SW17 – The Wheatsheaf – Tooting Bec

“We aren’t pretending to break any culinary boundaries, but what we are doing, we think we are doing well”, was how I was first approached by the manager of Tooting Bec’s The Wheatsheaf. An understated invite if ever there was one but my intrigue at this pub – which has recently been saved from Tesco-isation thanks to a community campaign which established the venue as an ‘asset of community value’ – drew me down to this corner of SW17.

TL;DR: The manager of the pub is wrong. For a local pub they have steered away from the trappings of scampi and chips, presenting a menu which is carefully considered, and really bloody well executed. Boundaries are being broken.

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Burrata is a solid choice for a starter. Granted it’s not that solid in terms of consistency -the ooze of the creamy goodness as you pierce the outer skin is a bit like the end shot of of porno (apparently, so I’ve heard). The Wheatsheaf’s version did not disappoint. The heritage tomatoes could have been a touch more flavoursome – but we’ll skim over that one – so insignificant to the overall taste of the dish.

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Above: Burrata, heritage tomato and pea shoot salad with basil pesto – also features my ripped jeans. Twenty quid from H&M in case you were wondering.

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The Irishwoman makes yet another appearance on this blog – she’s not an adventurous eater (by her own admission – I’m not doing any potato jokes as she makes those all on her own). Her choice of starter was pretty darn incredible: goats cheese croquettes with salt-baked beetroot and caramelised walnuts really did hit the nail on the proverbial head. The caramelised walnuts provided a wonderful balance in comparison to what they can normally be – a tad bitter. But with the creamy crispy croquettes they added a sweetness which was fricking delicious.

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My main, above, roast Atlantic cod fillet, prawn tempura, olive oil mash, french beans and gremolata was not my first choice. I’d hoped to go for their fresh-sounding tuna nicoise salad – but alas! It was the only thing unavailable on the menu that evening. Honestly, cod will never be my first choice of gill-bearing aquatic dinners but this one was supremely cooked. Flaky and fleshy with crispy skin. The prawn tempura was tasty enough although the cod as the centrepiece was enough to hold its own. The mash was a little wet for my liking although the lemon zest cut through the olive oil.

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Finally the sweet potato, pumpkin and ginger hash, feta cheese, mixed leaves, tomato and chilli salsa selected by the Irishwoman could have gone either way on account of its strong flavours. The ginger was strong but was immaculately balanced by the smooth potato and pumpkin encased in a crispy outer layer.

Truly, The Wheatsheaf is something to behold in terms of dining in a local pub. If it is your local, I suggest you go there and eat, drink and support this community asset which is very much pulling up its socks on the culinary front. Tooting Bec-ers – you lucky things.

2 Upper Tooting Road
London
SW17 7PG

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SW6 – King’s Road – The Imperial

Candles and cake at the ready – it’s been just over a year since The Imperial, a gastropub on the ‘other end’ of the King’s Road, opened. Since then it has gone on to be nominated for the Sustainable Pub of the Year award and it has recently hired itself a new head chef and new menu.

What first strikes you about the menu is that it, it and the decor of the pub, are metaphorically identical. It’s everything that you would expect from a pub, but flashier, shinier and then again, not altogether what you’d expect from a pub.

The menu boasts confit duck yolk, hay infused egg white. Not exactly what you expect from a pub either. But on the other hand you can get a burger, a steak and an (un)healthy portion on chips. Exactly what you’d expect from a pub.

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My starter of confit duck yolk, hay infused egg white, pickled wild mushrooms, pearl barley and chive puree sounded spectacular – although in reality it didn’t quite deliver. The yolk was beautiful although the chive puree was really rather grassy. It didn’t really gel.

The carrot and coriander soup – a simple dish in its nature – was the essence of homemade, fresh and warming.

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For mains I selected the pan fried wild sea bream, blackened leeks, cauliflower puree, samphire and kale foam. Again, there was something about the foam element of it – like my starter – which didn’t fit. The fish was delicately cooked and flaky, although lacked some finesse. It reminded me of something which was a bit homecooked – but not necessarily in the right way. The blackened leeks were on the tough side which should have been spotted by the chef too.

