Sunday, 17 April 2011

Restaurant Review: Zeitgeist

Here's a restaurant review originally written for my South London Press column. Zeitgeist is pretty much my local pub and I'm definitely a regular, though for me it's usually more about the beers than the food.

You can count London’s German restaurants on one hand. There’s The Hop Exchange German bar on Southwark Street, Stein’s in Richmond (which claims to be the very first), The Fest in Fulham (which keeps Octoberfest running all year round) and the only one of the lot that’s particularly well-known, The Bavarian Beerhouse on City Road. As the names of all of these places suggest, food isn’t really the main focus – it’s all about the beers. The almost unheard of Zeitgeist is one to add to the list, and it may be the place to break the mould.

Hidden inside The Jolly Gardener’s pub on Black Prince Road, Zeitgeist is mere minutes from the Albert Embankment and Vauxhall station, but could take a long time to find. You most likely would come across it having given up and gone in for a drink instead.

As a pub, the Jolly Gardener’s has over 120 years of history and was once a favourite of Charlie Chaplin, who grew up in the area. Whilst the outside has been preserved, inside things get a bit exciting. Original features such as a marble fireplace and gothic coving are strikingly juxtaposed with reds and blacks. The pub’s original circular bar remains as a highly polished centre point, whilst the space around it has been transformed into a grand dining room where tall wooden tables nestle in wall hugging leather sofa-booths.

Just as there’s nothing understated about the surroundings, the menu doesn’t do anything by half either. It’s refreshing to see an extensive beer list which is bettered by a varied menu of German classics spread over a good six pages. That there are over ten different schnitzel varieties gives an idea of scale. Purists may question such innovations as the “Hawaii Schnitzel” with ham and pineapple, but as in the pizza world it’s apparently one of the most popular.

I conservatively choose a basic “original” schnitzel, which comes with chips and salad for around a tenner. This may be the time to say that I’ve never been the biggest fan of schnitzels. Experience has shown them to very often feature dry, over-cooked meat and taste a little greasy. I wouldn’t quite say the Zeitgeist version was a revelation, but it wasn’t half bad. The pork had plenty of flavour and with a spot of sweet German mustard it went down nicely.

The obligatory round-up of German sausages are helpfully available as a mixed platter (£8.95 per person). They’re a mixed bag varying from the meaty and moreish to the reconstituted, though I think that’s par for the course, really.

A step away from the more obvious options is more rewarding. Black pudding and hot apple served with fried onions and mash is ultimate comfort food, with crisped black pudding and deliciously caramelised onions. The mash is particularly Germanic with a milky taste that seems lacklustre in comparison to the buttery British version, but at least it’s the real deal. A salad of spinach, goat’s cheese, olives, mushrooms, pine nuts and crunchy rosemary caramel takes the award for creativity – the dish itself is good, but what’s fantastic is the name - Popeye meets Olivia.

None of the dishes are quite as interesting as this title or as sleek as the surroundings, but it’s skilfully cooked and, washed down with a beer or two (try the dark wheatbeer with a shot of strawberry puree), it certainly hits the spot. There’s also a fantastically friendly, relaxed atmosphere which keeps people coming back. Depending on your preferences, you may or may not want to come on a Wednesday for the less laid-back German football nights.

Zeitgeist @ The Jolly Gardener's, 49-51 Black Prince Road, SE11 6AB

>> originally published in South London Press

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