The Fox & Grapes
9 Camp Road, Wimbledon Common, SW19 4UN. Tel: 020 8619 1300
Cost per person without wine: £28
GORDON Ramsay did it, Heston’s done it, Marco Pierre White did it first, the chaps at the Ledbury have done it and won an extra Michelin star in the process. These days, it seems, any top chef worth his or her stars needs a gastropub for a side-project, as if to prove that they can appreciate mashed potato as much as the next man.
Two-starred Hibiscus chef patron Claude Bosi’s move into such humble territory, sits on a little lane on Wimbledon Common. The mash here comes with a Cumberland sausage, like every pub in the country. It also has chips that are just about worth a visit alone – ideal outer crunch, insides practically a puree, and perhaps the most perfectly seasoned frites I’ve encountered.
Before that, there’s pork scratchings – and before those there’s the pub itself, a picturesque mock-Tudor job with those must-have hanging baskets and a spacious interior.
There’s a cosier section past the bar, and further inside a nook round a corner, with four tables, which is the place to head for a bit of intimacy. Being charged £2.50 for bread and butter – admittedly bread rolls that are tasty and served warm – is a bit off in my book, but for 50p less there’s the aforementioned scratchings. These are light, crisp, and with a faint salt-n-vinegar quality that makes them exceedingly moreish.
The kitchen is run by Bosi’s former sous chef at Hibiscus, Patrick Leano, who earned his stripes under Eric Chavot in the glory days of the Capital. His menu is rather lovely – Anglo-French peasant food like Irish eel with ham hock and apple jelly, pork belly with cassoulet, and ox tripe gratin with spuds (no thanks).
The least pubby dish is a starter of snail and mushroom lasagne, though it looked pretty peasanty – a saucer-sized circle of pasta bathing in a grey sauce, with mushrooms and snails beneath. It was lovely though, a drizzling of parsley sauce and tiny bacon lardons adding some finesse. I took my mother for dinner and – as mums inevitably do – she chose the salad, an attractive beetroot, endive, blood orange and goat cheese number that lacked a bit of dressing.
My main was silver mullet served with cooked apple segments and a cider sauce – it was fine. Mum chose chicken kiev and it was out of this world. A log-shaped breast wrapped in crisp, gently-singed breadcrumbs, resting on creamed leaks. The chicken was gloriously tender, and the garlic sauce oozed out satisfyingly.
Puds were a sweet and friendly treacle and pecan tart and a dark chocolate tart that was sinfully good. Let’s not kid ourselves that this is much of a pub – the main drinking area is crammed with tables. But it’s a good place for a relaxed meal, and at £13.50 for most main courses, a relatively affordable one.