Tuesday 10 April 2007

The Fox and Hounds, Battersea

I have been attempting a (brief) self-imposed hiatus from restaurant-going, partly because there really is only so much fois gras any person should healthily ingest in the space of a year, but also (mainly, if I'm going to be honest) because my bank balance is seeing even less of the black every month than it was used to. At one time I had a good week or so of a positive balance after pay day, but as the frequency of my dining out has increased, the time I enjoy when I actually had money rather than owed it has reduced to such an extent that it now comes in painfully short gasps, like a deep-sea freediver surfacing for a sharp intake of breath before submerging again.

Having said that, a trip to my local gastropub the Fox and Hounds for a bite to eat of a Friday evening hardly constitutes unreasonable decadence, I don't think. In fact, with the blog nearly 3 months old and still not a mention of the finest, handsomest and most stunningly well-priced establishment in SW11, it would have been criminal to let this situation continue any longer. A word of warning however - what follows is going to be the least impartial review the blogosphere has ever seen. A part of me knows it isn't perfect - nowhere is - but in deference to the joy the food at the Fox and Hounds has brought me over the years I have lived in this particular corner of South West London, I feel I owe it to the place.

We always seem to arrive at the F&H a good ten minutes before the menus are written. It is, of course, testament to the quality of the ingredients here that the menu changes (sometimes completely) on a daily basis and you're never really sure what you might find from one visit to the next. This is of course a Good Thing, but can be heartbreaking to rave to a friend about a particular duck breast and sweet potato dish and then to never ever see it again. The rib-eye steak seems a regular feature, and there is usually some herb-baked fresh fish (invariably excellent) and risotto for the vegetarians, but on the whole the flexibility of the kitchen staff seems to put many more high-end institutions to shame.

Meals here always start with some lovely warm bread (possibly baked in house, I did ask once but I've forgotten what the answer was) with olive oil and salt & pepper to dip in. The food is ordered at the bar, which in many pubs means a long and smoky wait elbow to elbow with fellow patrons, but for some reason I've never had to wait for any time at all at the F&H, ever, in the 3 years I've been visiting. They are also always similarly efficient in delivering the food to the table - they just seem to know what they're doing.

As per my usual visits here, I didn't order a starter. The generous portions generally mean you never leave hungry, and the very informal system at the bar means you never feel intimidated into ordering a full 3-course experience when all you really want is a quick, hearty meal. My "Pan Roast Chicken Breast with black pepper and rosemary, sauteed new potatoes with spinach, chilli and garlic" was - of course - delicious, with a light crispy skin and tasty, moist flesh. One thing you notice about the main dishes at the F&H is that they are almost always served with a huge clump of rocket salad, which is refreshingly unpretentious or a bit dull, depending on which side of the fence you're on. I lean towards the former.

Another (very handy considering my current circumstances) benefit of the ordering system is that with service included in all the prices on the menu you never end up paying more "hidden" charges for service, meaning that your £12.50 main course really is exactly that when you settle the bill. Nothing on the menu is more than £15, and it's all up to the same high standard; so not only is the food healthy, fresh, unpretentious and delicious, it's also pretty cheap. In the winter there's a log fire in the annex and in the summer there's a very pretty beer garden out the back, decorated with rosemary bushes and tea lights. What more could you want from any pub?

Right then, I do apologise - I'm off my soapbox now and I can get back to being impartial. But please do visit the Fox & Hounds. I know I'm biased and it is my local, but you really won't be disappointed.


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