Tooting: SW17 is Worth a Second Look

Tooting Broadway Tube

For those of you who are familiar with the Tooting area, you will know that it’s not the most happening of places when it comes to eating and drinking.  And for those of you who have never heard of Tooting, I don’t blame you.  Tooting gets over looked by its richer neighbours – Balham, Clapham and Wimbledon.  It’s just that bit further down on the Northern Line, a few stops too far.

BUT, there is a gradual change happening in SW17, and as a resident of this slightly less favoured area of south-west London I am crossing my fingers and toes that this change starts to gather some speed.

The high street at Tooting Broadway has everything you might expect: Primark, a bingo hall, a 99p store, shops that offer to unlock phones, two McDonalds, and butchers catering to every religion and ethnicity you might think of.  So far, not so many places you might want to go on a Saturday night or for Sunday lunch.  But look a bit closer, and there are the hidden spots that have appeared in the last few months that show Tooting is beginning to shoulder its way towards something better.

If it’s a Saturday night drinking hole you’re after, look no further than the Tram & Social – tootingtram.com.  Reasonably priced drinks, good music (i.e. not the Top 40 mega-mix you might get at Infernos), and a very different setting from what you might expect.  At the end of a short alley, tucked between Maccy D’s and a pawn shop, you’d be forgiven for being slightly surprised to find yourself in a spacious venue (complete with bunting in the summer months) where there’s a complete absence of people who might shoot you for looking at them in the wrong way.  The Tram is my local, and what a local to have!

Then, just down the road is Graveney and Meadow: a ‘bar, bakery and tapas restaurant’ that is owned by the same group as the Tram & Social – graveneyandmeadow.com.  Home-baked goods, wooden chairs, chalk boards and a general boutique-meets-country-kitchen feel, where better to spend a chilly afternoon at the weekend?

Walk towards Tooting Broadway tube and round the corner, and you’ll find Tartine – www.tartineartisanal.com.  This French-Moroccan café offers more than croissants and bread.  Mezze, burgers, salads and desserts can all be found in this busy and friendly place.  The décor is simple, the menu comprehensive – a great place to go with friends that have quite varied tastes.  Just don’t expect to go there for dinner as they close at 7pm.

And finally, about two doors down from Tartine, we have Tota – www.tota-restaurant.co.uk.  This restaurant has popped out of nowhere and has quickly established itself as the go-to place for Sunday brunch.  I was there two weeks ago and had some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  My friend’s full English was perfection – crispy bacon, sausages that looked like they actually had pork in them, and properly poached eggs (i.e. not microwaved).  The dinner menu is simple but effective – all the favourites like steak and fish, along with something different like pork belly in a curry sauce.  The service is faultless as well.

So it seems that Tooting is gradually upping its quota of decent places to eat and drink.  Yes, the general locality needs a bit of a scrub, and there are still quite a few things that make one want to get a taxi home rather than walk from the bus stop. But perhaps Tooting is going through what Angel went through a few years ago.  And with places like the Tram & Social and Tota sprouting up every few months, this little corner of south-west London could be destined for greater things.

The Willow Tree Bourn Revisited

Earlier this year, I wrote about The Willow Tree, Bourn - a gorgeous gastropub in the picturesque village of Bourn with great food and drink served by friendly staff and led by an awesome couple – head chef Craig and general manager Shaina. A few days ago, on a warm summer’s day, some friends and I decided to head to The Willow Tree, Bourn for a lovely lunch enjoyed while we soaked up the sun on the terrace of this destination gastropub.

On arrival, we were warmly greeted by Shaina and shown to our table outside – a beautiful organic creation shaped from a single piece of wood taken lengthways from a tree. It even still had a nobbly knot coming out of the wood that begged to be touched. I love quirky and vintage furniture and The Willow Tree is an eclectic mix of shabby chic, rococco inspired gilt mirrors, vintage leather sofas, a variety of dining chairs and my favourite piece – a designer wooden white stag’s head displayed proudly inside a gilt frame.

