Thursday, 12 May 2011

Restaurant Review: The Antelope

Here's a restaurant review originally written for my South London Press column, and an impressive gastropub dining destination in Tooting that's well worth remembering if in the area.

Heading to SW17 to review a “foodie pub” I wasn’t sure what to expect. So little is heard of the dining scene in Tooting that it doesn’t foster high expectations. There’s a couple of good boozers, The Antelope being one of them, but even in the age of the gastro, pub food can be hit and miss to say the least.

Set on Mitcham Road not far from Tooting Broadway tube station, you can spot Antelope a mile off. It looks all a pub should be – warm, welcoming and - even-midweek – it’s bustling. This atmosphere continues inside, but it’s once I’ve walked past the heaving bar, through an archway and into the “dining room” that things get exciting. This isn’t tables in a pub, this is a separate enclave and entering feels like being let in on a well kept secret. That said, it’s fairly full so it’s obviously not that well kept.
There’s still something of a pubby atmosphere about, and a football match can be heard from the games room at the back. It’s surprisingly peaceful, though, and the real coal fire burning away in the corner makes it more country pub than city stop-off.

There’s nice touches galore – from an un-ordered plate of sourdough to enjoy whilst browsing the menu to wine served in carafes in either 250ml, 500ml or 750ml increments. On the menu, a foreword about local and seasonal sourcing is enticing and it’s heartening to know the choices change daily. And what choices! Morcilla (Spanish black pudding) stuffed squid, new season English asparagus, a salad of salsify. Whatever I expected in a Tooting pub, it wasn’t salsify.
After some time whittling down choices, the food starts to arrive and by now expectations are very high indeed. It’s a relief that the squid with black pudding (£6) is as good as it sounds – not overcooked, well seasoned and on a well-matched bed of firm puy lentils. A starter of smoked trout with horseradish and beetroot (£6) is a let-down in comparison for its sheer lack of any discernable trout. A smoky (and very enjoyable) horseradish cream is presumably where it hides, but if there was fish in there then I wouldn’t have guessed it.

Thankfully the beef and duck in the main course options are far more prominent. Salt beef served in a broth with cabbage and mustard (£13) is meltingly tender (good job since I somehow managed to be given a butter knife to eat it with!) and the broth was so good that I finished it off with a spoon. A duck leg (£13) seemed to be a mixture of confit and oven roast resulting in meat that was perhaps just overdone, but with shatterable crackling that more than made up for it. The accompanying salad with pear and salsify was amazingly simple but a nutty rapeseed dressing made it actually quite a highlight.

By now majorly impressed, desserts are the proverbial icing on the cake. A rhubarb crumble (£6) and a chocolate pot (£6) are generous and not overly sweet, but again it’s the little extras that cause the most excitement - homemade amaretti biscuits are soft and still warm, and shortbread rounds are crumbly and buttery. Then there’s the ice cream (£4 for a selection of 3). It isn’t made in-house but is bought from a local producer and comes in genius flavours such as dulce du leche and cornflake. No, I wasn’t convinced by the sound of cornflakes either, but there’s no visible flakes and it’s a must try if you’ve ever enjoyed the milk from a forgotten bowl of cereal.

Go for the ice cream. Go for the biscuits. Go for the seasonal produce. Go for the fact that you’d never has guessed it was so good.

The Antelope, 76 Mitcham Road, SW17 9NG
>> originally published in South London Press

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