Over the past few years the food scene in Clapham has evolved. Here, Tom reviews the hottest new addition to South West London, Darwin.
For our anniversary this year Nat and I weren’t looking to go big but we did want to have a nice meal that we would remember. At that time, the ‘Beast from the East’ had snowed us into staying in London, so we were looking for somewhere relatively close to home. Knowing some nice places had popped up in Clapham we had a look at St John’s Hill and came across a new eatery called Darwin.
When I first moved to London in 2007 it used to be an odd stretch of shops, unappealing bars and cafes which were out of the way and didn’t give a strong enough reason to travel there. That’s all changed. Now there are a number of independent coffee shops, a beer boutique, good bars (although we still miss our beloved Three Six Six greatly) and restaurants. There’s even hot yoga if that is your thing. And now there is Darwin.
Darwin is an exciting new restaurant which aims to deliver amazing dishes from around the world in cosy and welcoming surroundings. According to head chef Shane Marshall “Developing this restaurant, I wanted to showcase the positive aspects of my dining experiences, with a passionate team, and relaxed atmosphere. I want every guest to feel at home the second they walk through the door. I’m aiming for an intimate, clutter free dining experience. It’s time to forget your phone and actually spend time with the person you’re with and re-establish real connections. What you see is what you get here, there will be no smoke and mirrors, the kitchen is open and so are we”.
Our experience at Darwin was great from start to finish. We were sat right next to the open kitchen so we had a good opportunity to see the team working hard to create the fantastic food and even had a chat to the head chef. There is a Scandinavian look and feel to the place, and I loved the fact that they haven’t crushed in rows and rows of tables which can be commonplace with restaurants wanting to increase the number of covers but at the expense of customer comfort. The atmosphere was relaxed and it felt like the kind of place you could finish your meal and sit there glugging down a few more bottles of wine afterwards. To help deliver the concept of a clutter free dining experience, each person has a small drawer underneath the table where all the cutlery is placed.
As always, I had researched the menu before going so I knew what I was having before the week had even begun. But for those of you who like do your menu selections on the day, you’ll find a concise list of options (4-5 each course) to choose from. All the plates are intended to be shared, but thankfully as Nat is a vegetarian-ish, I got to go full steam into the meat courses on my own. Speaking of plates, Nat fell in love with each and every one our food was served on and I have no doubt this meal will eventually cost us more than what we paid on the day, given we came away with the name of the plate supplier. Even the look of panic on my face did nothing to dissuade the waiter from giving us the name of the supplier. Nat was of course, delighted!
Back to the food. On this occasion, we chose to have the beef cheek arancini and goats cheese quenelle, pine nuts and spiced honey as our small bites. Both were amazing although the goats cheese was the real winner for me. Next up I had pigeon, blackberry, cavolo nero and Nat had mushroom & potato. Whilst the latter doesn’t sound interesting, the dish was delish according to Nat although I would have a hard time believing it to be better than my pigeon – I’d go back there just for that alone. For the mains I had lamb rack, potato and aubergine boulangére whilst Nat had potato and pumpkin gnocchi. Now I said I’d go back just for the pigeon but that is a lie. The rack of lamb would also get me back in a heartbeat. It was cooked perfectly and was accompanied by a small side which seemed to be a modern twist on the traditional lamb shepherd’s pie with a potato foam on top. Nat was so taken with dipping her side of chips in my sauce that we had to order an additional pot on the side for her. I was fit to burst – quite literally as I had to go up a few notches in the old belt but Nat decided to take on a dessert and chose the delicious pain perdu (French toast), honeycomb, vanilla ice cream. One thing to note with the food is that it comes when it is ready which can be a bit odd if like us you can’t really share so I was tucking into some mega pigeon whilst Nat was waiting on (she okayed it for me to start obviously – I’m not a savage).
Our bill for the meal was £120 including a bottle of wine which we felt was really reasonable given the quality of the food. We came away absolutely loving Darwin and are talking about taking both sets of parents there when they come to visit next time. Oh and as a nice bonus, they do a Sunday roast which we are definitely going to try out!
We both thoroughly enjoyed the meal and would highly recommend Darwin for occasions of all kinds.
189 St John’s Hill, London SW11 1TH
020 7738 0735
Words by Tom Proudlock.
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Images © Darwin / To Work or Play 2018