Nothing is more cheerful than a gourmet pub crawl. All the fun, none of the hangover - a waltz of amazing atmospheres, each dish in a different place, conversation never drying as you sit with different companions and always see a detail worth mentioning. A party that would always go crescendo, suprises along the way and superb food. What’s not to like?
On that particular evening, the foodie adventure was going to take us to four of the Renaissance addresses, gastropubs born of the friendship of Tom Peake, Nick Fox et Mark Reynolds. The latter joined us, presenting the menu and wines with real passion, adding anecdotes. Also on board for this delicious journey was their executive chef Massimo Tebaldi who told us all about the kitchen life. It felt like a backstage tour – it is wonderful to hear (and not just read about in a glossy magazine) that the menu change every 6 weeks or so. Not only is this to follow the seasons, use the freshest products but also to give as much freedom to the chef too. Imagine cooking the same dishes day after day – after a while boredom kicks in. Why not allow creativity instead? Same goes for the wine list – some of the names you will find along the whole group. Each sommelier can also push forward his own little gems.
Festivities started in Clapham. Just walk down the main road, turn in a quiet street and you will find The Stonhouse, one of those pubs you wish you could call local. A buzzing place that mixes a lounge and traditional decoration - trendy wall paper, design chairs, a cosy feeling which appeals to any generation. Ideal to sip on prosecco Villa Jolanda – fine bubble lace, lemon and grapefruit on the palate - and fall for those yummy botes: buttery pastries with a beetroot compote and peppery roquette… arrancini with a melting heart of goat’s cheese and pumpkin with a crunchy amaretto crust… perfect baguette with fragrant, rich pork rillettes and a little pickled gherkin (a froggie’s favourite)… and, amazing combination, smoked haddock cream on a beetroot crisp – salted and sweet. They disappeared so fast from the plates it makes you consider them as the perfect buffet option for celebrations. Add some bubbles and voilà!
We then headed to The Tommyfield. Impossible to resist its brasserie spirit - leather banquettes, cocoon/family home feeling, wooden tables, sculpted pillars, even the style of the chairs. Inspired by Victorian chophouse and food markets, this address puts generous and tender meat on the menu. And also fish dishes to die for, traditional pies and mash. Food is definitely comforting here – you feel like indulging. There is something for everyone too – from slow cooked meat to perfect fish and chips or more refined sea bass with roasted fennel and garlic butter…
Our starter arrives. It certainly brings a wow effect – smoked haddock and black pudding croquettes with a delicate sauce gribiche. Unctuous. You would never imagine these ingredients to work well together - the flavours succeed each other on the tongue, strong character of the fish, smoothness of the meat, slight mustard touch of the sauce. To be enjoyed with a Viognier Vedilhan which brings ripe fruit - pear, peach – to the palate, a dream of spring.
The main dish will be at The Rosendale, with which I had already fallen in love a few months back. So much that I had come back with my family a few days later. It remians my favourite gastropub. You come for lucnh on a sunny day, sit outside and find yourself there still at dinnertime. It is mu holiday place away from London while not having to go very far.
And so my mouth watered before the plate even reached the table. Picture this – Roasted English rabbit loin served with a braised leg Shepherd’s Pie, wild mushrooms and Chantenay carrots. A touch of chopped olives too that add flavours from the South. Ah - it calls for walks in the wintery countryside, wine sipped in from of a roaring chimney fire, of bread to absorb the beautiful juices. It defines the season so very well both sophisticated and timeless. So very rare to see rabbit on the menu too, a meat I very much miss from France. A wilder taste somehow.
The wine too is a little treasure – Les Olivières brings together Merlot and Mouvedre in a supple yet complex drink. Its tannins. Its tannins reveal red fruit, spices, pepper, oak. Enchanting - definitely a wine with character.
So elegant with its sepia lighting, its metallic chandeliers, the old-fashioned yet fascinating newspaper illustrations on the walls. Those are enough to feed quite a few conversations. After such a feast I had to give up the wonderful cheese selection - brought on a wooden platter and served, as it always should be, with grapes. I really wanted to try the churros with their caramelised apple and vanilla ice-cream. Make sure your spoon gets to the bottom of the glass to have each layer or even better, wait till the ice-cream has melted and dip the pastry in it. Worth licking your fingers, I tell you!
The absolute must is the Monbazillac Domaine de Grange Neuve. It made me forget about my beloved Sauternes. Order a whole bottle of this – it is extremely good value for money and you will want more than just a glass anyway. It is the drink you want on a summer evening to reinvent the world in their lovely back garden. Liquid sun, honey, candied fruit and yet, not so sugary, it does not saturate the tastebuds and proves, surprisingly very refreshing. With this, even a simple fruit salad would reach the rank of divine.
The Stonhouse, 165 Stonhouse Street London SW4 6BJ
The Tommyfield, 185 Kennington Lane, London SE11 4EZ
The Rosendale, 65 Rosendale Road, West Dulwich SE21 8EZ
The Avalon, 16 Balham Hill London SW12 9EB
And a few more places of the group here.