FOX AND GRAPES: WHEN THE SUN DOESN'T SHINE AND IT'S CLOUDY AND GREY
Alighting at Wimbledon Station for the first time in about, oh, a quarter of a century was a shock in a sort of reverse Life On Mars way: what, pray tell is a Starbucks and what could one possibly do in a Giraffe? Certainly, much has changed in these parts since I used to meet Ian "Wildman" Burns and JDW for a few pints in The Alex before a few games of three-and-in and keepie uppie (jumpers were used as goalposts, obviously).
Up the hill in the village there’s a better class of chain in keeping with the million pounds or thereabouts that folk spend on quite modest properties and where people still commute on horseback (it’s true - I saw them).
Here too, is the wild and woody common where hardy souls go for a run and walk their dogs and where we three used to annoy the golfers. Afterwards, we probably went to the Fox and Grapes, but I doubt it looked anything like it does now since being taken over by the brothers Bosi, one of whom, Claude is a two-star (count ‘em) Michelin chef; and if you want to know what a Frenchman's idea of a pub is then the F&G is a fine example.
It’s a rather gussied-up place - much in the style that Gordon Ramsay used to employ when he was a successful restaurateur. There’s a small bar which you're not really encouraged to prop up by virtue of it being really small and surrounded by barstools. A couple of real ales I tried though were in good condition - so it's not all for show here.
After quickly deciding we didn’t want to pay £2.50 for bread and butter we essayed some snacks to go with our cocktails. Unfortunately our Scotch Eggs came with a solid yolk which is an immediate fail (as I believe the youth would have it).
Of the starters proper a Pork Pie tasted pretty good and the accompanying piccalilli was superb but pushing out a thinnish slice of the pie for nearly a tenner seemed a bit greedy - if they'd called un pâté de porc en croûte it may have softened the blow.
Of the other starters the Ox Liver Pate was the best, the Eel and Ham jelly being a bit bland and the Crab on sourdough just plain nasty.
Main courses were better. Tripe gratin was a dish to convert even the most ardent of tripe haters. Quite delicate and refined and coveted by the slathering dogs who had dragged their owners in (yeah, right).
Chips were triple cooked and very good and there were nods of approval from my dining companions as they ate their Chicken Kiev and Pork Belly. The latter came with and apple stuffed with Black Pudding so was hard not to love.
A second visit a couple of weeks later and the menu had contracted somewhat (read dumbed-down) no doubt owing to the larger number of families eating out which might have found dishes like tripe a tad challenging.
The Scotch Egg yolk was perfectly cooked this time but the meat lacked porkiness and was a bit too thin. Pork Scratchings were rather good.
Potted Shrimp showed more ambitious pricing: Nine quid is pretty steep for a starter in a pub. The dish was just about worth it though with good plump shrimp and the proper level of heat - some kitchens are a bit timid with the cayenne.
Fish and Chips was a bit of an odd one. The battered Hake (my Nan's favourite) was cooked well and the chips were excellent although not triple cooked this time, but the serving of fish was small and the peas were sort of crushed petit pois – the person who made these has never had mushy peas. A big bowl of steaming hot peas with butter melting all over them would have been good here. The dish as a whole was good but a tad soulless as F&C usually is in more upmarket gaffs.
A Vanilla and Pear junket had the correct texture but was a little underpowered in the Vanilla department and the Pear component wasn't sweet enough. Nice little Cinnamon biscuit though.
Service was fine although it went missing when I wanted to pay the bill. Not a surprise as it was proving to be a very popular alternative to the dull gaffs in the High Street on the day I visited.
For me the main problem with the Fox and Grapes is that whilst the kitchen is capable I'd like to experience its more creative cooking, er, chops. But it seems that may only be possible in the evening which means a schlep from God's own borough of Islington. So regrettably I'll have to leave it to the poshos of SW19 and let's face it if they can afford to ride a horse to work then a £10 pork pie won’t cause them too many sleepless nights.