Entire menu reviewed at intriguing Clapham surprise
When I’d heard that a restaurant in Clapham, The Dairy, was serving high quality, complex and beguiling food I dismissed the reports as utter lunacy. I regarded Clapham as full of nothing more than crap bars transplanted from the Costas and stuffed to the rafters with wannabe Hooray Henrys braying about their latest mergers and acquisitions jobs. The opening of The Manor, a spin-off of The Dairy, proved just how wrong I was.
Having taken over the premises of a former tapas restaurant, The Manor has an air of shabby chic about it which is all very charming until you get to the toilets. You’re encouraged to graffiti the walls and the resulting atmosphere made it feel like a dogging hotspot. Away from that unpleasantness, the service was generally friendly and efficient – but it became a little more intrusive once we got to dessert. Being badgered to see our desserts made at the dessert bar not once, but three times is irritating enough but especially so when I want to have a private conversation over the course of my meal.
First things first
Eating with Baron Greenback can be a trying experience sometimes. He largely refuses to eat seafood and has some funny ideas about pork belly. Plus, despite being a swaggering City boy, he often refuses to enter a restaurant first preferring instead to wait outside for my arrival.
Baron Greenback is paranoid about fat in general, leaving it to me to scoff almost the entire lump of unctuously fatty, crisp and lightly salty cream. It’s oddly served smeared on one side of a rock, although in the end this doesn’t matter too much as you spread it over the warm hunk of fluffy bread.
The potato flatbread was much like an Irish potato farl, but thinner and tangier. It proved to be a good way of shovelling the aubergine puree into my gaping maw. Although the puree’s gentle smokiness was oddly obscured by a bold minty freshness, it still made for good eating.
The slices of exceptionally beefy droëwors sausage had an unusually soft and coarse rillettes-like texture, making them all the more delectable.
The roasted beets were not what I expected at all, but this is a good thing. The sweet, squidgy almost jelly-like beets were almost like a dessert and went especially well with the milky droplets of cheese. The crumbly horseradish failed to leave much of an impression, but this hardly mattered.
The cauliflower was also unusual and while not as well-rounded as the beets, it was no less delectable. The slightly bitter and tart taste of the florets was offset by the mildly creamy yoghurt, although the cocoa nibs and dates added little.
Although Baron Greenback is adverse to most seafood, he does make a limited exception for whitefish such as smoked pollock. The fish was delicate and gently cooked, with an almost rare, tendon-like texture to it that was utterly beguiling. The smooth and light cream was fine, as was the sorrel, but the crisps seemed out of place. I could quite happily eat the smoked pollock, without anything else accompanying it, all day.
Sea bass is becoming a cliched dish at Modernist/Modern European restaurants and really needs to be retired unless kitchens can use it in a truly different way. The fish here was fine, but unexceptional. The milky flesh was topped with taut, crispy skin and served with crisp, thin slices of salty salsify and some forgettable chanterelles.
Pork belly is also something of a cliche, but the pig here was exceptionally well done. The milky, tender chunk of meat and smooth layer of unctuous fat were topped off with crisp crackling. The contrast in taste and texture between all three layers of this compact slice of pork was truly remarkable. The accompaniments were well chosen. The mildly chocolatey sauce and fatty, moist, unctuous black pudding-like morcilla enhanced the meaty qualities of the pork, while the sweet and soft butternut squash and nutty pumpkin seeds ensured the dish didn’t become too heavy.
Although it looks unappetising, the pigeon was exemplary. Although a little too chewy, the meat was also smoky, taut, smooth and very dense. The exceptionally satisfying mouthfeel of the meat dramatically changes my opinion of pigeon flesh. The meat was complimented wonderfully by the crisp, oaty granola, soft parsnips and thin yet moreish cream.
Baron Greenback’s frozen chocolate fondant dessert didn’t taste of much and its coldness makes it better suited as a summer dessert rather than as a winter one, but it was at least airy and fluffy. The crisp, airy texture of the milk wafer both mirrored the texture of the fondant and contrasted with it, which is just as well as it had a very neutral taste. The blandness of the fondant and wafer should’ve been negated by the dulce de leche, but the sweet caramelishness I was expecting was totally absent. This all made for a dull, lifeless dessert.
Far better was the artichoke ice cream. It arrived enveloped in a dramatic cloud of liquid nitrogen that dissipated quickly (which you can just make out in the first photo below). Its strangely tart taste and subtle creamy sweetness was complex, but the layered taste was nonetheless delectable and complimented nicely by the more familiar tart sweetness of the poached quince. The oddly crumbled craime fraiche added little though.