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The Irishwoman (my plus one for the evening) chose well and wisely (one must watch those Irish). Her selection of sirloin steak, roast turnip and swede, purple sprouting broccoli with red wine jus did not disappoint. Arguably this dish is what you would call more ‘common’, and not a fancy and fiddly as the foam courses above.  The steak was tender, the jus rich, and wonderfully cooked. An extremely generous portion too, if I may add.

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As a side we were recommended the cauliflower and paprika – but is was just that. Cauliflower with paprika sprinkled on top. Nothing to write home about for sure.

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For pudding (yes, I told you I am from Yorkshire) were these mini doughnuts with panna cotta and a sickly, almost crystallised pear. The panna cotta didn’t really hold itself together and the pairing of all three didn’t really complement one another.

The dishes which The Imperial owned were the simpler ones. When they dipped their toe into something more complicated, the risk didn’t reward. If The Imperial want to be both pub and fine dining, they really need to fine tune their game.

577 King’s Road
SW6 2EH
the-imperial.co.uk

SW18 – Wandsworth – Queen Adelaide

I love old fashioned, scruffy pubs. They can have dirt and grime on the chairs, as many tatty beer mats and wine stains on the tables as their surface area permits, and at least one corner which is occupied by a (working) neon fruit machine. I’ll still love it. There was a phase in the early 90s where these bastions of culture were turned into ‘gastropubs’. Their original décor was stripped out, floorboards and walls were painted the most yawn-ful shade of magnolia, and any sort of gamification was replaced by a touch-screen version of Deal or No Deal.

Thankfully gastropubs have moved on considerably since then and the Queen Adelaide is refreshing, even in 2014. It’s cosy as you walk in – comfy chairs, roaring fires, scatter cushions and tartan upholstery. It’s not twee in the slightest before you jump to conclusions. The menu is clean and interesting. It doesn’t raise too many surprises in terms of the variation of dishes it serves – in the sense that you could go elsewhere for something similar, but the chef makes an effort to veer from sticking to the tried-and-tested mainstream versions of these dishes.

To start, I enjoyed a broad bean and goat’s curd, truffle on sourdough toast. The green in my photograph (although slightly grainy, apologies) shows – for those of you who cook your veg al dente – that they were tender and exactly cooked. Only aspect of note was that broad beans are in themselves quite floury and goats’ curd is creamy – the two need to be evened out, in my opinion, with something more acerbic.

Starter of broad beans, goats curd, watercress and truffle

Starter of broad beans, goats curd, watercress and truffle

My guest, The Welshman, enjoyed a platter of Suffolk fennel salami, chorizo, olives and sourdough toast.  Simple. Did. The. Job.

Charcuterie starter

Charcuterie starter

I ordered a main of steamed mussels, coconut, lemon grass and chilli broth. The mussels were steamed for a matter of seconds, all opened, it was garnished with aesthetically-pleasing micro herbs – yes! I wish the sauce who have lived up to to great quality ingredients. Woah, too salty. A little taste by the chef would have gone a long way. I pointed this out to our waiter, so I do hope the message was relayed.

Mussels, coconut, chilli and lemongrass

Mussels, coconut, chilli and lemongrass

Our  other main was a home made chicken Kiev with celeriac and truffle mash, summer greens and smoked bacon.  Ah, the pain of cooking chicken breast; ever so tasty but the meat was slightly dry.

Homemade chicken kiev

Homemade chicken kiev

The Queen Adelaide is a gorgeous-looking pub, between Wandsworth and Putney, selecting well-known dishes which are thought out and are that one step above what you might expect from your average Young’s pub. Although I haven’t sampled their Sunday dinner, if you’re part of the Sunday Lunch crew, it might be worth a visit –  it really is a nice place. There’s plenty of space and in the summer, there’s a large conservatory space and outdoor eating area. You know, I so wish my sauce hadn’t been so salty – I might have sung The Queen’s praises some more – but you know what – I’d like to go back. That says enough, right?