Clapham, 21 The Pavement, SW4 0HY
Oh nice, lovely, that’s cute…Ooh yummy, that’s tasty, I like that…oh…oh wait no. Oh for Christ sake. Forget it.
Late July, drifting in to August; a Saturday evening with nothing to do, no regrettable commitments with awful friends; pay day just gone, so not completely skint; we hadn’t even argued yet that weekend, so terms were generally good. A balmy summer’s eve? Of course not, it was absolutely tipping it down. Full blown mid-January pouring it down. Cheers England, excellent work once again. The Girl and I arrived at the restaurant – the newly opened Minnow on the edge of Clapham Common – in that most familiar way: an umbrella-less jog through the rain to cower under a slim restaurant awning and shake off the worst of the rain.
Luckily, Minnow is as comforting a place as any to arrive in such a way. It’s an adorable little space; she is all pale pinks and mint greens, garlands of white roses winding around wooden beams, little frosted glass candle holders, and rows of art deco coupes behind the bar.
“I want to rob the place,” was The Girl’s assessment of things. She meant burgle, but the sentiment remains the same.
I had decided upon Minnow due to the slightly surprising nature of its menu: It is divided in to “Starters” and “Mains”. For the kids out there, this is how humans used to eat dinner before the invention of the ‘Small Plate’. You would eat a smaller portion of food, a ‘Starter’, and then follow it with a bigger portion of food, a ‘Main’. Crazy stuff.
While quietly plotting on how best to steal things from the restaurant, we ordered some snacks. Eschewing the usual homemade bread and butter we decided instead upon the crispy chicken skin & aioli, and whelks in garlic butter.
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Shout out to all my whelk fans out there! We don’t eat enough whelks anymore; they’re one of those sea foods which properly tastes of the sea. These were absolute beauties. A dozen ugly but delightful morsels, bathing in garlic butter. The crispy chicken skin was also delish; the aioli was a vivid green and The Girl described it as “tasting like a garlic garden,” I haven’t got a clue what that sentence means but she was bang on.
For starters we ordered raw salmon marinated in citrus with sea vegetables, and squid, lemongrass, lime & ginger. Both were subtle, light, tasty things, reflective of the room and the restaurant itself. Most things in life can be equated to lingerie, and so far this food was all white cotton bras and panties – there were no suspenders or leather here. These plates of food were angels not demons. Yes I could have done with a bit more chilli oomph on the squid, but it was cooked perfectly, with a soft touch, and sometimes it is wonderful to enjoy the restraint and delicacy of food such as this – indeed, of a restaurant such as this.
However, here we reach the impasse.
I am not able to continue this review with the same optimism and fondness, just as I was not able to continue my meal with the same optimism and fondness. Minnow had done so much well, but residual good will can only lead me to forgive certain crimes – being served lukewarm food is not one of them.
There are many things you can look for in a restaurant; and when reviewing somewhere there are lots of, let’s be honest, unimportant but fun things to consider. But overall, really, honestly, all any of us want when we go out to dinner is to be able to sit comfortably and eat hot, well-seasoned food. Throw salt and pepper at something, cook it, and then serve it to me when it’s still hot, and more often than not I’ll be happy. Don’t serve me cold or lukewarm food. Don’t spend ten minutes tweezing on each perfectly placed micro-herb, don’t leave my food on the pass while waiters run about elsewhere, don’t leave my meat to rest for twenty minutes because it’ll make it 10% more juicy – I don’t care about any of that, I want hot food. This is something that has irritated me about many previous restaurants and perhaps Minnow is bearing the brunt of that anger, but such is life.
Our mains were whole roast poussin with garlic & lemon, and pork loin, Arabica coffee & artichokes. The pork loin was cooked perfectly till blushing pink, and was in fact, warm. However, the sauce – which was thick and flavoured with coffee – was stone cold, meaning that in lightening quick time the pork became stone cold. This, as The Girl told me with palpable despair, resulted in an overall impression of… “I’m eating pork and ice cream”. Nobody wants pork and ice cream. Nobody. The poussin was missing a good few pinches of salt and pepper, inside and out, and was lukewarm. I ordered it expecting a hot, juicy, fragrant bird to arrive at the table, all salty skin and garlicy meat. What arrived was a barely warm, under seasoned, bland lump of slightly dry protein. What an absolute waste of an animal.
I was angry because I had been so pleased with things up until that point. Everything had been lovely, really lovely. And then they went and fucked it all up by serving us tepid, under-seasoned mains. It was like a great night out with your partner, which gets ruined when you get too drunk and one of you says something you shouldn’t. Brilliant, now the whole thing is a right off. Why did you have to say that?
Minnow is a new restaurant and I admire what they’re trying to do – there were a lot of lovely touches. However, being served two cold mains is less than ideal. Perhaps this is why we all now love a small plate. Something wrong with that dish? Who cares! The next one is here now, and there are six more to come! Whereas the prospect of a rubbish main course is a real evening killer.
I’ll go back to Minnow at some point. I will assume that the chefs did not intend for our mains to arrive in the disappointing manner that they did, and that it was just a slight mishap – there was definitely enough good here to warrant a second glance. But please, chefs, kitchens, restaurants everywhere: hot food, yeah? Hot food.
VERDICT: Like an English summer: much promise and excitement, but ultimately quite disappointing.
BETTER OPTIONS: Counter Culture, a few doors down, is pretty ideal Date Night material. Tiny though. Only seats around fifteen.
Todd Palmer dropped out of university some years ago. Since then he has been writing. He also likes cricket.