Going back for seconds
Although you can keep each dish to yourself much as Baron Greenback and I did on my first visit to The Manor, it’s much more fun to share everything – especially when you’re dining with a group of bacchanalian rogues such as Templeton Peck, Vicious Alabaster and, err, Socialist Worker.
The droëwors were just as good before. So good in fact, that they showed up the less exemplary pork and fennel salami. The tender and coarse slices of sausage had a mild taste of fennel and were perfectly good, just not as show-stoppingly good as the droëwors.
It would be tempting to ask for another helping of the salty cream and warm bread, but it’s best to save room for the crispy chicken skins and kimchi. The thick and large, yet light and crisp skins look like hunks of pork crackling, but have a distinct taste that’s oddly reminiscent of chicken-flavoured crisps. The accompanying slices of pickled cabbage aren’t really spicy and sour enough to be a traditional kimchi, but their light tartness was still pleasing and their clean aftertaste was a welcome respite after the relative heaviness of the crisp chicken skins.
Pairing kale and cavolo nero was an odd decision as the two related leaves were effectively indistinguishable on the plate – wrinky and crunchy. The toasted almond flakes added a nice crunch, but it was the unidentifiable sauce that made this dish – it was so intensely moreish that I picked up the plate and licked it clean.
The cornish crab may look like nothing more than various blobs of beige, but the head meat proved to be surprisingly delicious. The lightly tart and acidic sauce was also mildly creamy and made the head meat irresistible. The odd scattering of hazelnuts added little, but the firmness of the thin celeriac slices provided a contrast in texture to the soft and flaky crab meat.
Tender yet meaty chunks of cod were made exceptionally moreish by a lightly sour cream which also had a hint of saltiness to it. The neutral-tasting cracker added a variation in texture without getting in the way of the cream or the fish.
The roasted beets, smoked pollock and cauliflower were all just as good as they were before. Less successful than any of those dishes was the mackerel with cucumber and dill. The delicate fillets of mackerel were bland with the tart gherkin-like slices of cucumber and punchy dill sauce almost making up for its tameness but not quite.
Pairing meaty textures with delicately constructed sauces is clearly a hallmark of the cooking at The Manor. Taut and meaty medallions of monkfish proved to be the best example yet of this preferential predilection with the delicate moreishness of the mushroom-based sauce proving to be especially complimentary to the poor man’s lobster. The thin slices of firm, neutral-tasting salsify were a little out of place and unnecessary, but I can easily forgive their unsightly intrusion given the beauty of the monkfish and sauce.
The pork belly was just as superb as before. The steak tartare wasn’t what I expected at all though. While the small cubes of raw beef were very smoky and lightly chewy, it was the sweetness of the slippery onions and the oddly creamy, meaty sauce that dominated this dish. A very peculiar, but still eminently scoffable dish.
Interestingly the dish with the smoked pigeon from last time was present and identical in almost every way, but with the pigeon replaced by partridge this time around. Although far less chewy than the pigeon, the partridge was also far less interesting. It wasn’t as smooth, firm, taut, dense or as smoky as the pigeon. These qualities weren’t totally absent, just significantly more muted which was disappointing as the pigeon was the highlight of my first meal at The Manor.
Socialist Worker briefly considered having the artichoke ice cream for dessert until he learnt of the liquid nitrogen involved and declined, due to his irrational fear of having his ‘face frozen off’. He opted instead for the drearily dull frozen chocolate fondant which suits his rigid personality perfectly. Templeton Peck was far more sensible, choosing the vacherin mont d’or. You don’t get a whole wheel of vacherin though, just a smell segment melted into a bowl. Even so, the sweet nuttiness of the toasted wafer proved be a tasty way of spooning the creamy and mildly rich goo into Templeton’s gob.
Both Vicious Alabaster and I gulped down the apple parfait. This combination of jelly and meringue-style wafer managed to condense the sweet and tart tastes of several apple varieties into a single, cool, very light dish.
The Manor is good. Astonishingly good. It’s so good that it’s worth visiting Clapham for. It’s so good that, with plusher surroundings and slicker service, you’d easily be charged twice the price for it in other parts of London. The Manor’s intriguing, inventive dishes are never dull and put the food from other, far more expensive Modernist restaurants in the shade. It’s still not cheap by any measure, but you’ll struggle to find such playful cooking at lower prices elsewhere in the capital making it great value. Go. Go now.
What to order: Almost everything…
What to skip: …except the mackerel and the chocolate fondant.
Name: The Manor
Address: 148 Clapham Manor Street, London SW4 6BX
Phone: 0207 720 4662
Opening Hours: Tuesday 18.00-22.00; Wednesday-Saturday noon-15.00 and 18.00-22.00; Sunday noon-16.00.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £50 approx. (at least £60 approx. including coffee and wine)