16 Hildreth Street, Balham, SW12 9RQ www.curveballrestaurants.co.uk
Curveball certainly has confidence; its web address is plural already. Nick finds that the first one to open has done its homework on what youngish Balhamites will like to eat.
I don’t actually remember when it was all fields around here, but I do remember when Hildreth Street was a real market selling real food to real people – potatoes, cabbages, carrots, that kind of thing. The shops sold frozen fish to the afro- Caribbean community and rather scary looking meat to halal shoppers.
Well it’s all gone now, swept away by the tide of gentrification that engulfed Balham a few years back. Hildreth Street is now 90% the kind of place that middle-class millennials like to hang about in – a cool wine bar, a craft beer shop, cafes that sell things with avocado in or on top of them. Expensive, all of it. Tooting is going the same way. Soon it will be hard to tell these areas apart.
Anyway, old man moan over. We went to try this new meatball place, now open in what was once a Chinese takeaway. The ghosts of sweet and sour pork have been exorcised by a total rip out and refit, including installing school stools that still bear the tags of 70s kids scratched into them. It looks the part and, because the market still kind of exists, the road is pedestrianised and so there are tables outside too.
I’m not good with stools but I clamber up successfully, although I find myself a bit tight to the people behind, and get a menu. It’s good to see that while the talk is of meatballs the reality is that not all are meat and not all is balls.
It’s a menu that ranges quite widely really when one considers that the first thought on hearing the word’meatballs’ is’Italian’. There’s kimchee (of course, it’s ubiquitous) and there’s also yakitori. There are tacos and there is fried chicken. And hot from Spain come croquetas and Bomba. And we haven’t actually got to the big plates yet.
I’ve eaten bombas in their home of Barcelona, in fact in the small and amazing restaurant they were first created in. This one is not as good, no one’s ever will be, but it is a tasty little deep fried taste bomb with spicy chorizo. A veg version using smashed peas is actually nicer, the peas having a lighter flavour with lots of mint and hint of parmesan umami.
The kimchi doesn’t have the kick I expected, but then I make my own and I have a heavy hand with the spicing as well as letting it ferment a long time. The chicken with Franks Hot Sauce and melted gorgonzola is messy but tasty.
To offset the meaty, sticky stuff we have a kale and apple slaw which needs a lot more apple to give some acidity balance, but the light creme fraiche dressing binds together a moreish mass of almost goodness.
Also rather good is the bowl of edamame peas with avocado (oops, there it is) and chargrilled broccoli in a peanut bang-bang dressing. We both get well into this and almost eat too much because then cometh the meat balls.
These I reckon need a bit more lemon in that cream to cut the sometimes cloying sweetness of sweet potato, and the piri piri is a bit tentative. It’s more filling than you might think, so the portion size is well-judged.
The Tony Soprano, I have to say I am not a fan of jokey dish names, is made up of pork and beef mix balls in a short rib ragu with rigatoni and a mix of cheese. This is a big dish, too big for me as I’ve already eaten too much. It’s not bad but I find the ragu rather thin in texture and lacking in depth of flavour. I would have reduced it down more.
The balls are good, reasonably well browned but some more would have helped. The pasta is perfectly cooked but perhaps too large, penne would have been a better choice for me or even rice or a grain to absorb the sauce.
Spain made a further appearance with excellent churros and chocolate. So good in fact that found myself eating them all despite thinking I couldn’t fit any more food in.
Meatballs are a low hanging fruit, restaurant wise, a generation that rhapsodises over mince in a bun is not being asked to work too hard to get into the idea of mince in a ball.
Curveball lives up to its name though by not taking the easiest route and instead offering a lot more variety than I expected and all the dishes are prettily presented in this age of Instagram.
Balham certainly has variety of eating opps, even if the most popular place still appears to be Franco Manca (not as good as the Brixton one, by the way) but Curveball seems to have rolled in at the right time to meet the needs of the new demographic.