Friday 26 May 2023

Lulu's, Herne Hill

Thank the lord for the lengthening days, for lifting the spirits and lightening the mood and - most importantly from my point of view - dramatically improving the quality of food photography on this blog. I'm sure Lulu's would be a lovely, cozy little spot even in the depths of winter, but in the early evening in early summer its quaint corner aspect (previously completely wasted on a hairdressers) looks out over a bright and bustling Herne Hill with gaggles of kids making their way home from school, families queuing patiently for craft ice cream in the station, and friends - and their dogs, and their dog friends - catching up at the Commercial over pints of London IPA. You feel like you're in the opening scenes of a Richard Curtis film.

Lulu's is owned by, and is an offshoot of (they share the same kitchens) the local stalwart Llewelyn's bistro next door, but is aimed at a more casual and - let's face it - younger crowd. With its loud music (inside) and enthusiastically chain-smoking clientele (outside) it may not be a place to bring your parents, but we were comfortably the oldest people in the place on Wednesday evening, and I was once called a Millennial. They also - needless to say - don't take reservations, but I made damn sure I was through the door as soon as the stool was removed from the doorway.

The menu is an intriguing mix of Italian and Catalan, with everything having something going for it so choosing from even this quite small list of dishes was quite a struggle. While you mull it over, they bring a little bowl of those matchstick fries you see so often in the supermarkets in Spain but which, for no good reason, have yet to catch on over here. They go very well with a Marmalade Martini, but then I imagine most things do.

There's a lot going on with the gildas, but this is no bad thing. With pickled rather than the more usual salted anchovies, alongside pickled onions, olives and topped with cute sweety drop chillis, they were a lovely mix of salty, sour and hot, and pretty little things too, to boot.

Soppressata, on the other hand, was anything but busy - just a generous plate of sliced salami which ate very well, particularly when you came across one with a chunk of black pepper embedded in it. Also full marks to the staff for not completely ridiculing the fact we assumed they'd misspelled sobresada, and just politely pointing out that soppressata was, actually, something quite different.

Jamon de Teruel was soft and salty and just fatty enough, and another generous portion. Perhaps we didn't quite need two plates of ham as a starter, and to their credit the front of houise did gently attempt to advise against it, but do you know what, I regret nothing.

Broad beans, preserved artichoke, piatonne beans (think sugar snaps, only huge and light in colour) all arrived draped in shavings of smoked ricotta and studded with fried breadcrumbs, and was all as lovely as that sounds. Eating broad beans (not to mention piatonne, which I'd not knowingly eaten before) is one of the best things about eating out in early summer in this country - it's a genuinely sad moment when they start disappearing from menus.

Raw scallop, cucumber and grape is a combination you may have come across before if you've ever sat down at a small plates restaurant in London in the last few years, but is popular for a reason - it's a great combination. But binding it all together was a thick, rich ajo blanco which didn't hold back on the ajo at all, and pieces of mint leaf, perched vertically on top as if carried by leafcutter ants, added a lovely extra summery note. There was also a very nice grassy olive oil.

Lastly of the savoury courses, a roll of lamb belly so ridiculously soft and tender it basically dissolved in the mouth into pure lamb stock. On top, slices of courgette and leaves of endive more summer joy but the most interesting and clever bit of this dish were the chunks of orange which worked surprisingly well with everything else on the plate, not least the lamb. It was a sign that alongside technical skill, the kitchens at Lulu's can experiment successfully when required.

Having had such a great time so far, thanks also in part to a bottle of riesling which disappeared remarkably quickly, attention turned to desserts. Rhubarb millefeuille was a very accomplished bit of pastry work, like everything before it very much of the season but cleverly put together and very enjoyable. We had it with a glass of dessert wine which I'm almost certain they described in loving detail but which I'm afraid is lost to me now.

So yes, perhaps we could have gone a bit easier on the booze but I'm not going to apologise for enjoying myself as much as I possibly could in a smart, efficiently run little neighbourhood restaurant designed to be as enjoyable as possible. Lulu's is the kind of place that every corner of London deserves but which, sadly, very few have. Like the London Shell Co. in Highgate, or the Baring in Islington, it's a brand new operation that feels already like an integral part of the community, perhaps not somewhere to kill yourself travelling across town on the offchance of snagging a table, but a place for Herne Hillians to hang out, drink, nibble and eat while normal life goes on all around. And with every seat taken on a Wednesday night, it seems it's already found its audience.