Out on the terrace, the chic touches continue with silver butterflies placed in the topiary, crystals threaded on twigs that dangle from a traditional willow screen and antique clock faces hung randomly along one side of the beautiful willow screen.

The summer menu tastes as good as it looks and the specials on offer are inspired – I particularly liked the Ravioli with Beetroot Pannacotta – an inspired fushia creation that tasted creamy yet still managed to be light and fluffy. Hats off to Craig for coming up with a perfect summer alternative to a cream sauce. Another favourite of mine was the Lime & Vodka Cured Salmon served with Samphire – the combination of sharp citrus, salty salmon and velvety vodka worked brilliantly.

My friends tucked into a generous serving of whitebait as their starter which they followed with The Willow Tree’s famous Bourn Burger which were served with hand cut chips which looked like mini railway sleepers! If you love your chips then these thick tasty chips will definitely satisfy your carb cravings.

As it was a hot summer’s day, the choice for dessert had to be ice cream and sorbet. The Willow Tree have an excellent selection of Mövenpick ice creams and have recently introduced the delectable flavours of Beckleberry’s ice creams and sorbets. These confections are hand made in the North East of England and are truly exceptional. I went for a combination of Raspberry ice cream and Blackcurrant & Kirsch sorbet – all I can say is WOW! The flavours of the Beckleberry offerings stand up admirably to the Mövenpick flavours we have grown to love so much that Craig and Shaina have served to us in the past.

Our waitress, Catherine, was the epitome of customer service excellence. She was attentive without being over-conspicuous and served us in the warm friendly manner we have come to expect from this gem of a gastropub nestled in the Cambridgeshire countryside. I always judge a pub or restaurant not only on the food but also on the attitude of the staff. The Willow Tree gets 10 out of 10 on both counts. Craig is doing an excellent job overseeing what comes out of the kitchen and Shaina has obviously trained her waiting staff very well indeed.

If you would like to experience the incredible hospitality of The Willow Tree, Bourn for yourself then Sunday 14th August is a perfect time to stop by for some tropical chillaxing. Shaina & Craig will be hosting a Caribbean BBQ & Garden Party on 14th August from 2-8pm. On the menu includes the traditional tropical flavours of jerk chicken, curried goat, fiery prawn skewers, rice & peas, corn on the cob, baked plantain, hot & spicy sweet potato and avocado salad.

These will all be washed down with tropical cocktails like Rum Punch and Pina Coladas together with the usual excellent drinks menu served at The Willow Tree, Bourn. In addition, a live steel band will be playing for part of the afternoon and a fantastic local DJ will be spinning some reggae tunes throughout the day to get us all in an island mood.

Places are filling up fast so I highly recommend you book your table by calling 01954 719 775. Alternatively there may be room for you to bring a pinic blanket or rug to lazy away on the grass under the namesake Willow Tree opposite the outdoor terrace. Don’t bring a picnic too though as that’s a bit cheeky and anyway there will be plenty of delicious Caribbean food to savour thanks to Craig’s BBQ.

So, what are you waiting for? Pick up that phone and dial 01954 719 775 and ask to speak to Shaina or one of her team to book your place at the Caribbean Summer Garden Party that anyone who is anyone will be attending!

The Willow Tree
29 High Street, Bourn, Cambridge, CB23 2SQ
Tel: 01954 719775
Like The Willow Tree on Facebook

Images reproduced from thewillowtreebourn.com, reutersmedia.net, tiana-coconut.com and caribbean-pot.com

The Three Horseshoes – Madingley‏

City Connect’s wine critic Tom Lewis – the Cambridge Wine Blogger – reviews one of his favourite gastropubs in Cambridgeshire – the Three Horseshoes in Madingley.

