Wednesday, 8 March 2017
May the Fifteenth, Clapham
A hypothetical for you. You're a reasonably successful neighbourhood restaurant with a good few years of solid reviews and solid custom behind you. Business is doing OK, but you need a bit of a brand refresh to get people talking about you again, to bump you up the restaurant charts and remind the local population you're still going, and cooking good food. Do you:
a) Hire a good PR firm to send out a carefully-crafted press-release, put on a keenly-priced lunchtime menu to attract the local daytime custom, and perhaps think about an early evening special or no-corkage Monday to energize the post-work commuter crowd?
b) Change the name of your restaurant to something completely un-memorable and totally un-Googleable and hope for the best?
Abbeville Kitchen had been going since 2011 and I don't begrudge them at all their need for a bit of a rebrand, but why on earth "May the Fifteenth"? Have you ever tried Googling a restaurant that shares its name with a calendar date? It's fairly pointless, let me tell you. It may be a great name for a governmental advisory body or clandestine revolutionary group, but for somewhere that actually wants its purpose to be known, and crucially be found by the general public, not so much.
Anyway, May the Fifteenth it is, and the good news is, if you can find it (hint: it's at 47 Abbeville Road, in the posh, Tube-less bit of Clapham), not much other than the name has changed. It's still a rustic, gastropubby space with a good wine list, a nice line in martinis (frozen glasses, don't you know, and only £8 a pop) and obliging, efficient staff. I'd start with a portion of house bread (sourdough) and a plate of expertly-chosen charcuterie framing a bowl of grassy-green olive oil.
Watercress and garlic soup was rather underseasoned but had a few interesting chunks of, I think, bottarga floating around in it which added to the interest levels a bit. Even so, if you can't season a bowl of soup properly you can't help wondering if it should be on the menu at all.
So, soups aren't their strong point, but there's plenty else on the menu. Roast quail suffered from not a hint of dryness in the flesh, and had a lovely crisp skin. I wonder whether plonking it on the top of a pile of bland roast vegetables was really the best method of presentation, and I'm still of the opinion apple sauce belongs with roast pork, not poultry. But there was a good big slice of sausage in there which packed a good piggy punch, and all said and done £15 is not a lot to pay for this generous mound of food.
Maybe the way to go at May the Fifteenth is the sharing mains. This extraordinary pig's cheek in n'duja dish was all kinds of wonderful, an incredibly satisfying chilli/tomato sauce livened with fresh herbs in which bobbed five or six sausagey, moist chunks of cheek. It came with chips, because there is nothing that isn't better with a side order of chips - especially not chips as good as these, golden brown with a great crunch and smooth interior. This giant pot, warming, generous (of size and flavour) is reason enough to warrant a trip to Clapham by itself; a real classic.
Oh, and someone knows what they're doing with desserts, too. Rhubarb and lemon meringue had some wonderful strong flavours, especially the (presumably forced) rhubarb, a powerful lemon sorbet and a scattering of gently toasted hazelnuts. The kind of dessert that if you can't enjoy, there's just no hope for you.
Plenty to enjoy, then, overall, and I can see myself making very many return trips now I've got their booking page bookmarked and I don't need to Google it again. It's a stupid name for a restaurant, but then, if the most you have to complain about is their SEO score and underseasoned soup, well, you're still doing better than most joints in town. And for those pig's cheeks in n'duja and that rhubarb lemon meringue, I'd put up with a whole lot worse. I wish them all the best, and hope the locals of Clapham Common know how lucky they are.