The Sparrowhawk – SE19

When I first arrived in Crystal Palace this pub was a no-go area for me and the gang. I don’t even recall the name but remember it as a black fronted, shabby boozer which wasn’t massively inviting. When it shut some of the locals where understandably upset, as it signified another step further towards the ‘gentrification’ of this SE suburb.

The makeover was drastic. Even the name changed – and so was born the The Sparrowhawk. It’s a stylish pub – lots of stripped wood, vintage cups and saucers holding tea lights, and plants dotted around – all without being twee. Huge windows flood the pub with light. Wall hangings range from copper jelly moulds to 19th century botanical prints. There’s a couple of huge tables for large parties, some high tables overlooking the bustling street and cosy tables for smaller groups. There’s also the ubiquitous battered leather sofa for drinkers settling in for the day. I‘d describe it more as a food pub although I know people that happily just drink here of a Friday night. NB 2 for 1 cocktails every Friday 9.30-11pm which I’ve yet to sample.

So today I have a long overdue catch up with a friend. We meet a 1.30 and we’re still there at 6pm. By then we’ve been joined by another two friends on a break from Saturday chores about town. Its very fluid here – people seem to be eating and drinking throughout the day making it a relaxed affair, particularly if you’re after a spur of the moment meal. However booking is advised for Sundays and on their food offers slots.

It’s a eye-wateringly cold day so we want some hearty warming food. I opt once again for the Shepherds Pie (the third time I’ve ordered this) because basically its bloody lovely. Chunks of tender lamb not mince, and some crispy cheesy mash potato on top make this a winner, all served with spicy braised red cabbage. My friend opted for the beef stew with dauphinoise – a thumbs up from her. Sitting with a nice glass of red – it was time for a breather. We then uttered the fatal sentence ‘We’ll just have a look’ when the waitress offered the dessert menu. We chose to share something – both of us drawn to the Arctic Roll. This led to a nostalgic conversation about Vienetta and other 80’s gems. We wondered if this was going to disappoint. The waitress told us the whole dish was homemade including the ice cream and that punters had been thrilled to see their childhood favourite on the menu. It was lovely – a tangy raspberry coulis balanced the flavours of the ice-cream and sponge. An avalanche of cream and almonds completed this gem of a pudding. This surpassed Bejam’s standards in 1982.

The Sparrowhawk offers gluten free and veggie options and goes for seasonality which we’ve come to expect from gastropubs these days. Cheese and charcuterie comes from Good Taste a few doors down.

The pub sits on the corner of the Crystal Palace ‘triangle’ – so right in the heart of the action. For this reason its always busy. Some of the CP pubs cater for a slightly younger crowd – here its a pretty mixed bag which makes it welcoming no matter who you’re with. You’ll often find events taking place upstairs in their function room such as comedy nights, markets and life drawing classes. Its dog and baby friendly too so is a big draw for families and those with furry friends.

We pretty lucky with the foodie pubs around SE19 but this for me is one of the best (and best value) and one I’ll go back to time and time again.


Quaglino’s (on a Thursday)

I’d like to point out that eating somewhere this sophisticated is not normal for a Thursday. Dinner followed the opening night of the 100 years of Vogue exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which I highly recommend catching if you (14)

Anyway -I’d not been to Quaglino’s for several years and knew a big refurb had happened so was looking forward to taking a look. We booked dinner through the Evening Standard’s regular dining out offer. I referred to this offer as a ‘Meal Deal’ much to the horror of my friend. Two courses for £20 with a glass of wine included (£30 with fizz) seemed pretty reasonable for this part of London. I’ve had some pretty ropey experiences when on a restaurant deal so was curious to see if this one made the mark.

The restaurant feels special from the moment you arrive. Door staff, cloak keepers and reservations desk staff were all charming.

On the top floor you’ll find a large bar area, dimly lit that overlooks the restaurant below. As you descend a grand staircase you feel a bit like you’re on the Titanic (pre hiccup.)photo (15)

The room is huge. A large bar sits in the centre – above it a glass angular roof with balconies either side. A large red curtain frames the end of the room but more of that later. A cheese trolley of epic proportions sits at the other end (see above) The crowd was a mixture – business men striking deals to our right and a group of smart ladies to our left.

