100 Clapham Park Road, SW4 7BZ thekingandco.uk

Nick finds a fine example of Middle East cooking in south west London

The bus lane opposite The KIng & Co  catches my wife out every December when she goes to get our Christmas porchetta from the fancy butcher Moens in Clapham. The resulting Xmas card from the council, featuring a photo of the back of our car and demanding a large fine, makes Christmas lunch expensive and that particular corner of South London one of my least liked.

But that could change, at least for the next few weeks, because Juma Kitchen, the residency from founder and head chef Philip Juma, is the sort of place you can happily come back to again and again.

It helps that the pub is a very pleasant place to be in itself; pub owner Anthony Gunson’s range of beers goes beyond the horribly over-hopped’local’ beers that everyone tries hard to like these days and has some seriously good choices.

The eponymous kitchen is small as small can be and Philip can be easily seen beavering away behind the counter. No reservations but the pub does ask drinkers (nicely) if they’d mind moving to a smaller table if people want to eat.

Philip has sensibly kept the choice of dishes small and while they are Iraqi they are not unfamiliar to anyone who likes Middle Eastern food in general.

For example, the falafel are crunchy, perhaps a shade too crunchy, and served with creamy tahini, the sesame seed based sauce that is irresistible and, they say, pretty healthy too.

We munch our way through these and a plate of perfect Kubba Haleb; lamb mince wrapped in cracked rice and deep-fried. Each splits open to reveal steaming, fragrant lamb and a dunk in the rather spicy mango pickle makes them perfect for chasing down with beer.

Hummus was as smooth as cream, I make mine a bit lumpier and with more of everything – garlic, tahini etc. – but this was a more civilised take. Baba Ganoush, the gorgeous melting mess of roasted aubergine was excellent, the smokiness real and derived from flame grilling the aubergine to the point of collapse and not by the introduction of actual smoke.

The home-made Iraqi breads were ideal for the mopping up operations, but could have been a bit warmer I felt. The flavours had muted a bit, still good though.

The Dolma special – a mix of onions, baby peppers and vine leaves stuffed with marinated lamb mince and rice in a spice blend, then slow-cooked in lemon, pomegranate and garlic and

served with lamb cutlets was very good, the meat falling off the bone and its juices mingled with the vegetables to good effect.

By now we’d had rather a lot of lamb, as one always seems to do in the Middle East, so butterflied sea bream in a spiced tamarind glaze with coriander and pickled shallots was a welcome break and went well with a cauliflower biryani.

This was special, an egg yolk to break and stir through and dried limes to add a real sour punch. It was, unexpectedly, the dish of the night for me and I could have happily eaten a lot more of it. Vegetarians can seriously look forward to this one, teamed with those falafels, and not feel they are getting second best.

They can also enjoy the fine fatoush here, that great user – upper of day old flatbread and one that should have herbs right to the foreground as it did her.

Ah but best dish? I may have to reconsider because the dessert was just as good as people had told me to expect.  Baked cream and soft cheese topped with shredded filo pastry with blossom water syrup and pistachios. Could be my dessert of the year actually, with the cheese pulling out in strings to make eating it deliciously messy.

Savoury, sweet, scented and crunchy was quite a combo for the part of the meal usually reserved for something a lot simpler and I doubt I’ll eat a dessert like it again this year.

Like I say, this is a limited offer food wise so hurry round. Just watch out for that bus lane.

Photos taken from Juma website.