Saturday, 22 November 2014

A beacon of light in SW19

It seemed Wimbledon was doomed to lag behind other peripheral, affluent London boroughs in terms of gastronomy. While trendy eateries were popping up all over North London and as far as Chiswick or Catford, SW19 seemed somewhat neglected.

Of course there were a number of pretenders to the culinary throne throughout the years, promising so much and yet either delivering so little or, worse, being so damn inconsistent. When I was younger Tootsies was as glamorous as it got, with its smothered chicken, crinkle-cut fries and carousel of burger relishes. Other hotspots included the vast Chinese restaurants Bayee Village and Confucius (I’m actually quite fond of the latter) and the thoroughly dated and outrageously priced San Lorenzo Fouriporta (said to be a favourite of Boris Becker – he’s obviously never been to Riva in Barnes). It is fair to say that the borough was a plethora of Young’s pubs and, if not a desert, a very dry savannah in terms of restaurants.
Such was the sorry case, and in my mind a rather puzzling one. Wimbledon has always been a well-off area (especially around the village and the top end of the broadway) and one would think that a restaurateur would have seen the potential of setting up a great local restaurant in the style of Chez Bruce. Perhaps it’s to do with the overheads, or maybe the palettes of the local clientele are just not that sophisticated, who knows. It’s certainly not hard to find artisan and luxury goods, with purveyors like Bayley & Sage, Vallebona and Wimbledon Wine Cellar catering to high-end buyers with a very high credit limit – The platinum AMEX or Coutts card is the weapon of choice in these places, brandished with deadly efficiency like a Japanese shuriken.

I am being both a little indulgent and equally unfair. In the last few years, a couple of places, such as the Lawn Bistro and the Fox & Grapes have popped up. The latter has become a local institution and I have given it a good review on this blog, however it has three distinct problems: inconsistency in cooking, almost Michelin-level prices and it lacks atmosphere. I have eaten very well there but I have also eaten very badly. Sometimes its sloppiness, sometimes it’s over-ambition, occasionally just a little of both. It leaves one thinking that there is nowhere in the neighbourhood in which one can regularly get great plates of food on a daily basis… of course, this would be wrong.

The Lighthouse is a restaurant located on a busy thoroughfare known as the Ridgeway, which leads from Wimbledon Village through the vale, down to the A3. It has been going for quite a few years now and is the unsung hero of the local restaurant scene. I am personally surprised that I do not see it more in critics’ reviews or the local Archant/Zest Media glossies.

The cooking is modern European, very accurate and quite often excellent. To my mind it is the best restaurant in SW19. My most recent meal there? a couple of weeks ago, and I think that the menu that evening (on which I celebrated my 27th year on this planet) was testament to the sterling work that is going on in their kitchen and the quality of the ingredients that they use.

I started with very clean plate of their homemade gravadlax, very fresh and delicate with a slightly mustard sauce, a perfect calling card and not to overpowering. With a cold, crisp glass of viognier, a few pieces of this and this starter was a welcome introduction ahead of the more gutsy main courses.

I chose the rump of lamb, three thick, medium-rare slices of meaty heaven with a beautifully caramelised top, producing a wonderfully meat flavour. This was paired with a smooth potato and pea puree and some lightly cooked cos lettuce and a lamb jus. I cleaned my plate!

To finish a surprisingly light, no frills treacle tart with citrus undertones and a generous dollop of cold, clotted cream. I’ve not got a big sweet tooth but this was an exception. I paired it with a glass of grappa which, the pure alcohol cutting through the sweetness perfectly.

Rounding off the meal with a cup of well made coffee, something so rare to find, I thought to myself that it would be nice if we could have more places to eat like this: full of creativity but without the pretention.

If you find yourself in Wimbledon and feeling peckish, you could do far worse than come to this lovely restaurant. 

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