I’m not one for giving restaurants marks out of ten. I find it impulsive and superficial, fickle and vague, but I’m even less keen on being made to wait for something I want – like food I’m paying for – and assuming you’re reading this to because you want to find out if The Manor in Clapham in any good, then here you go: 7/10. It’s closer to ‘must try’ than ‘don’t bother’, and phrases like ‘worth a visit’, ‘good effort, but could do better’ and ‘not as good as The Dairy or Fera, but better than Rabbit’ would be mildly accurate. Let’s put it this way, if you’re willing to hike to Clapham to eat, you might as well do it properly at Gill’s original spot on the common.

So you can close this tab and get back to your browsing. I wouldn’t want to keep you hanging like we were at The Manor – our meal faltered and stuttered like a buffering Youtube clip – as lengthy pauses interrupted the flow of head chef, Dean Parker’s, accomplished menu.

The restaurant, itself, is a crossbreed of cold war bunker and modern country kitchen. Ascetic, save a smart zinc bar, the dining space is stripped back to its brickwork, although a trip to the loos suggests this austere look may have been an economical necessity. A print out on the mirror of the wholly unfinished gents apologised for the money running out and encouraged you to decorate the walls with whatever you fancied – I assume they meant with pen, but even piss and shit may have made it more inviting. It was cold, with a scruffy British-pub-cum-murder-scene look that has never been acceptable in a reputable restaurant. It was Clapham’s answer to the Saw film’s bathroom, a place so shabby I’d rather hack off my own foot that spend too long in there. Lets hope the money starts coming in so they can get it sorted.

Back upstairs in the safety of the dining room, comfort was restored with sourdough gift-wrapped in hessian and warmed by a heated grain pack. A whipped chicken butter was smeared on a chilled pebble, utterly defenceless to swoops of the torn loaf but on tasting, not quite as brilliant as The Dairy’s smoked bone marrow equivalent. Nevertheless, it was all gone before we could add pieces of pork and fennel salumi that arrived shortly after.

Other starters included barbeque crispy chicken skins pressed together like little terrines and coated in an intense, sticky sauce that demanded the piquant hit of homemade pickled kimchi. Cornish crab and celeriac was a lovely combination. Wafer thin slices of celeriac clung to the picked meat like a wet t-shirt and chopped hazelnuts speckled it with bite. It needed to be eaten quickly. Linger too long, and, in a state of flux, the large peak of sickly crab foam slowly stifled the lot. Within a few minutes the dish’s clean freshness was unsubtly wiped out by one gratuitous splurge of a siphon.

Burnt kale, cavolo nero and toasted almonds looked like the remains of a cremated compost heap but tasted much better. Roasted beets, horseradish and fresh cheese appeared to have been loaded into a slingshot and aimed at the plate from a distance. It was attractive in a chaotic way; natural I suppose. Beetroot juices clung to the plate in a Polynesian tattoo of purple syrup, drawing together wedges of golden and purple beets with reliable, balanced garnishes.

The menu offered ‘Julie Girl’ monkfish and ‘Sweet Promise’ sea bass. God knows what that meant but I half expected these fish to arrive ready to read my palm or relay my drive. Sadly not, but the morsel of sea bass was cooked brilliantly, its roasted salsify and chanterelles earthy and original. Smoked cod, came in cream with potato and sorrel, mackerel with cucumber, nori and dill. They were full of flavour and boldly seasoned with the raw acidity of citrus or something similar.

Smaller plates like these don’t lend themselves kindly to long waits. The ratio of eating to anticipating was far from golden. By the time the meat came, we were all so hungry it was wolfed down with little conversation as to what it was we were ingesting. It could have been anything. If suckling pig belly, braised head, morcilla & squash was as good it sounded Chris must have loved it. Merely reading ‘hay smoked pigeon, fermented grains, parsnip and malt granola’ left a gamey taste in the mouth but Danny couldn’t remember it was gone so fast. The hanger steak tartare left me with no more than a vague memory of conspiracy. Nuggets of bone marrow, rich egg yolk and creamy onion puree connived to clog my arteries like a roast spud in the sinkhole, but did so luxuriously.

Desserts didn’t sound worth waiting for so we asked for the bill. It wasn’t cheap nor overpriced, somewhere between £40 and £50 a head without drinks. On the way home we agreed 7/10 seemed appropriate for just about everything. Except the toilets – they were awful. Just make sure to go before visiting.


Manor on Urbanspoon Square Meal