Where: Trinity, Clapham Common
With who: Dr Vole, Tom and Barbara Good (a pair of Fringe First winning actors, comedians, our co-allotmenteers and all-round bloody good types)
How much: £70 a head for a 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings
Come here if: You're scared of South London, this bit is like Islington (in that it's a bit faux and full of idiots wearing Jack Wills)
Along with that cheese restaurant on the Kings Road (three courses of fromage, how could it not be), the Gilbert Scott and Nandos in Camberwell, Trinity is one of those places that's been on my 'to-do list' for a while. It wasn't higher up, mainly as I tend to save the fine dining for really special occasions, or when someone else is picking up the cheque, and to be honest, there's a limit to the number of business meetings I can organise in SW4. So when the lovely folks at Squaremeal Magazine decided I'd won a prize for my review of Spuntino and gave me £250 to spend at a restaurant of my choice, Trinity seemed like an solid choice.
Just off the rather picturesque Polygon Square in Clapham's gentrified Old Town, Trinity is far enough from the Ozzie bars and general high street chicanery to feel a little bit out of London. Looking out of the large plate windows at the summer green of the Common, watching the yummy mummy brigade pile past in their SUVs, you really could have been in any well-heeled provincial town in Southern England.
Inside is the same, the decor is well enough thought out, by someone who's obviously spent a fair amount of time around fine dining restaurants, but it's not a feature. Shades of Farrow and Ball with anonymous arty black and white prints - classy restaurant 101, I'm starting to hope there's a little more imagination behind the pass. The crowd is a well heeled local mix of retirees, professional couples on 'special' dates and what's obviously grandfather's birthday party, nothing arch about that, it's a local restaurant and perfectly sums up the community that live in the grand Victorian terraces along the tree-filled local avenues (well, the ones who can afford to eat here anyway).
Service is very friendly and in the most part efficient, a shared plate of sweet fresh radishes and freshly picked pea pods arrived promptly and were a lovely start to the meal, though we were left waiting for breads and water for a good 10 minutes after that.
The tasting menu kicked off trumpeting the finest of British summer, a flavoursome if slightly too cold pea and mint soup 'presented' at the table in an old fashioned milk bottle and poured over lemon purée and ricotta, a knowing smirk at finer dining outfits.The wine pairing for the course emphasised the national theme with a Chapel Down Primrose Hill, not my cup of tea (nor glass of wine), but a pleasant enough accompaniment.
The Gruner Veltliner that came with the second course was much more on the money for me, a complex spicy white with notes of white pepper and the perfect foil to a small but perfectly formed disc of seared tuna served with wilted baby pak choi and a tiny salsa of indeterminate but tasty orange colour. Accomplished cooking with great ingredients, it was good, bordering on very good but didn't quite hit the heights somehow.
My remembrance of the third course is hazy, it could be the wine, a sweet aromatic slap of muscat was heavenly, enough to convert one to a difficult grape. Looking at the menu I vaguely remember it as a scallop dish, with a white gazpacho and a fizzy yet funny pickled grape. The solo bivalve was plump and fresh but well, a little bland, in a forgettable gazpacho sea. Single scallops need to be make an effort, they've got to draw your attention to them, like a solo guest at a party, and this one was sat in the corner looking at the DVD collection.
We ended with the best, for me at any rate, a genuinely sensational duck dish. Plump cuts of breast served with an exquisite pastile of dark duck leg. Rich, salty and thoroughly tasty, earthy girolles melted into the juice and the whole thing balanced by sweet spinach. It brought the meal alive and really showed what the kitchen was capable of.
Pudding got the requisite oohs and aahs. Thick and sticky Valrhona chocolate cream with honeycomb and almond didn't show a great imagination, but delivered perfectly what it set out to do. I had an eye on three huge cloches behind us containing a quantity of rich and oozing cheese, sadly on my own in this, I had to settle for a more sociable coffee.
In hindsight, I'm probably being overly critical. I had a wonderful meal, though the quality of the company guaranteed that, with some great wines at a restaurant I'd eat at regularly if it was on the doorstep. There are flashes of brilliance from the kitchen, and the staff are close enough to where they need to be. But only one dish out of five will trouble my best of the year list, and that's just not enough for the price.