Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Jam Circus, Brockley

If you’re a regular round the Triangle, you may not ever think of venturing as far as the outer wilds of Brockley, but for the uninitiated it’s a revelation. For a start there’s one of my favourite Italian restaurants in the South East – La Querce -  as well as the Rivoli Ballrooms, a couple of decent pubs and a very large and seemingly inexhaustible cemetery.

Last night my foodie reporter friend Ben and I went under cover at Jam Circus, just by said cemetery, for a review for the South London Press. Well, I say under cover, but the whole shebang was blown, not, I hasten to add by my Marlow-esque trench coat and horn-rimmed glasses (although I feel they added a certain je ne sais quoi when required), but by the fact that there was no reservation in the book. Nor, interestingly was there one from 2 weeks ago when we’d had to cancel the original review date. The manager had forgotten to pass on details of our reservation. Twice.

Now this would normally not be such a sticking point, but, you know, a quick hint to PR peeps out there. If you want your restaurant reviewed by a public medium and you particularly go out of your way to stress that there are really only two venues in the entire chain of 20 that are worth eating at (!?), you might want to make sure the potential reviewer’s path to the table of feasting is clear first by informing the staff that are on duty that night of their impending arrival so they don’t have to sit around for 20 minutes while the friendly but clearly confused barman puts in an after-hours call to said lax manager… Okay, point made. On with the food.

Actually at first glance, the menu didn’t excite. It was incredibly short and, for my money, far too many of the mains came with chips, which means they either had to be bloody good or someone in the kitchen was lazy. Even the starters included home-made potato wedges. But look again and there were a couple of real potentials: a whole mackerel with a tomato salad, sardines on toast – we may have a winner. The mackerel was swimmingly fresh and grilled to charred lip-smackability, indeed whole, which seems generous for a starter (a theme we’ll return to) with a rustic chopped tomato garnish and plenty of leaves; the sardines were again grilled to sizzling crispness with a jaunty caper salad. Both were accompanied unnecessarily by gigantic chargrilled tranches of the same bread on offer as a side order. The bread was fantastic, soaked as it was in the oils and dressing, but it made the portions of a size you might reasonably consider enough for a decent lunch.

Mains were no less unstinting. Not fancying anything with chips, I opted for the pork belly with lentils and mustard mash. I cannot describe how gargantuan this was; on second thoughts, I’ll give it a go. Three thick slices of rolled pork belly (if I was picky I might query whether it was shoulder actually…) laid atop a mountain of well-seasoned but distinctly unmustard-y mash and covered with a shingle beach of herby, fabulous Puy lentils, but no crispy crackling alas. The taste was all there, the lentils in particular were more-ish beyond satiety, but the sheer size of it daunted even this trencherwoman. Ben the undercover reporter opted for fish and chips which were off the menu so chose the chickpea and sweet potato curry accompanied by yoghurt and so much rice they probably loaded it on by shovel. A side order of green beans were served perfectly al dente. We could have gone for what looked like a seasonal special of lamb chops with asparagus, but with the scarcity of British lamb these days, I would have been wary of its origins.

Ben managed to fit in a crumble whose topping could have done with another 5 minutes under a hot grill but which benefited from the two scoops of good quality vanilla ice cream. His Earl Grey prosecco – just for fun – came in a bone china tea cup, a whimsical sense of play.

We didn’t have wine, but the list was global and well-priced and there was a list of speciality beers as well as a cute and reasonable cocktail list. Prices for the food were again ungrasping, particularly in the light of the portions: starters around £5-£7, my pork belly amongst the most expensive mains at £10.

For a Monday night it was also busy: couples having a drink, plenty of board games to choose from and a local source tells me their Sunday lunches are excellent both in quality and value. It seems Brockley’s worth braving that 122 bus journey after all.