Alter- An Exploration Of Vegan Food @Counter Culture
by Nick Harman - Sunday February 9, 2020 1:02 pm
16 The Pavement, Clapham Old Town, London SW4 0HY www.countercultureclapham.co.uk
A vegan popup in an old butcher’s has Nick slicing out the superlatives.
Perhaps it really never was a butcher’s, but as I walk in the door I am getting serious deja vu. Surely this space was once the original home of Moen’s, the posh Clapham butchers, where many years ago I would occasionally go to treat myself?
The tiles on the wall certainly look butchery, and the ones on the floor around the space where the cooking is taking place look like they marked out the old counter area. I may be wrong, but I feel I am right,
I don’t remember the butcher’s being quite this small though. Counter Culture is rammed when we walk in, but to be honest it doesn’t take much to fill it.
There are no tables, just around 14 stools, and you either sit at a shelf against one of the walls or against the ‘pass’. It’s so small that the chef can almost hand people their dishes from where he’s standing. And he does, frequently.
It’s really great though, it reminds me of the best Spanish tapas bars. Noisy, intimate and food-focused. It also reminds me of Freak Scene in Soho, which is not a bad thing at all.
Counter Culture is the sibling of The Dairy next door and Robin Gill, the founder of Counter Culture, has invited chef Andy Hogben of Alter and previously Dabbous, Som Saa and Kyms to cook up a nightly changing vegan menu, with a focus on seasonal produce.
Andy is as I say very much in evidence, he is the only chef in a space where he can barely turn around. This actually works to his advantage, seated as we are nicely at the corner of his pass we can see how he doesn’t have to move much to get things done. This economy of movement means he is, as they say, ‘banging out’ the dishes with élan.
And what dishes they are. We go for the full menu of six dishes to share at £25 a head. The menu is not terribly informative, but Andy and his sole waiter are able to tell each diner what they are getting as they get it.
It is, as advertised, a constantly changing menu and in between serves Andy tells us how he enjoys making up each night’s menu with what’s available, fresh and good rather than planning in advance.
He passes across balls of Chinese cabbage leaf encasing a filling. These are called Miang, a Thai street food favourite to be eaten in one bite.
Inside is a variety of flavours, I get peanut pieces, garlic, ginger and a sting of heat from the charmingly named ‘mouse shit chillies’. All gone in one flavour-packed bite.
I’ve been eyeing some odd things, that look like tentacles, go out since we sat down, now we get a bowlful. They are in fact pieces of sourdough that have been deep fried, dusted heavily with an orange powder and served with an ajo blanco.
Absolutely delicious. The Trump-orange powder delivers the same kind of happiness I get when tipping the dust from an empty bag of Cheetos into my upturned mouth, but without the guilt trip.
Smoked paprika for sure, salt of course, but what else makes up this magic dust I can only guess. Dipped into the ajo blanco these dough bites make me reflective and benign.
This self-serving naughtiness is contrasted with a super healthy salad of tropical fruit slices, chili jam, fish sauce (although it isn’t, as this is a vegan place) that crunches and zings. I can feel my eyes sparkling and my vision has become sharper, it must be the chili. Or perhaps it's love.
Laksa I always likesa; the smooth semi-sweet curried coconut milk, the fresh chillies, tamarind, (if used) and the slippery noodles.
This one is not the very, very best that I’ve ever had, that was for breakfast once in the old botanical park in Singapore, but it’s still very good with the distinctive taste of Thai basil and chewy mushrooms. Perhaps it could have been a little hotter, as in stove hot, but no big deal.
Vietnamese waterfall salad is a fresh and vibrant mix featuring pomelo, a kind of grapefruit, and perilla which looks rather like a nettle leaf. Its flavour is hard to define - a bit coriander, a bit basil, a bit mint - but it’s delicious. I’ve sent off for some seeds so I can grow my own this year.
We ended up with mango on sticky rice, I tend to forget how good sticky rice is. And mango for that matter. Sliding off our stools and dropping to the floor we felt replete without being stuffed.
We talked about the food all the way back to the car (btw do not try parking anywhere near Clapham Common, we ended up pretty much parking in Balham).
I think that’s a good sign of a good meal.Vegan or not, you’re going to love this, but hurry it all ends 28th March 2020
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