Food | The Haute Seat

Peckham is leading the way for London diners

A top wine blogger celebrates London’s thriving supper club scene

Peckham is leading the way for London diners

Image: Per-Anders Jorgensen

October 07 2011
Tom Harrow

In recent years, Spain has been taking up the slack from Italy as the dominant culinary influence on London dining; this is evidenced by the multitude of tapas joints of generally good quality that have opened – among the more memorable being Capote y Toros (West Brompton), José (Bermondsey) and, planned for early 2012, a Covent Garden outpost of trusty Barrafina.

But Scandinavia is wresting the baton from Spain. And by Scandinavia, I mean Copenhagen’s Noma, and by Noma I mean “foraging”. Foraging appeals to the rebellious and righteous streaks in all chefs – it’s scrumping for the slightly more grown-up, ideologically justified. Of course, everything these days is seasonal and locally and ethically sourced; it would be professional suicide to offer asparagus in December or plums in May, and failing to include details of the specific origins of animals on the menu is only slightly less egregious an omission than serving them up sans plate, steaming, right into your lap. (Although doing away with crockery altogether would at least fit our current preference for relaxed, informal, flexible, affordable, casual dining.) It’s all about breaking down stuffy traditional rules (or stuffy traditional Rules) these days – and if you don’t offer a sharer dessert menu available from 11am, you have no business calling yourself a restaurateur. There may yet come a time when insisting on a single sitting, with dishes priced by weight and produce flown in twice weekly from Sicily by charter plane, might find fertile ground among London’s diners, but now (or even four years ago, pre-financial crisis, when Osteria del Pesce tried it) it’s a non-starter.

However, the counter-argument might run that the best produce doesn’t always come from conveniently nearby. Oliver Rowe’s Konstam at the Dam restaurant closed because although the hook – 80 per cent ingredients sourced within the M25 – is ethically sound, who’d prefer pike dredged from the Thames to salmon smoked in the Hebrides? Staunch advocates of Alba truffles, Polish builders and Thai brides understand this. It is telling that Thomas Keller’s £250-a-head French Laundry pop-up at Harrods this month requires shipping most of the ingredients over from California.

If you have been unable to secure a table in the Georgian Restaurant for the above-cited event (until October 10), then look out for the next event by The Clove Club and their partners, The Young Turks. These are two outfits that epitomise what’s best about London’s currently thriving supper club scene. Their last joint effort at Frank’s Café & Campari Bar (a ramshackle, tarpaulin-covered joint atop a multi-storey car park in Peckham) was no exception: novel, but not novelty, and a deserved sell-out as usual, catering to a committed and eclectic band of sophisticated gastrophiles spanning all demographics: my fellow diners included a Dalstonite ex-Spice Girls’ assistant, a retired Hampstead-based film producer, a gastro-pub chef and several pinstripes (full suits – not just the jacket with jeans, à la mid-1990s ad execs). Starter dishes including grilled leeks and XO, and chicken skin and mead segued into equally innovative offerings such as grouse sausage and damson and lamb’s heart, flat bread, sheep’s yogurt and anchovy. (Pictured: raw fore rib, elderberry capers, oyster and chickweed.) Although it’s normally BYO, for this incarnation of the club Frank offered a small but nicely tailored selection of wines to choose from (available in carafes of course, as if anyone remembers what bottles look like in modern restaurants any more).

The boys are currently looking at a greasy spoon in Dalston for their next venue, but also have their eyes on “an incredible warehouse space” in Hackney, overlooking the gas works. “Rooftops, car parks, the Tate Modern, basements, stately homes – you name it, we’re looking,” says Johnny Smith (real name), one of the Clove Club’s founders, showing that London’s most exclusive dining experiences do not have to involve serious expense and extravagance so much as a finger on the pulse and a passport to travel beyond W1.