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Coach and Horses: Where everybody knows your name

Coach and Horses: Where everybody knows your name

Pizza with Portobello mushrooms, spinach, pine nuts and truffle oil at The Coach and Horses, Clapham, London

“La la la….where everybody knows your name”. The theme song for Cheers set out the show’s premise of that friendly local boozer where you’re surrounded by friends. But of course that isn’t the real world, is it? Maybe in a small village where there’s only one place to go drinking and you have no choice but to get to know the bar staff, but in London?? That most unfriendly of places?? You’re kidding. So when I visited the Coach and Horses in Clapham for the second time, handed my card over the bar to start a tab and the barmaid couldn’t spot my name, it was a pleasant surprise to hear her colleague say “It’s Pinkstone, she’s been here before”. It was rather lovely to be able to have a laugh with the staff over the fact that I was ordering an espresso martini at lunchtime. And not much compares to being asked to help pick out a kitten for one of the barmaids (except perhaps getting a kitten yourself).

I read an article the other week that said London has lost 25% of its pubs since 2001. That probably comes as no great surprise to anyone who lives here; the twin evils of rent increases and property development make pubs a risky business to be involved in. But people still love a good pub, right?  I certainly do and, what’s more, I love what pubs are doing to get to grips with the change in the weather. From getting in guest chefs to hosting tasting sessions or cocktail classes, the modern London pub will usually keep you on your toes. Soggy beer mats, sticky carpets and pork scratchings are a thing of the past. So, as well as a warm and friendly welcome at the Coach and Horses, you can also expect to find the following excellent reasons to visit: pizza, cocktails, doughnuts.

Pizza with 'nduja, cherry tomatoes and rocket at The Coach and Horses, Clapham, London

If, for some strange reason, you don’t actually like pizza then make sure you eat before visiting the Coach and Horses because that’s pretty much all you’ll find on the menu. However, these aren’t just your bog standard pizzas. Sure, you can find a margherita and a pepperoni, but there’s also a beautifully piquant n’duja pizza with sticky, jam-like smashed cherry tomatoes and roasted fennel. A “breakfast” pizza of crispy bacon, free range baked eggs and spinach also came with a great big fiery kick in the palate, thanks to the sprinkling of dried chilli across the eggs.   I would have liked the eggs to have been a little softer; the idea of a runny yolk oozing into the bacon and cheese really appeals to me. However, I get that eggs on pizza are in the same realm as pineapple and anchovies, so it’s probably best to play it slightly safe. Either way, this unusual take on pizza was delicious and should be on breakfast menus everywhere.

Pizza with bacon, egg, spinach and chilli at The Coach and Horses, Clapham, London

As if a bacon and egg pizza isn’t unusual enough, the Coach and Horses also do a “white based” pizza. This forgoes the traditional tomato base in favour of one made with ricotta, cream, nutmeg and black pepper. It comes topped with roasted Portobello mushrooms, spinach, pine nuts, thyme and truffle oil. Decadence thy name is pizza! The funky aroma of truffle combined with garlic immediately set us drooling. I really expected this to be overly rich but the creamy base had been applied with a light touch, so the whole thing was dangerously easy to eat. In fact, the beauty of all these pizzas – in my eyes – is that the dough base is incredibly thin, so you can scoff down an entire pizza without stopping to take a breath. Or perhaps that’s just me… And if you’re gluten intolerant then you don’t have to miss out! The Coach and Horses also do gluten-free pizzas.

The dessert menu only has one item on it, but that’s ok because it involves Nutella. Doughnuts covered in melted Nutella to be exact. Word of warning: these doughnuts are HUGE. And you get three of them! So unless you’re absolutely starving, you might want to share a portion. We tried and failed to even make a dent in them when attempting to get through a plate each. But all was not lost however, because the Coach and Horses will box up your leftover doughnuts and/or pizza for you to take home and have for breakfast the next day. Or, again, perhaps that’s just me… Second word of warning: it may sound weird but it really is best to ask for cutlery. Unless you enjoy covering yourself in Nutella in public.

Nutella doughnuts at The Coach and Horses, Clapham, London

Drinks-wise, the aforementioned espresso martini is a good bet, as is the raspberry margarita. The cocktail menu is a work in progress, but the Coach and Horses also do a decent selection of wines. Lovers of craft beer will be in hoppy heaven as they can choose from a wide range of  small London-based breweries on tap, as well as bottles and cans from the likes of Beavertown, La Chouffe and Piston Head.

