Balham is pretty low on surprises and superlatives. Not as up-and-coming as Tooting. More nappy-plains to Clapham’s nappy-valley. It’s the Dulux Magnolia of South West London. Safe, steadfast, boring. Then 8 months after moving here, I discover smack 4 doors down from my humble abode, LAMBERTS, a delicious gem of a restaurant – unassuming and reticent.
Lamberts is in its 13th year, run by Joe Lambert – whose monthly changing menu is a love letter to bold British ingredients, sourced from a list of regional suppliers as long as my arm, each with a fascinating story to tell. This is all the clichés that made “seasonal British” a cliché in the first place, and I could not be happier. Even our server has the air of an suburban Valentine Warner – like he might just have birthed a lamb or speared a mackerel out of the sea before scrubbing up into Chinos for dinner service.
I start with – what else – a fizz cocktail. This with burnt orange and a dash of Plum liqueur. Bitter in that lush Campari-kind of way.
Next, a duck terrine and quince jelly – thick, plummy, oozy, sweet. The duck is smooth as butter and decadent. The sourdough is all my gluten dreams come true. Cod with cavolo nero in a mussels broth is a little on the salty side, but flaky soft and the broth is crystal clear and tastes like maybe ours truly, the server, was out hand-diving mussels 2 minutes before we crashed in from #Snowmaggedon.
I slobber completely ungracefully (is there a graceful way to slobber?) over wood pigeon with roasted leeks and hazelnuts. Rich, pungent – the leeks caramelized and melting, the hazelnuts a pleasant crunch. Get me a gun, I say to Veganuary.
The crowning glory of the meal is our cheese platter. A Lancashire Blue is a creamy delight, the Tunworth is a fruity, tangy, brie-style cheese from Hampshire and “Oh Praise Be My Almighty Soul” – the Pavé Cobble – a deeply indulgent ewe’s milk cheese with a delicate charcoal rind that is whippy soft and fresh and gluttonously moreish. I could spread it on a cracker the size of Wales and not have my fill.
Did I mention the midweek £20 for 3 courses Market Menu?? Hurrah for the underpaid!
So, Joe. Thanks for making something out of the otherwise rather desolate identity crisis that is Balham’s culinary scene. And thanks for the Cobble. Amen.