Saturday, August 27, 2011

A gastropub that's the real deal

The word gastropub has become much-abused, but in its correct useage should be somewhere you can go for just a decent pint or for a restaurant-quality meal. Trouble is, it's difficult to aim equally at both. Most pubs know where their main custom comes from and aim at it accordingly. I can think of plenty of Norfolk pubs that have been gastro-fied and drinkers are now merely tolerated - grudgingly if at all at peak food times.

The Manor Arms in Streatham is one of the unicorn-rare breed that manages to please both camps. There is a big pewter bar with pumps dispensing Wandle ale from up the road alongside beers from Purity and Adnams breweries, or maybe a Doom Bar from Cornwall. There are cocktails, an impressive selection of whiskies, and a decent wine list.

There are even interesting bar snacks (whitebait, chicken rillettes or home-made pork scratchings, for example) if you just want a nibble to help the drinks go down.

We popped in for a drink on our first visit and were sufficiently encouraged to return for a proper feast. It was a Saturday night and the place was by no means full, although it is a pretty big place. No tablecloths here, but it has had a lick of paint and a sympathetic restoration of original features.

I started with roasted garlic and goats' curd with olive tapenade. It's a combination I've had before but it works very well - the whole bulb of garlic becomes gentle and sweet with slow cooking, and is set off perfectly by the creamy goats' curd. In this case it would have been improved if the garlic had been warm rather than fridge-cold.

The Real Ale Drinker had salted pork cheeks with girolle mushrooms, broad beans and cress. The meat was not overly salty, but had a tender, flaking texture and rich savoury flavour.

This was followed by macaroni cheese - the menu boasted it was made with Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire, which for those of you not au fait with Lancashire, is definitely one of the best. It certainly had a good cheesy flavour, though by the time the cheese had been cooked in a sauce and mixed with pasta I couldn't identify it as being any particular variety. It came with a green salad that was noticeably above average - baby herb leaves, interesting tomatoes in different sizes and colours.

The Real Ale Drinker had a good, meaty Barnsley chop that again ran the risk of being outshone by its accompaniment. It was described as a salad but was at least halfway to a stew of butter beans, tomato and lambs' lettuce, flavoured with paprika and chilli, with bags of flavour - I couldn't stop nicking forkfuls of it.

We rounded things off with a dense, rich chocolate and almond cake served with English cherries, and a selection of decent English cheeses including a creamy Wigmore. They were served with oat cakes, which to my mind are better than crackers or water biscuits any day.

With a couple of pints each it come to about £65 (plus 10pc service which is added to the bill) - not bargain basement stuff but worth it for accomplished cooking with the odd flash of imagination.

If you are counting the pennies there is a two courses for £10 deal Mondays to Thursdays, with a slightly simpler menu.

I doubt the Manor Arms is much known outside Streatham, but it is worth a journey.

13 Mitcham Lane, SW16 6LQ13 Mitcham Lane, SW16 6LQ
020 3195 6888

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