound like their worst nightmare but it was a clever and refreshing take on an old East End classic, bolstered by the acidic warmth of the horseradish cream. I wolfed it down quickly and followed this with a beautifully cooked red mullet and cod stew (I had left my sustainable fish hat at home!) in a rich broth of celery, carrots, fennel, potato, butter beans and tomato. Alongside was a dinky bread roll fresh from the oven which was very welcome for soaking up the juices after devouring the bone-fresh fish and assorted vegetables. I finished off with some very more-ish cheddar served with membrillo (quince paste), celery, apple balls, grapes and of course some Carrs water biscuits. I accompanied all this with an ever reliable pint of Sharp’s Doombar.

Other tasty morsels on the menu include a very admirable cheese burger with crisp, golden fries (not those silly ‘triple cooked chips’ - which I’ve never really got) and sweetcorn ravioli with a sage butter sauce and mini tomatoes amongst a host of other dishes which change by the season (I ever look forward to when their smoked salmon mousse appears on the menu each winter!).

 My only gripe and it is but a small one - and not exclusive to the Fox and Grapes - is the extortionate price of the steak. I still gulp at the thought of paying over £30.00 for a 250g piece of meat, but I suppose if the punter is willing to part with their money on a piece of grilled meat, more the fool them. To my mind there is plenty of other better food on the menu to overlook much of the ‘from the Josper Grill’ section of the menu, unless of course you think they can cook a steak better than you can yourself - in which case you should leave the stove well alone and eat out all the time! 

In any case, the Fox and Grapes gets an impressive four cordons for their consistent food, friendly service and relaxed atmosphere. Keep up the good work, Wimbledon needs a few more places like this! 

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