Promising seasonal British dining in the heart of Clapham, I chose the Manor as the venue for a meal with a school friend based in the area. A food-led but very approachable and contemporary little bar and bistro, the Manor is renowned for offering dishes that surprise but delight. And this would be a challenge for my companion since, as she later explained to me, she’s not one who usually experiments with food!
The Manor is from the same people as the Dairy which was launched mid last year; tables here have become hard to get and its owners – husband and wife Robin and Sarah Gill – have pioneered its transformation from a local gem to a foodie destination. Although restaurant sequels can be difficult to successfully pull off as the original, the Manor doesn’t conform. And best of all, the Manor is located in South London in the already developed Clapham – just a stone’s throw away from my favourite coffee shop’s Clapham Common branch, Brickwood.
The Manor really is an unusual and exciting place; it looks like an ordinary bar, pretty cool and a bit New Yorky. Hand-drawn murals add interest to an otherwise bare and roughly plastered wall, staff scrawlings decorate the back-bar, and even diners are offered marker pens and invite to add their own designs.
Although the food is rather pricey, it’s genuinely experimental. Head chef Dean Parker has worked at The Dairy and before that at Amass in Copenhagen and The Ledbury and Tom Aikens in London. As with the Dairy, The Manor’s influences are plainly decipherable: the herbs and vegetables grown on the roof (sorrel and mint, broad beans and radishes); their own beehives; and seasonal ingredients.
The menu is split between Snacks, Garden, Sea, Land, and Sweet and Cheese. Our helpful waiter advised us to have about four (!) dishes each. I was even impressed to learn they have a dedicated vegetarian menu. For both of us, the meal was a series of small thrills. I went for the BBQ Cauliflower, Romanesco, dulse and kefir (£8.50) and the Charred leeks, caramelised Comte and wild garlic (£8.50). The cauliflower florets came roasted until crispy-edged and were paired with sharp yoghurt and crunchy and slightly bitter roasted nuts. The leeks, meanwhile, were a sublime marriage of flavours. This was ambitious, intricate, purposeful cooking. Take those cauliflowers: cooked just enough that there’s still bite, with fronds of leaves and a scattering of toasted nuts. It was a moody assortment of deep, earthy flavours.
I also enjoyed sharing the Pied de mouton coco beans, charred miso and nasturtiums (£8.50) with my companion as I couldn’t resist a dish with cacoa beans. The cacao added a crunchy bite and combined with the sweetness of the onions and the mellowness of the mushrooms, the food teetered onto infant pudding territory. The idea of cacao in savoury dishes felt as though we were dining at the Rabot Estate (also on my hit list)! Seasonal British ingredients are treated here with a level of finesse, with little explosions of taste.
The presentation of their dishes was also astounding – particularly the grey, minimialist and effective plates they were showcased on. Beautifully crafted rustic plates are used to present simple dishes, with a staunch off-white colour palate and subtly seductive creamy flavours providing the backing for a textural fairground of a dish. Hot drinks are even presented in charming old-school style cups and saucers with engraved, vintage-style teaspoons which my companion was a great fan of.
Although too full to afters, I was delighted to learn that they serve an Allpress espresso, smashed milk and marbled chocolate mousse (£7) which sounded like a decadent but healthy treat. You can even perch at the open kitchen/desert bar, whipping up your own ice-cream/sorbet sundae with bespoke toppings – think meringues, cinder toffee, maple syrup popcorn. Our bill was presented with two mini petit four grape cakes, which our waiter kindly wrapped up for us to take home and enjoy later. Exhilarating cooking, exemplary service and earnest prices will make the Manor lord of the Clapham manor in no time.
The Manor, 148 Clapham Manor Street, SW4 6BX