There comes a time when you have a young family when going for a meal means just finding somewhere that will keeps the kids occupied and not be too sniffy about a bit of noise; if the food is memorable, it’s a plus. Occasionally, however, you tell the kids it’s a special occasion and that they must behave nicely as they are going to a Smart Restaurant.

In the last decade of living in Cambridge, there is one place that we have kept coming back to – the Three Horseshoes based in Madingley, a small village just outside Cambridge with some thatched cottages, a rather grand-looking hall and the pub itself in the centre.

It has been a typical gastropub since before the term was coined – a thatched cottage on the outside, it has a modern, stripped-wood interior at the front which forms the bar area and a smarter restaurant area at the back which extends into the conservatory looking out onto a garden with fields beyond.

The Three Horseshoes was originally part of a small group of local gastropubs run by an MW, but was bought out by chef-patron Richard Stokes a few years ago. The change of ownership does not seem to have changed much in the way things are done, which is a Good Thing.

Wines are served by the glass, but a bottle is better value, so I ordered an Alpha Zeta Garganega from Veneto and announced I would not be driving home.

I’ve had Garganega only occasionally before and on this occasion, tasted blind, I would have confidently (but wrongly) sworn it was an Alsace Pinot Blanc – crisp and appley on opening with ripe pineapple acidity and a smooth texture, it developed into something richer and more mouthfillingly heavy with a honeysuckle waxiness, spicy, perfumey notes and a hint of smokiness during the meal – it proved to be a great match for the subsequent food with a great balance of acidity and body.

After bread with oil and vinegar for dipping, starters were sheep’s milk ricotta dumplings with deep fried sage leaves for some of us, whilst I opted for a selection of salamis with bruschetta.

The Three Horseshoes has always taken a rustic Italian inspiration for its menus, refined it a little but not too much and for its bar menu, at least, served up hearty portions.

For the main, we all picked for the same choice – a piece of pan-fried salmon with smashed cannellini beans, spinach and a salsa. There are some things that should not be messed with and to my mind salmon is one of those; it was served as it should be, well-cooked and well-flavoured, pink and flakey with a generous quarter of lemon to squeeze, but for me the highlight was actually the spinach which had a wonderful depth of earthy flavour.

We were more diverse in our choice of puddings – the kids opted to share a burnt caramel ice-cream with biscotti, some of us had panna cotta which was light and gooey but deliciously creamy, whilst I chose the apple crumble with creme fraiche ice-cream.

If you like your puddings rich and satisfying, then the Three Horseshoes could be your kind of place – my crumble was a generous bowl of lightly stewed and still firm apple chunks with a rich crunchy, toasty topping.

There is no children’s menu, no portions of chips, but helpfully, when they saw we had two kids they offered to divide one portion into two and serve them separately which is about the most child-friendly gesture I have seen in a long time and typical of the attentive and professional, but friendly and unpretentious service.

In our household, a measure of whether we like somewhere is if we’ve been three times or more; well, I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been to the Three Horseshoes over the years and I’m pleased to say that on this latest visit, the quality of the food and the welcome was as good as it’s always been.

The Alpha Zeta Garganega is available in Cambridge, at least, from Noel Young Wines and Cambridge Wine Merchants; both do mail order.

The Three Horseshoes
High Street
Madingley
Cambridge
CB23 8AB
Tel: 01954 210221

Images reproduced from 1pumplane.files.wordpress.com

The Plough – Coton‏

City Connect’s wine critic Tom Lewis – the Cambridge Wine Blogger – shares his experience of a pub lunch at The Plough in Coton. This was the first time Tom had visited this gastropub and, reading what he has to say about the experience, it certainly sounds like it won’t be his last!

