Five-star food: The Manor
148 Clapham Manor St., London SW4
You can blame Rene Redzepi for much of the nonsense appearing on restaurant menus these days. Places that haven't even got the hang of local and seasonal banging on about wild and foraged ingredients. It's all his fault. They should leave well enough alone and go back to their comfort zone of strawberries in December and asparagus from Peru.
Noma in Copenhagen, Redzepi's restaurant, gained two Michelin stars and started hitting the upper echelons of the 'world's best' restaurant lists almost a decade ago. Every year since, another delusional bunch of chefs has jumped on the Nordic bandwagon, boring on about the philosophy behind their sustainable cooking when what we punters really want is a great-tasting plate of food.
That's a roundabout introduction to The Manor, a newish restaurant in Clapham, London, from Irish chef, Robin Gill, who happens to be the son of the late, great, trumpet-player, Earl Gill, the resident band leader at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin for over 40 years. Robin and his wife, Sarah, also own another Clapham restaurant, The Dairy, which they opened in 2013, making the Gills now responsible for a high percentage of the good eating to be found south of the Thames. (I'm joking, but only sort of.) Lest there be any doubt, Gill is not hitching a ride on anyone else's coattails. He walks the walk rather than talking the talk, and both his restaurants are terrific, despite menus of aching modishness.
Last summer I ate in The Dairy and was properly impressed. A couple of weeks back I made it to The Manor, tucked away on a side street off Clapham High. (That may sound like the boonies but it will take you less than half an hour to get there on the tube from Oxford Circus and it will be worth it. I promise.) There I ate the best meal I've had all year.
Gill started out at La Stampa in Dublin, and worked under Marco Pierre White at the three-Michelin-star Oak Room. After a stint at a two-star on Italy's Amalfi Coast, he pitched up at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, where he stayed for several years. There followed stages at Frantzen and Lindenberg in Stockholm and, you guessed it, Noma. Then he and Sarah happened upon the dilapidated building that would become The Dairy. It opened on St. Patrick's Day 2013. As well as cooking, the kitchen team grows herbs and vegetables on the roof, keeps bees, churns butter and smokes meat, and there's a delicatessen next door that sells some of the produce that they make on site. It's about as farm-to-table as it gets in Sarf London.
At The Manor, which dubs itself a 'modern bistro', the chef is Dean Parker, formerly in charge at The Dairy. There are two adjacent rooms, and the interior is a trendy mishmash of exposed brick walls, distressed planks, scruffy tables and Windsor chairs. It's of the moment, but won't appeal to diners who like their surroundings luxe, and the bathrooms especially will not go down well, covered as they are, sinks included, in graffiti and paint splatters. (I'll bet there's a late night story behind that particular interior design feature.)
There's a seven-course tasting menu, but we opt instead for the a la carte. Our waitress suggests that we order one item apiece from each of the four sections, excluding pudding, explaining that they are all small to medium plates designed for sharing.
Home-made warm sour-dough arrives in a de rigeur hessian sack accompanied by whipped chicken skin butter served on a pebble. Whatever about the presentation, it's incredibly good. And then we're off, on a food rollercoaster of delight, via Sevenoaks Chart Farm smoked venison tartare, burnt apple and walnuts, and Cornish cod cheeks, smoked roe and Swiss chard. Honey (from the busy bees on the roof of The Dairy) smoked asparagus with Gosnell's mead and crème fraiche, and the most perfect plate of St. George's mushrooms, sea beet, fermented nettles and hay that I wish I could eat again right now. Galician octopus, poached bantam egg, monk's beard and wakame, a tranche of Cornish turbot on the bone, with clams, broccoli and wild garlic, and - the absolute stand-out dish of the meal - apple-wood smoked eel, cultured cream, new potatoes and sorrel. White Park beef with smoked bone marrow, Jerusalem artichoke and watercress, followed, after a pause, by salted almond mousse, Guinness bread parfait, banana and chocolate and a perfect slice of Le Cousin, with kombucha grapes and fennel cracker. The food is extraordinary, complex, sublime.
With a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet (at £27, one of the cheapest wines on offer) and two glasses of Cote de Rhone, our bill came to just over £150, more than reasonable for the level of complexity and skill and sheer bloody deliciousness of the food. I'm not one to crib from other critics, but AA Gill (no relation of the owners and not a man who tends to be fulsome in his praise) visited The Manor and said that he got five-star food in a one-star room with no-star china. He's right about the food, but I think the décor merits two stars, and I happen to like the plates.
On a budget
Small plates start at £5.50. You could have two - perhaps fermented potato bread, smoked aubergine and mint, followed by cauliflower, grue de cacao, medjool dates and kefir - and a glass of wine for £20.
On a blowout
The seven-course tasting menu with matching drinks will set you back £75. Includes the Mick Hucknall cocktail to accompany pudding. (It's simply red.)
The high point
Truly exciting food that's ultra-tasty as well as up-to-the-minute in terms of food trends.
The low point
The vertiginous stairs down to the loos in the basement. Scary in heels.
10/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
On the second floor of the Powerscourt Town Centre, Pamela Flood, who is married to restaurateur, Ronan Ryan, has opened Counter Culture, serving up clean and organic food, juices and natural protein shakes. The menu's divided into sections for cardio, post-workout and strength, and is filled with the clean food buzz words du jour: chia, quinoa, tofu and, of course, kale. If that all sounds a bit too healthy, reports of a fantastic chicken Caesar salad are already coming in AND there are desserts for cheat days, including an 80pc dark chocolate brownie with lemon sorbet.