Thursday, 20 January 2011

Restaurant Review: Nineteen

Here's a restaurant review originally written for my South London Press column. Nineteen is a smart bistro in Streatham that's serves reliably good grub with a few fancy flourishes.

Nineteen is nestled on Streatham’s High Parade, where it quietly stands out by virtue of being a touch smarter than many of its neighbours. The shiny exterior doesn’t give much help in deciding whether it’s a bar, bistro or restaurant; but don’t let this ambiguity deter you, it’s really down to the fact that it fits nicely into all three of these categories.

Cocktails are prominently advertised, and equally well served. Most days they’re capped at £4 each, which is an undisputed bargain by London standards. Understandably, this seems to draw people in, but customers who pop-by for a pre-dinner drink before moving on (as admittedly I have on occasion) are missing a trick. Walking further into Nineteen, the atmosphere changes from the bar-style seating up front. Intimate booths hug the walls, and table lamps set a scene which justifies Nineteen’s claim of being the scene of many a marriage proposal. The bar has become a restaurant, and it must be pretty much the swankiest spot in Streatham. An extensive, occasionally extravagant, menu follows suit. It’s hard to sum up the food that’s on offer when a starter of truffle-scented Fois Gras Terrine (£7.50) can be followed up with Jerk Chicken (£10.55) for mains. The eclectic nature of the menu is somewhat of a theme throughout, but in serving simple, rustic dishes with an elaborate flair, Nineteen manage to posh-up some of the most unlikely dishes, creating a laid-back fine dining experience like no other.

A starter of perfectly seared scallops (£5.75) shows that Nineteen can do simple and do it well, whilst the accompanying mango salsa adds a signature twist. What really stands out, though, is the sprinkling of white pepper on the scallops, giving them a tangy edge and a real tingle on the tongue. Main course lamb chops (£11.75) are cooked to request and come out spot-on. They’re full of flavour, but a lack of crispiness on the fat is disappointing. Broad beans, new potatoes, asparagus, and a fresh mint sauce complete the summery dish and couldn’t be faulted bar the imported white asparagus which sees prettiness overrule patriotism at the height of British asparagus season.

Qualms over local produce melt away as pudding arrives. On a sizeable menu of seven options, a dark chocolate fondant (£5.95) is flagged as a house special, and is further recommended by the staff as not to be missed. Expectations are dangerously high by the time the fondant arrives, but there’s no let down. This is obviously something that Nineteen is proud of, and justifiably so. Dark, intense, and sticky are adjectives that come to mind, but it’s the fondant’s gooey centre which is the make-or-break point. Too often a fondant can in reality be a sponge or a chocolate soup, but Nineteen’s chef has found the elusive happy medium. At Nineteen there’s always a twist, and here it comes in the form of pecans studded throughout. They’re not the part that makes the dessert great, but they do add a pleasant crunch. With or without the nuts, I would challenge a restaurant to create a superior fondant, because as far as I’m concerned, Nineteen’s at the top of the pile.

For dishes with a difference in stylish but understated surroundings, Nineteen is hard to beat as are the prices. If you really need a reason to go, though, the chocolate fondant is that reason.

Nineteen, 19 The High Parade, Streatham High Road, SW16 1EX

>> originally published in South London Press

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