69 Clapham Common South Side, London, SW4, 9DA www.therookeryclapham.co.uk
I may have said this before, as I get older I find I tend to repeat myself, but there really is no place for cameras in restaurants, unless for celebrations. You give the waiter your camera, show him where the shutter button is, and then grin grin, flash flash. Job done.
Which is why when the student at the next table actually got out a giant dSLR and, after taking lots of pictures of the cruet, stood up, bent over his table in order to get a straight down view of his plate and began firing off shots like a machine gun, I was not at all happy. He did this every time a new dish arrived and he did it for a very long time.
I suppose you can’t expect even basic good manners from today’s younger generation, Lord knows you could barely expect any from mine. No doubt between bursts of bad photography he was also Tweeting ‘stupid old diner at next table giving me dirty looks lol’.
Anyway I refused to let it spoil my meal at the Rookery, I just made a note to slag the little so and so off in my review, and I’ve done that now so I can have closure and move on.
So the Rookery then, a London restaurant so new born you want to give it a bit of a cuddle. It used to be known as ‘the place with flames outside’ in my social circle for the last ten years. You’d pass it on the way south and wonder what on earth it was. A brothel? New owner Mark Angell has snuffed the fires out and lit one in the kitchen instead with the services of Chef Stephen Gadd, last seen at Hibiscus and Pied a Terre so it augurs well.
It’s a nice space now, whatever it may have been like before: exposed brickwork, white tiles with black grouting, chairs and tables that don’t match, all the must-have design tropes of the moment in fact. The bar adds a buzz around the dining area and the beer and wine list is loveable in a local bar/restaurant kind of way. Having a smokers’ terrace outside with a view over the Common is a big plus too.
Tables are a bit close together, hence my annoyance with the blogger next door, he was totally ‘in my face’ innit, but that’s preferable to wide open spaces that feel chilly. Water was offered by the sweet, but rather unfocused, waiter but no bread. Personally I think bread should be standard, you need something to toy with to avoid wrapping your hands around the neck of the trainspotter at the next table.
Still the menu was short enough to enable snap decision making. Me the Roast Pork Tonnato with Crispy potato, and P the salmon with beetroot. Both dishes were probably pre-plated, they had that look about them, but my little potatoes were freshly fried for sure.
The pork was properly pink, no nonsense about pink meaning poison here, and more PC than the traditional veal. An unadvertised anchovy fillet sat on the plate, delivering the kick normally added by tuna in the mayo, and some tiny capers added extra salinity. Nice, but an antipasti rather than a starter, I couldn’t help feeling.
P’s cured organic salmon with beetroot was a bit so-so. She reckoned the fish was fine but the beetroot tasted vinegary but surely it hadn’t come from a jar? Nothing objectionable as a starter but not much to shout about either. It’s often the way at places where they make starters before service; they can be flat and lacking zing.
She was much, much happier with her slow-cooked lamb shoulder, pearl couscous and cavolo nero. The meat was properly fall-to-the fork tender and the bitter tannic bite of the Cavolo Nero, that unsung hero of winter greens, went predictably well with the meat. I love pearl couscous; it sucks up flavour into each oversized grain and has a great texture. I think we’re going to see a lot more of it on menus going forward as it’s both versatile and cheap. This was definitely a proper plate food for a chilly Autumnal evening.
Now that cod is costly, its overlooked cousin Coley has moved in to fill the hunger gap. Once the fish we gave to the cat, it’s been recognised as very decent fish for humans too. The Rookery’s Coley, cauliflower and roasted onions was a tidy dish, simple but effective with onions sweetened by their roasting to become a slippery contrast to the crisp cauliflower.
The fish skin was as crisp as a military order, but very salty indeed, too salty even for me the man that licks the lid of the Pringles tin. I ate it but felt my cellular walls collapsing, a simple mistake in an otherwise punching above its weight dish, lacking only some side order of veg to bulk it up into a proper main. These should have been suggested at ordering time by the waiter I reckon because not all of us have embraced ‘small plate’ dining, some of us are still greedy.
P loved her rice pudding, well don’t we all? Sometimes you only need to go foraging into the past for great dishes and not deep into a Danish forest. Her Baked rice pudding with cinnamon and apple was perfect and my semi freddo wasn’t half bad either (sic). Wines we noticed as we sipped good coffees were well priced with no excess on the mark up.
Overall the Rookery seems to be doing the right things in the right way to become a popular neighbourhood joint, there’s a lot of middle-class money in Abbeville village but the restaurants there have mostly got complacent, which gives the Rookery a chance to fly in successfully.
Rookery needs a bit less salt, more sides and a strict policy of beating people with cameras to death with their own zoom lenses. Do all those reasonable things and it would be somewhere I’d definitely flap back to again.