As many of you know, in a previous life I was a criminal lawyer. I loved criminal law – I loved its very precise world-view and the way it tested every day your belief in the presumption of innocence – it was just the criminals I had to defend that I didn’t like so much. Being a former colony, South Africa adopted many of the concepts of English law, including a chap called the man on the Clapham omnibus. This is hypothetical reasonable person used by the courts in English law to decide whether a party before the court has acted in the way that a normal person of average education and intellect should have. If not, then they are held to have been negligent. Why they chose Clapham specifically as the home of this fictitious reasonable person, I will never know. But I do know that when I first saw a red London bus marked with the destination Clapham back in 1995, I was as excited as if I had actually been standing on platform 9 3/4 as the Hogwarts Express pulled into the station.
After living in London for over ten years, I am still no closer to meeting this level-headed and reasonable individual on the Clapham bus, but I have discovered a far better reason to visit Clapham: Trinity restaurant. The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Adam Byatt and opened in November 2006. Adam started his career with an apprentice chef placement at Claridges, followed by part-time studies at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Bournemouth while continuing to work at Claridges. After also working at The Square and Worx, he opened his first restaurant, the much-acclaimed Thyme, in Clapham in 2002. After closing Thyme in 2005, he opened Trinity in late 2006. The restaurant’s philosophy is to provide well-sourced, seasonal and reasonably priced fine dining, both by way of two tasting menus and an a la carte selection. I had heard only good things about the place and was thrilled when super talented Ailbhe recently invited me to be her dinner guest while she sketched the new tasting menu for the Trinity newsletter. The first thing that struck me was how lovely and light the room was, with its floor to ceiling windows onto the street; and the second was how friendly and knowledgeable all the staff members were – a truly customer-focused experience.
Our 7-course tasting menu (new for the Autumn/Winter season) started with robust nibbles in the form of warm bread rolls and a sinfully delicious whipped goat’s milk butter. This was a first for me – and despite looking like slightly melted marshmallow, this was quite heavenly with a mousse-like texture and a flavour like the creamiest, sweetest fresh goat’s cheese I’d ever tasted. I also loved the no-nonsense mini-crate (!) of crudites (cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, radishes with their tops) served with a sinfully delicious smoked cod roe dip – imagine the best taramasalata in the world.
From there we moved into the tasting menu proper and up first was the sweetcorn & smoked haddock soup with a salt cod scotch egg. What a scene-setter: salty, sweet, crunchy and yielding – all packed into one plate and working as a perfectly balanced team. The soup was velvety with the sweetness of the corn, but without being too rich and the the salt cod scotch quail’s egg was quite sublime. I am still pondering how they got the white so perfectly set while keeping the yolk perfectly liquid! This was paired with a2010 Skillogalee Riesling (Clare Valley, Australia) – a classic dry riesling, minerally and full of lush citrus flavours. This was followed by scallop ceviche cured in chamomile tea with charred cucumber, cucumber emulsion and a dill dressing. The scallops themselves were plump and yielding – just barely cured and the perfect consistency at which scallops should be enjoyed, to my mind. Although the combination of chamomile and cucumber sounded somewhat unusual, it worked here with the sweetness of the chamomile being offset by the clean flavour of the cucumber. The dish was paired with a bottle of2012 Alamos Torrontes (Mendoza, Argentina) which was delightful with a spicy, appley nose and a full-bodied palate full of apples and honey – a good balance for the richness of the scallops.
The next dish was described on the menu only as Of the season but turned out to be one of my 2 favourites of the night – an Autumnal tour de force of girolles, pickled artichoke, wood sorrel, lardo di colonnata and truffle emulsion. It was as if an oak tree complete with its ochre autumn leaves and its mushroom and truffle hitchhikers had upped sticks and taken up residence on my plate. The earthy girolles and truffles were balanced by the slightly vinegary pickled artichoke, but it was the silky and decadent lardo wrapped around the girolles that had me swooning. I was pleased to see this paired with a 2008 Glenwood Vignerons Selection Chardonnay (Franschoek, South Africa). It seems fashionable to bash Chardonnay these days, but it is hard to imagine another white wine that would have stood up quite so well to a plate full of butch, gutsy flavours like this. It was buttery withough being too creamy, yet with a nice backbone of mouth-watering acid and a rich mouthfeel. Perfect. This was followed by an intriguing mix of flavours in the shape of cod, cockle, cauliflower, capers and raisins. The dish consisted of a square of moist fish with a perfectly crisped caramel-coloured skin and a thick slice of cauliflower that also seemed to have been browned in a pan, topped with a scattering of cockles, plump raisins and teensy but intensely flavoured capers. To some, the sweet and savoury conbination might not have worked but as a huge fan of this contrast, I found it to be perfectly suited to my taste. To pair with this, an exceptional wine would be needed and their choice did not disappoint: a 2007 Rolly Gassmann Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France). This is not a wine you often encounter on London menus (or, indeed, outside France) and it provided the surprise of the night for me with its deep gold colour and its traces of pineapple and honey on the tongue, despite not by definition being a sweet wine. Sublime.
