When I heard that a new restaurant with ex-Bao, Pollen Street Social and St Johns personnel was coming to Lewisham (to LEWISHAM!), I couldn’t contain my excitement. Finally, the evolving Central London foodie skills are coming to South East London helping its journey in being up-and-coming; I live here by the way, hence the slight over-enthusiasm.
Walking past the space, a day before it opened and two days before I was to visit, the site looked a little rough and not so ready. Windows and doors hadn’t had their final clean and were grubby from the busy road, graffiti on the window marked the number building it was and the grated shutters didn’t scream finesse. But if you casted your eye a little deeper, you could see a beautiful and simple set up of a slick bar, wooden tables and tiny vases of delicate flowers. It’s very St Johns in its decor - simple, natural, comforting.
When it came to our reservation, email was the way and it was handled and responded pretty quickly given it was soft-launch week*. Our table was booked for 7pm and there was only one other table seated when I arrived, which soon changed as more people came through the door and it crept closer to the normal reservation time of 7.30-8pm.
Given it was their soft-launch with 50% off food, we went a bit crazy and ordered nearly everything on the menu. First to arrive was the bruschetta of mushroom and spring onion. How chefs can extract that much flavour out of a vegetable will always fascinate me. The mushroom was all umami, earthy, and smooth whilst the spring onion was fresh, a tad creamy and with the perfect amount of onion zing.
The fried rabbit was good, but it could have been a good bit of chicken thigh and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The satay sauce though was probably one of the most authentic I’ve had in London - a perfect balance of peanut, oil and tang, with a texture that encourages spoon-to-mouth addiction. My favourite starter was the soft boiled egg with the very clever pork and anchovy relish finished with crispy onions. Anchovies in meat, particularly minced pork, changes the game entirely into a deep, homely and muscly flavour - adding in the egg’s silkiness and crispy onions here, this dish has everything going for it.
The glazed ham had to be ordered, as did the whipped goats cheese just to see how good these more simpler dishes could be. It was a nice tastebud change between the Asian starters to remind you that this place is about all sorts of food. Of the bigger meat mains, the malt duck is like a very elegant cantonese-style roast duck. Cooked perfectly and not entirely red on the skin. The beef ribs with anchovy-miso eggplant were simply brilliant, quite possibly because of my love affair with anchovy but for another reason too - the sticky, melty texture and the dynamic change in lightness with the miso eggplant, it combined my favourite things; slow cooked meat and comforting asian flavours.
The wine menu is light, with just three red and whites and one in between. They could add some more interesting ones to the list but it’s not a bad variety for starters. Other drinks are daily-changing cold tea cocktails and juices. The service for us went smoothly, equal amounts of attentive and alone time, with the only small gripe being that the dishes came out very quickly after each other, so fast in fact, we had finished and paid within an hour. No bad thing to be quick but it’s not a quick eats place and unfortunately, on a cold evening, the dishes cooled too quickly for me to eat it all warm! (Maybe my fault there for being too greedy, or for being too slow!)
Welcome to SE London, Sparrow - I will be visiting again and again, and to show you off to those who still don’t think South of the river is any good.
*This has since changed and reservation via the website is now added.