It was half-term and my turn to look after the kids. With only a little encouragement from me, my daughter decided she would like to do a bike ride and have a pub lunch somewhere. As I have mentioned previously on my blog, the quality of eating establishments in central Cambridge is not generally that great as many have only the tourist trade to consider. Moreover, whilst central Cambridge is an undeniably lovely place with its historic colleges, pedestrianised medieval street layout, the river Cam and the backs, the surrounding countryside is rather less impressive. So it was something of a challenge to think of a scenic route of 10-15 miles, suitable for a young cyclist, going via a decent country pub.

In the end, we started at Castle Mound, the highest point in the city with views of various chapels and rooftops, then wound our way between the colleges and along the backs to Grantchester Meadows and on to Grantchester itself before taking a minor road up to Coton about three miles west of Cambridge where we stopped at The Plough.

The Plough had been on my radar for a while as a gastropub worth visiting, but somehow we had never got round to it – any trips west of Cambridge have generally been to the excellent Three Horseshoes in nearby Madingley (to be reviewed next week).

Set more or less in the centre of Coton, The Plough has that typical gastropub look of a cosy olde worlde exterior contrasting with a smart, modern interior. As that day it happened to be not only not raining, but also rather hot in fact, we decided to sit under an umbrella outside at the back.

I went for the three-course set lunch, whilst my daughter ordered from the children’s menu. The food was proper gastropub-style, that is to say traditional pub food, well-made and presented, with perhaps the odd twist here and there, but not overly fancy restaurant food that happens to be served in a pub setting.

My starter of duck and black pudding terrine was served with slices of baguette and some dressed salad leaves and the waiting staff obligingly brought my daughter’s fish and chips at the same time so that she did not have to sit and wait for her food.

My main, when it arrived, was a deliciously buttery piece of cod, lightly cooked to perfection and served on roasted peppers with a manchego crust and tapenade – a paste of black olives. At home, I would not be brave enough to try and mix the heavy salty flavours of tapenade with cheese and cod for fear of overwhelming the subtlety of the fish, but this worked really well, especially with the sweetness of the peppers.

My daughter’s fish and chips were equally well made, with light crispy batter, succulent fresh fish and proper fat chips perfectly cooked – I can say this with authority having tried more than a few myself, much to her annoyance.

To finish, we had both chosen the same thing – chocolate brownie with ice-cream. Sadly, I was informed, their supplies only ran to a child’s portion, so I re-ordered a cheesecake with Amaretto, chocolate chips and raspberry topping. It was due to be served with clotted cream ice-cream (the main reason I had ordered it, to be honest) but actually came with a small saucer of double cream. I overcame my mild disappointment at this by pouring the cream over the cheesecake and also trying some of my daughter’s ice-cream and brownie sundae which was lovely – the brownie soft and moist, the rich home-made ice-cream flecked with dots of vanilla.

My cheesecake was also delicious – I am not sure I could discern any Amaretto in it and the chocolate chips did not seem to add much to it, but these were minor points.

There is a large garden at the back of the pub with additional seating, some trees and play equipment for children, so my daughter went off to try these out whilst I finished off my beer – a lovely pint of Adnams bitter – before a gentle ride back into Cambridge, again via Grantchester.

Having finally visited The Plough, I now don’t know why we haven’t been there before; we will certainly be back soon.

Image courtesy of www.cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.com

The Eagle – Cambridge

Whether you are new to Cambridge or have been living here for many years, The Eagle Pub offers something for everyone. It is situated on Benet Street just off King’s Parade right in the heart of Cambridge. Whether you want to meet your friends, have a good night out or meet new people to discuss the latest Cambridge news, this pub is perfect for any occasion.

The Eagle is beautifully decorated and offers a wide range of cask ales, draught beers, wines and other beverages. They have a very good menu, mainly encompassing traditional English cuisine. Their Lamb Shank has a very good reputation and is highly recommended. Click here for their full menu.

