In terms of dining options, the stretch of Clapham High Street heading north from Clapham Common tube has something for everyone – from Brazilian to Indian, Italian to Thai, a vast array of global cuisine is readily available. But conspicuously absent on the main drag is a good old Gastro pub. Wander down the right side street, however, and you might just stumble across The Stonhouse. A member of the Renaissance Pubs family, if it weren’t for the evidently Claphamite clientele The Stonhouse – with its dog friendly policy, old style wooden furnishings and crackling fireplaces – could almost be a local country pub.
Arriving early for our 7.30pm reservation, my dining partner and I took a seat at the quiet bar for a pre-dinner drink and wondered whether we really needed to book. Only a couple of tables were occupied despite it being a Friday evening. My dining partner fancied a beer (a Kozel, which he said he didn’t find in pubs often enough) so I confined my perusal of the wine list to those available by the glass. I opted for the Rapaura Springs Marlborough Pinot Noir – as it happened, the most expensive red in the selection of 8 that were available by the glass, but the only one that appealed to me. A light to medium bodied red, with vibrant ripe black fruit flavours and subtle tannins, it was exceedingly drinkable and I ordered a second glass with our dinner (my dining partner having decided to stick to his Kozel).
We decamped to our table at the allotted time, noticing the space start to fill up with other diners and drinkers as we reviewed the menu. To start, my dining partner chose chicken and duck liver pâté with lavender, onion chutney and brioche toast. The pâté was smooth with a distinct livery flavour, the lavender subtly herbal and not overpowering as we thought it might have been, and the sharpness of the onion chutney provided a pleasing contrast to the richness of the rest of the dish. To our minds, the only flaw was a lack of seasoning – my dining partner made good use of the black pepper grinder on our table. My own starter – Cornish potted crab with sourdough toast – also needed a bit of peppering up, and there were a few too many bits of potting butter that didn’t contain any crabmeat, but what crabmeat there was I thoroughly enjoyed. Delicate, fresh, and flavoured with a hint of lemon, it was reminiscent of a day at the seaside, although I personally couldn’t detect the advertised capers in the potting butter. The accompanying sourdough toast was thinly sliced and browned to just the right degree, the crust giving a satisfying crunch when bitten into.
Moving on to main course, my dining partner had an excellent beef brisket; served with a Bulleit Bourbon barbecue sauce, it was melt in the mouth tender, tantalisingly tangy and not over-sweet. On the side, the fat chips were well executed – crisp outsides giving way to soft, fluffy middles – and the red cabbage slaw was light and refreshing (if a little scantily portioned). I also chose a meaty main, in the form of a 300g rump steak with béarnaise sauce, served with grilled tomatoes and sweet potato fries. When I first set eyes on my plate, I was somewhat surprised by the cut of my steak – two generous slices, but each only a centimetre or so thick – and worried that its thinness would have imperilled my request for medium-rare. I needn’t have been concerned; the steak was cooked to perfection, succulent, still pink through the middle, and simply bursting with meaty flavour. I was also impressed by the sweet potato fries – having recently returned from the US, where perfect sweet potato fries are de rigueur, I wasn’t sure these would live up to my expectations. Again, there was no reason to fret – The Stonhouse served up a beautiful cupful of thin cut non-greasy fries, with just the right degree of crunch surrounding sweet, fondant centres. The béarnaise sauce was pleasant enough, but a little underwhelming almost as though it had been watered down – although perhaps that was just in comparison to the bigger, bolder flavours of the steak and fries. The grilled tomatoes sadly also fell short – not on flavour, of which they were absolutely chock-full, but on quantity: two small half tomatoes is more of a garnish than an accompaniment to be feted on the menu.
That said, by the time we came to consider desserts neither of us felt able to tackle a whole one – which was a shame since we wanted to taste almost every item on The Stonhouse’s sweets menu. In the end, we opted to share the apple and blackberry crumble with custard, which was a little piece of dessert heaven. The crumble to fruit ratio was just right, the apples retained just enough sharpness and structure, the blackberries were fabulously sweet, the crumb of the crumble a gloriously fine biscuity affair with a hint of burnt chocolate bitterness to temper the sweetness of the fruit, and the warm custard was an unctuously creamy and comforting topping. All in all it was, an excellent example of the genre.
Service throughout our meal was competent and friendly, and we were given enough time between courses to feel as if we’d had a breather but not so much as to make us wonder whether the kitchen had forgotten us. In terms of value, The Stonhouse isn’t cheap, but at around £36 per head for two and a half courses, a drink and service, it’s no more expensive than other Gastropubs in the area*. We had a few minor quibbles with the seasoning and accompaniments to be sure, but overall The Stonhouse provided a thoroughly enjoyable, filling dinner in a relaxed atmosphere, and is highly deserving of a near perfect four and a half Forks-Up.
*(To get more bang for your buck, visit Monday to Thursday for 50% off your food bill using a Taste Card, or Monday to Friday for 20% off your entire bill if you’re a member of the Clapham Picturehouse).The Stonhouse
165 Stonhouse Street
T: 020 7819 9312