Union Bistro in Clapham

Last year, I spent a lot of time watching Masterchef and thinking “Man, I wish I could afford to eat out more.” (Although, I distinctively remember one episode of the amateur series, years ago, where the contestants were sent to a Wagamama, which possibly brought its classiness down a little and just encouraged me to have more katsu chicken curry at Wagamama.) Well, that itself is a partial lie, but I know if I had all the money in the world I would eat out a lot more regularly.

That’s not to say that 2014 was just filled with endless trips to Nando’s and Kokoro. I finally managed to go to a Wahaca in London – on one of the warmest days of the year in July – and didn’t disappoint. In Brighton, we ended up at a modern British tapas place called 64 Degrees, which is the only time I’ve ever been able to tolerate blue cheese. I also spent my anniversary at Cau in Guildford, where a few errors earned a completely free meal by way of apology. In many ways, one of the better anniversaries that we had. I would still go again just to savour their amazing Sunday roasts.

Anyway, last Saturday evening, whilst I imagine most people would be still recovering at home following New Year’s Eve, I went out to Clapham for a good, filling meal instead with friends. We went to Union Bistro, described by their website as “a neighbourhood bistro where all things quintessentially British take precedence.” It is tucked away in the more leafier parts of Clapham and, when I re-emerged at 9pm, I felt jealous of the neighbourhood that has this on their doorstep. Their menu is pretty varied and seems to change weekly, hence why the much-raved about toad in the hole wasn’t on the menu, but there were plenty of other treats.

For a starter, we all went with tapas style sharers, which were immensely tasty. There were quite a few tempting options on the menu. In the end, I ordered some beetroot with walnuts and cow’s curd. I’ve never had cow curd before but it was rather delicious. I also had a taste of some pork with mustard, which was probably just that little bit better but not so overwhelmingly amazing that it made me regret my choice. I still can’t believe I used to really dislike pork – damn you Tim Anderson on your delicious pork ramen at Nanban!

I went for a fish pie as my main. Or, as it was called on the menu, a Brixham fish pie. I’m not sure what differentiates it from a normal fish pie. My initial guess was something like salt cod, since the Nanban pop-up in Brixton last summer used the same ingredient for one of their regional delicacies. I could be completely wrong. Whatever the difference is, it was pretty awesome. It looked pretty modest but the flavour was as strong as you’d expect from a fish pie.

The service itself was very good too – turns out it was very easy to mildly banter with the staff. I don’t usually, but they were so laid back and helpful that I couldn’t help but joke (appallingly). It was about having the fish pie cooked rare…I mean, you really had to be there to understand why it was humorous. They also didn’t seem judgemental in any way, which is a big plus. One of the waiters even recommended some purchases from the nearest drinks shop (which I only caught a brief glimpse of when I was on my way but I’ve put a note down to go sometime – it looks pretty ace).

Whilst we were there, we kept seeing various other delights emerge from the kitchen, including the sight of a massive roast chicken with a knife and fork triumphantly inserted at the top of the meat. The steak that my friends had looked gargantuan and I was filled with envy when it arrived at the table. I didn’t really feel like having a pudding, but on another day I would have been up for trying the ale cake. They even have a brunch menu that sounds amazing! Smoked salmon, sorrel and ratte potato tart…that sounds good.

So maybe I will go back another time. I imagine in the summer it’s a lovely place to go to for al fresco dining. I’m hoping to do ‘civilised and fancy dinners’ a little bit more this year. On the way up, I saw on Time Out a glowing review for The Manor, but that will possibly require me to save up a little. Apparently a tasting menu is £42 (without wine). But I’m willing to save, if I can have another chilled evening like this one. I’d forgotten how enjoyable sitting down for a quiet meal is.

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