The Manor is another venture from genius restauranteurs Sarah and Robin Gill (owners of The Dairy) and is also based in Clapham, which is slowly becoming a little gastronomic haven. They have converted a former tapas bar in a deserted street off the main road in a stylish pared back new Scandinavian style – there are lots of cement grays and subtle tiling, exposed brickwork and reclaimed Victorian school tables.
Head chef Dean Parker moved over from The Dairy, having previously worked with Tom Aitkens and at Amass in Copenhagen. The dessert section is staffed by the excellent Kira Ghidoni (who was previously pastry chef at Fera at Claridge’s) and they have a special dessert bar which (if you are working on the a la carte menu) you can transfer to and watch your desserts being prepared. You can opt for a seven course tasting menu for a very reasonable £42 or the a la carte which has starters at £5.5-7 and mains for £9-12.5 (there is quite a lot of cross over between the two menus). And before I move onto the food, a quick note on the toilets which have been discussed at some length elsewhere – yes, they are a bit dingy, the graffiti is strange and they haven’t been redesigned along with the rest of the restaurant, but they seemed fine to me and were clean…..
We opted for the tasting menu which started with wonderful sourdough and rich, decadent crispy chicken skin butter, followed by a clean but simple crab dish with charred celeriac, hazelnuts and buttermilk. Next up was chicken skins with kimchi and kale – for me this hit a perfect balance, with the fatty, gelatinous chicken bumping up against the tart, bitter kimchi and fresh, earthy kale. The kimchi had been anglicised – it was cut thinner and less punchy (both in terms of spice and acidity) than what I have eaten in Korean restaurants but it worked really well with the dish.
Our next course was monkfish with salsify and mushrooms, this was beautifully presented on a stoneware plate and was one of my favourite dishes of the day. The monkfish was succulent and meaty; the salsify was served in two ways – roasted and served raw from the mandoline. The clean, subtle salsify flavours were beefed up with assorted mushrooms including powerful chanterelles and moisture was lent by a tasty brown butter mushroom sauce.
Our tasting main course was hay smoked pigeon with fermented grains, parsnip and hemp granola. The pigeon breast had been cooked nicely pink and had only a subtle hint of smokiness, the leg was prepared whole including the foot (which was quite dramatic but not for the faint-hearted) and the liver and heart were served alongside. The pigeon heart was wonderfully tender and simply melted in the mouth, but unfortunately the liver was a bit overcooked. However I really enjoyed the pigeon breast which was served with a crunchy malt granola topping which added texture and had been cooked perfectly pink. This was served with fermented grains which were slightly yeasty and sticky, but complemented the strong flavours of the meat very well.
Our first of Ghidoni’s creations was simply stunning – lemon sorbet with gin, cucumber, sesame seeds and fermented tea essence. This sounds complicated, but the flavours were clean and bold – the tartness of the lemon was brought down by the oily sesame seeds, a perfect palette cleanser. The final dish was apparently a new creation but again hit the right notes for me: rhubarb (probably from The Dairy’s garden) with rich, creamy tonka bean custard and an olive/rhubarb snow created with a blast of liquid nitrogen – both dramatic and tasty.
Verdict: it’s well worth a trip south to The Dairy’s bold and innovative little brother 9/10