The pub also offers a great deal of local and international history. It is one of the oldest inns in Cambridge, dating back to the 14th century. At the back is the Royal Airforce Bar, with signatures of pilots all over. This room is also decorated with the pictures of history of the Veterans of the Second World War. If that is not history enough, legend also holds that Watson and Crick stormed into the pub in 1953 to announce that they had discovered the secret of life. They meant of course their co-discovery of the structure of DNA with Rosalind Franklin. Their work was based in the adjacent Cavendish Laboratory, the Physics Department of the University of Cambridge. A plaque outside the pub on Benet Street is in memory of the two scientists. Whenever my brother comes to visit Cambridge, we meet in the Eagle and wait for our own scientific Eureka moment.

The pub is very popular and also offers seats outside, ideal for the spring and summertime.

Address:
8, Benet Street
Cambridge
CB2 3QN
Tel: 01223 505020

Top image reproduced from: http://farm3.static.flickr.com
Bottom image reproduced from: http://foureyesup.com

The Willow Tree – Bourn

The Willow Tree is a charming gastropub situated in the pretty village of Bourn. The delicious modern menu, great selection of wine & beer and friendly welcoming staff make this pub a treasured find in the Cambridgeshire countryside.

Entering The Willow Tree is a pure delight. From the designer wooden stag head on the wall and rococo mirrors to the eclectic mix of dining chairs and vintage leather sofas, the inside of the pub is simultaneously comfortable, quirky and stylish. Open fires, candles and Louis XIV style armchairs add to the elegant continental ambience.

Attentive and knowledgeable, the waiting staff are always warm and friendly. They provide a professional service to all customers whether you’re a familiar face or new to the establishment. The charming atmosphere is complemented by live music evenings of Jazz, Blues, Soul or Folk on certain Sundays in the month. Here is a list of artists due to perform at The Willow Tree this Spring/Summer:

April 24th – Rebecca Hynes (deep soul)
May 1st – Phil Marshall Quartet (jazz funk)
May 22nd – Ben Smith (funky blues)
June 5th – Polly Rose Band (vocal jazz)
June 26th – Tom Copson (alternative folk)
July 3rd – Tom Rickard Quartet (vibraphone jazz)
August 7th – Brant Tilds Band (latin jazz)

Highlights from the extensive Wine List include a decadent Taittinger champagne, a dry and light Sancerre from the family-run Domaine Tissier, an elegant Provençal Rosé from Château Léoube, and a fruity Gatekeeper Shiraz from Australia. These are the more expensive options but there is a wine to suit every pocket and most wines can be served by the glass. There is also a wide selection of beers, spirits and soft drinks.

The seasonal menu has a continental influence but includes pub classics interpreted with style and flare. Ingredients are sourced locally where possible such as vegetables grown at nearby South Farm. The daily specials board promotes the best seasonal produce available and delicious roast dinners are served on Sundays. Whether you’re a carnivore, fish lover or dedicated vegetarian, you’ll find something to delight your palate from The Willow Tree menu. Tapas and pizzas are available on the menu in addition to more hearty fare. Below is just a small selection of some recent dishes served by the talented chef and his team:

STARTERS
Mozzarella, chargrilled figs, radicchio & balsamic syrup
Carpaccio of beef with horseradish cream & wild rocket
Bruschetta of chicken liver pate & wild mushrooms

MAINS
Ricotta & polenta torte, marjoram, mixed leaves, apple & fig chutney
Seabass with lyonnaise potatoes, caramelised leeks & saffron sauce
Bourn burger with cheese and hand cut chips
Fillet steak served with hand cut chips, grilled mushrooms & stilton sauce

DESSERTS
Sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream
Lemon meringue with vanilla honey & lemon jelly, & candied lemon zest
Movenpick ice cream or sorbet

So whether you’re looking for somewhere to have a relaxed lunch with friends, a romantic dinner with a loved one or you want to treat the family to a traditional Sunday roast, head for The Willow Tree in Bourn. You won’t be disappointed!

