Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Restaurant Review: Four-O-Nine

A tucked away French spot that it's worth putting a bit of effort into finding. Here's my review of Four-O-Nine in Clapham, originally written for my South London Press column.

Four O Nine is not a place that you’d stumble across. You may stumble into the prominent Clapham North pub, which sits opposite the tube station of the same name, but you’d never know that lurking at the back was this gem of a restaurant. They probably wouldn’t want you to know they’re linked, either. The only way to get into Four O Nine is by leaving the pub and finding an inconspicuous residential-looking door at the back. Having found it, the work still isn’t done. To get access you need to ring a buzzer and give your name. If you haven’t pre-booked, there’s every chance you won’t be let in.

Through the door, the journey continues. A slightly dodgy, not entirely pleasant smelling, staircase leads the way up (and up, and up) until the restaurant is reached. On arrival, the smells become appetising ones and the surroundings more bijou. It’s small, intimate and dark, lit mainly by candles.

As drinks are offered and the menu arrives, so does an amuse bouche of foie gras served on porcelain spoons. They’re wolfed down quickly, but both taste and gesture leave a lasting impression.

The menu offers six choices per course and plenty of variety. French classics are accompanied by both Mediterranean and exotic flavours. A starter of foie gras and chicken liver parfait (£7.50) could seem like overkill, but is a choice made by the quality of the appetiser. The pairing of macadamia and pineapple chutney is unexpected, but triumphant, with the sweet and slightly citric flavours contrasting the rich parfait well. Braised octopus with capers, anchovies, roast tomatoes and garlic bread (£7.50) is equally rich, but with salty Mediterranean flavours, peppery olive oil and a whole lot of garlic.

A main course of roast gurnard with tapenade and pistachio crust (£16) continues the impressive line-up. For a French restaurant, it is distinctly Italian in flavour, but qualms over origin aside, an impressively executed dish. Though covered in the full-flavoured ‘crust’, the fish’s skin is crispy enough to edge towards crackling, bringing out gurnards robust meatiness. A steak sounds far less exciting on paper, but a Hereford Poll beef ribeye (£16) with obligatory chips (£3) shows just how good a simple steak can be. It comes cooked as ordered, oozing with juice and caramelised on the edges, and to say it’s packed with flavour is an understatement. An accompanying anchovy dressed salad is faultless but unnecessary, with caramelised onions being a far more suited addition to the seductively smoky flavoured steak.

After such splendid simplicity, things get a bit more creative, with pineapple popping up again in dessert, this time marinated in mojito. It sounds crazy, and it tastes a bit crazy too. Whilst the minty mojito pineapple (£6) is pleasant enough, a simple lemon tart (£6) is definitely the way to go. From buttery pastry to delicate lemon custard, this is evidently what French restaurants are good at.

For just the foie gras, the steak or the lemon tart alone, Four-O-Nine is worth tracking down. For a restaurant that uses its address as its name, they’ve admittedly made it a bit of an effort, but perhaps it makes it all the more special in the end...

Four O Nine, 409 Clapham Road, SW9 9BT

>> originally published in South London Press

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