The next course was my second favourite of the night: Clarence Court egg, artichoke and hazelnut. This dish was playfully served in a pan and its disparate elements worked together as well as the notes in a Mozart piano concerto. The simplicity of a runny-yolked fried egg together with the earthy complexity of Jerusalem artichokes, girolles and shaved truffles, given added crunch by toasted hazelnuts. Another plate (pan!) full of the best that Autumn has to offer, and glorious in its simplicity. This was paired with a rather lovely2009 Givry 1er cru Clos Jus, Domaine Mouton (Burgundy, France) which epitomised to me the very best that a Pinot Noir can be – ripe, juicy, plummy and rounded. Perfect for an Autumn evening, really. This was followed by the only red meat dish of the night: smoked beef fillet with London braised cheeks & sorrel. This was the second time I’d had smoked read meat on a menu recently (the other instance being at the lovely North Road) and I realyl hope this is a trend that lingers for a while. There is something seriously satisfying about a smoky piece of meat that calls to mind childhood memories of smoky barbecues but in a formal restaurant setting. The meat was perfectly pink throughout (do I detect the kiss of the sous vide machine?) but seared on the outside and formed an interesting textural contrast with the braised cheeks, slow-cooked to the point of being fork-tender. I also loved that the cheek was served in a marrow bone, and the sharp green flavour of the sorrel added subtle punch. This dish was paired with 2009 Priorat Clos de Portal Negres de Negres (Catalunya, Spain) – probably the wine with the most gorgeous label I have seen in a long time. For a high-alcohol (14%) hot country red, this was surprisingly balanced and minerally – suitably complex to more than hold its own against the flavourful meat.
And so, to dessert. Often, the dessert served with a tasting menu seems to have been devised by a totally different kitchen – a kitchen that is unaware that you have just had rather a lot of food and can’t cope with a super-rich plate of dessert! However, at Trinity, the dessert was perfectly balanced between richness, sweetness and lightness: chocolate yoghurt cremosa with peanut butter mousse and salt caramel, all topped with a decidedly unsweet biscuit (oat? buckwheat?) – everything I love in a dessert, basically. The tang of yoghurt kept the cremosa from being overly sweet, and who can resist salted caramel? If the dessert itself was not too sweet, the wine match made up for it – the luscious 2012 Essensia Orange Muscat (California USA), redolent with apricots and orange blossoms but with a lovely clean finish – and look at the golden colour! And to finish up we had some pleasingly tart home-made fruit jellies and a gorgeous pot of flowering tea.
Apart from loving the light and informal room decorated in peaceful neutrals, I also loved each and every staff member who served us – they were smiley and chatty without being overly-familiar and knew the food and wine menu inside out. Whatever Trinity’s recruiting policy is, they are certainly getting something very right. The food was, to my mind, pretty close to flawless – delicious, playful and light without ever entering the realms of the challenging. And the cost of all this edible opulence, you ask, bracing yourself for central London fine dining prices? Well prepare to be surprised: the 7 course tasting menu comes in at £55 per person (or £105 if you add the outstanding selection of matched wines we had), and there is also a £45 five course option (minus the Of the Season and the egg dish) to which you can add wines for £35. And then there is always a la carte, or their very well- priced £35 3-course Sunday lunch menu. It almost seems worth moving to Clapham just so that this can be your local restaurant.
Liked: the wonderful food, the excellent staff, the good value
In a nutshell: Fine dining in a relaxed setting at very reasonable prices
Wow factor out of 10: 9
DISCLOSURE: I was invited to this meal as Ailbhe’s guest. All my opinions are my own.
4 The Polygon
Clapham Old Town
Tel: +44 20 7622 1199
And in other news… Are you a keen writer and photographer? If so, you should pop over to the Plate to Pageblog today where we are launching a creative writing and photography challenge. Up for grabs is a Plate to Page goodie bag identical to the one handed out at the Somerset Plate to Page workshop, worth over £150. Hurry over and see how to enter!