I’d really like to believe that there’s life in the London pub scene yet. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I do think that they are still in demand – and not just as “luxury apartments”. There’s not much wrong with the world when you’ve got a slice of pizza in one hand, a beer in the other and a friendly face behind the bar. The Coach and Horses is a real little belter of a pub. Long may it last.

The Coach & Horses, 173-175 Clapham Park Road, SW4 7EX.

Many thanks to the team at the Coach and Horses for inviting me to have pizza and cocktails with them. All views are, as ever, my own.

The Manor, Clapham

The Manor, Clapham

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“This drink tastes of plants” declared my dining companion.  Our lurid green sorrel and elderflower bellinis were perhaps an inauspicious start to our meal at The Manor, as was our rather over-keen waitress who had seemingly been told to push the tasting menu for all it’s worth or risk pain of death.  At one point, we did think that she was going to hang around the table while we perused the a la carte options, but thankfully duty called elsewhere.  However, things only improved from then on.

The Manor is owned by the team behind The Dairy, which has had rave reviews and full tables since it opened in Clapham last year.  The concept is “British tapas” but, instead of a whole selection of dishes arriving at once, the menu here is arranged by four savoury courses – snacks, vegetables, fish, meat – with small plates of each served in that order.  I usually approach tapas-style menus with a degree of trepidation….How large each plate will be?  Should I order something if my companion doesn’t like it?  What if we order too much, or not enough? What if my brain implodes from all the choice?  Fortunately help was on hand in the form of our ardent waitress, who advised us to select two dishes from each section and, as neither of us is particularly fussy, the decision making process was fairly painless.  Phew!

At this point I should offer some advice.  Don’t visit The Manor if you are a staunch vegetarian.  Even the butter was made of chicken!  Yep, you read that correctly.  Chicken butter.  I have no idea which bit of the butter was the chicken or which bit of the chicken was in the butter (I suspect the delightfully little crunchy bits scattered on top), but it tasted so nice combined with warm, crusty sourdough that I really don’t care.  I could have quite easily eaten an entire loaf to myself, together with the pork & fennel salumi that we ordered as our starter – rich, meaty, with a powerful punch of fennel.  Our second starter of crab, charred celeriac, buttermilk and hazelnuts was perhaps a little too delicate as a companion to the salumi but, as a stand-alone dish, it was delicious and we used up the rest of our bread on the thick buttermilk sauce.

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The remainder of the meal is where the idea of British tapas fails me a little.  Maybe I’m just an old fashioned bird, but I generally prefer to have my meat/fish served with my veg so I can eat them together.  Not so at The Manor.  The vegetable course is most definitely a course unto itself and, as yummy as the burnt kale, cavolo nero and toasted almonds was, I don’t really feel the need to eat an entire plate of cabbage on it’s own (my mother will probably disagree…).  Things stepped up a notch with the arrival of our fish dishes – salty, tangy mackerel fillets with cucumber and dill (surprisingly served warm) and two chunky pieces of monkfish served with roasted salsify and chanterelle mushrooms, topped off with some strips of zingy pickled salsify.

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From here on it was plain sailing into the meat course which was, of course, superb.  Suckling pig belly had chewy crackling, alongside unctuous braised head meat and slices of roast squash, and hay smoked partridge consisted of both tender breast meat and confit leg served with roast parsnips and “fermented grains”, which was a lovely creamy risotto type affair.  I particularly liked the toasted grains that were added to the top of the breast meat, which tasted caramelised and added an extra bit of crunch to the dish.

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But oh….wait….there’s more!  Dessert!  What can I say….other than for me this was probably the highlight.  Frozen chocolate fondant may sound like a bit of a cop out when anyone who has ever watched Masterchef will know that the oozy melting middle – or lack of – can be the downfall of many a chef, but when it tastes this good who cares.  And when it’s teamed up with dulce du leche and freeze dried milk (which is MUCH more appetising than it sounds), it’s so delicious that I went back to see if I could possibly scrape another spoonful out of my bowl – and then tried the same on my friend’s bowl.  You know you’re on to a winning dessert when you’re talking about bowl scrapings.

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At times The Manor smacked of being a little too poncey for it’s own good (the overtly self-conscious graffiti by way of interior design is not really necessary), but restaurants of this calibre are rare outside of the “city centre” and should be welcomed with open arms and empty stomachs.  We waddled off into the night, safe in the knowledge that The Manor will be here to stay and that sorrel should never be used in cocktails.

We paid £138 for two people including a bottle of wine