The Willow Tree
29 High Street, Bourn, Cambridge, CB23 2SQ
Tel: 01954 719775

Images reproduced from www.thewillowtreebourn.com

The Plough – Fen Ditton

The Plough Fen Ditton is a lovely traditional pub & restaurant situated in the riverside village of Fen Ditton – a short drive from central Cambridge. This friendly pub has a fantastic beer garden which runs down to the edge of the Cam and has one of the best riverside views in Cambridge. It is also the perfect spot to watch the May Bumps boat races with friends whilst enjoying a jug (or two) of Pimm’s.

The Plough Fen Ditton is famous for serving up a fine selection of cask ales and is accredited by Cask Marque – the independent assessors of cask ales in the UK. The Plough’s kitchen also serves up a tasty menu of freshly cooked food comprising of seasonal dishes as well as pub classics.

This idyllic local pub has a rich history stretching back hundreds of years. The Plough Fen Ditton is built on the site of an old paper mill which then became a coaching inn before starting life as the village pub of Fen Ditton. The Plough has always been at the heart of village life and the owners say they are “proud of the history, character and charm residing within its walls”.

Whatever your tipple of choice, The Plough Fen Ditton will have something nice to wet your whistle. The bar of The Plough serves a great choice of quality cask ales, cold continental lagers, wonderful wines and superb spirits. Beers include Abbots Ale, Staropramen and the renowned Timothy Taylor’s Landlord Pale Ale.

This spring, The Plough Fen Ditton have some interesting new additions to the drinks menu including an award winning English vodka from the Chase Distillery in Hertfordshire. The decent wine list has plenty of choice whether you’re looking for a crisp White or juicy Red. There’s also a good selection of Rosés and sparkling wines too. For those non-alcoholic moments, the friendly bar staff can fix you something from their range of refreshing soft drinks or pour you a cup of delicious freshly brewed coffee.

Food at The Plough Fen Ditton is always fresh and never pretentious. All dishes are prepared from the freshest and tastiest ingredients by the dedicated chef and his team. The results are honest pub grub and delicious seasonal dishes that keep pub-goers more than satisfied.

Spring is in the air and The Plough Fen Ditton has introduced a new seasonal menu which heralds a vibrant change of style from heavier winter fare. All the dishes are lovingly made by hand and do not include any nasty processed foods. Only fresh quality produce is used to create delicious dishes perfect for the warmer weather.

Below is a selection of my favourite dishes from The Plough’s new menu.

STARTERS

  • Cornish sardines on toast with a sweet pepper & fennel compote
  • Potted duck-liver parfait with fi g chutney and toasted brioche
  • Fresh lamb kidneys pan-fried with mushrooms in a wholegrain mustard cream sauce, served on toasted ciabatta

MAINS – SEASONAL DISHES

  • Baked cod in a white wine cream broth, with chorizo, clams and baby potatoes
  • Grilled seabass fillets on saffron potatoes & samphire with a white wine sauce
  • Medallions of venison on honey-roasted root vegetables & butternut squash, with a bacon, thyme & mushroom sauce
  • Beechwood smoked duck on a salad of mixed leaves, orange segments & dried apricots

MAINS – PUB CLASSICS

  • Home-made burger with gherkin, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, onion & tomato relish served with chips
  • Beer-battered haddock with home-cut chunky chips, mushy peas, tartare sauce, spicy ketchup and Aspall’s malt vinegar
  • Pork & ale sausages on mashed potato with Savoy bubble and gravy

DESSERTS

  • Belgian chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream
  • New York cheesecake with summer berries
  • Lemon meringue pie with berry coulis
  • Classic Eton Mess

So whether you fancy sipping a pint of quality ale in the riverside beer garden or want to tuck into delicious seasonal food in the restaurant, The Plough Fen Ditton is a great pub to while away a couple of hours and is highly recommended.

The Plough – Green End, Fen Ditton, Cambridge, CB5 8SX
Tel: 01223 293264

Images reproduced from www.theploughfenditton.co.uk