It has the air of a jazz club – we expected everyone to be smoking. They are not obviously.

The menu was impressive for an offer. We both chose the house white – really good. The bread arrived. Our plan to avoid filling up on doughy delights failed. The bread was warm and straight out of the oven. The waiter refilled it when we got through the first portion. Two veggie starter options pleased my friend rather than the usual no choice. Harissa and peanut roasted aubergine, whipped coconut, buckwheat, black quinoa and lentils (left) was the chosen starter for her – delicious smoked salmon with horseradish cream for me. A main of pumpkin risotto with pan friend gingerbread received the thumbs up. I chose a sea bream which tomato and herb crushed potatoes. Again another hit. All sides were £5 which I thought was a bit steep for a bowl of spinach but that was my only gripe.

Staff (all dressed in variants of black and gold) were attentive but not fussing and there was plenty of them. photo (17)

I said to my friend to look at the Q’s on the stairs meaning the large ironwork letters that formed the staircase. She looked at the empty staircase and seeing no queues looked at me confused. Fnargh.

If you come here on a non deal you’d expect to pay upwards of £17.50 for a main course – so our night out was terrific value for the quality.

Our waitress told us they have live music on the stage behind the curtain and lo and behold back came the drapes and a chanteuse appeared with her band performing some inoffensive 90’s hits. A nice bonus to the evening. My friend and I had commented earlier that we were struggling to hear each other, so the live music added to this difficulty. Anyway it was time to call it a night on a school day.

The verdict – classy dining when you’re flashing the cash – great when on a deal to experience something glitzy.



Balham birds

My dinner date tonight was a friend who has spent the last two months completing the Australian leg of the Clipper round the world boat race. After being confined to a small vessel in rough seas what better welcome home than chicken and chipsphoto (11).

I’d seen a few outposts of Chicken Shop on my travels including Tooting and the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn. Soho House Group run this mini chain alongside Pizza East and Dirty Burger so I had high hopes. There are six branches so far – including Chicago randomly.

Tonight we are in Balham – about 20 seconds from the station which is handy. Another straight from work dinner so we arrived around the 6.30pm mark. There was probably only four people in there excluding staff – two of these were under ten years old. However in we went.

The interior was stylish – wood clad walls and retro style furniture. We chose a table complete with a mid-century style lamp – low lighting throughout made for a cosy feel. Tables were nicely spaced – often a massive thumbs down in eateries offering quick food and wanting a fast turnaround.

We went for wine and I liked the offering – several whites and reds – categorised house, decent and good, by the glass, small or large jug. We went for a large jug of decent white and ended up with a lovely Pinot Grigio (£23). Spot on to go with the food.

The menu is one of the smallest I’ve seen but for good reason. Chicken is the main event. Free range and cooked on the rotisserie. Quarter, half or whole. We went for the half to share £10. The chicken was delicious – really moist and nicely seasoned. They do their own sauces available on each table too if you want to jazz up your meal at all.

Next sides. Again just four to choose from: crinkle cut fries, corn on the cob, coleslaw and butter lettuce and avocado salad. One coleslaw and one fries to share again – both were really good. The chips weren’t greasy and the coleslaw wasn’t drowning in dressing. Everything was served in enamel dishes which seemed to be favoured by quite a few places these days. Even the wine came in enamel jugs. It added to the pared back, old school aesthetic and I liked it.

Confusingly there is also an outpost of Dirty Burger within Balham’s Chicken Shop. This means there’s also three burgers available (including a veggie option) I pity any vegetarian that gets taken here. Its really not the place for them.

Service was quick and discreet. Staff cleared empty plates as they passed – no fussing or interrupting. The place was well staffed though so easy to attract attention.

After being engrossed in two months worth of gossip we suddenly noticed the place was pretty packed – not bad for a Tuesday night. Take away and Deliveroo were in full swing too. The website says you don’t even need to pre order for take out just turn up.

For anyone that can manage it there are a few desserts on offer – we didn’t partake on this occasion.

All in all a great meal – good quality ingredients and an unfussy menu. I would definitely go back to Balham or another branch – it’s ideal for a casual catch up. And they do breakfast.

You can then pop down the road to the BBC after. Happy days.