Do we really need a restaurant review in the Dulwich Society Newsletter? Is this getting too lifestyle or do restaurants come under the umbrella of amenity value? At the invitation of the Editor, my intention is to review restaurants either in or within walking distance of Dulwich. This will include Herne Hill, Lordship Lane and Crystal Palace. I welcome any reader's suggestion for restaurants to be considered for a review. I will remain anonymous and I will be paying my own way.
Firstly, a brief look back. My earliest memory of eating out in Dulwich was the Italian bakery in Calton Avenue. A very nice Italian family ran it and we went almost every Saturday lunchtime. There was a small corkage charge for wine and the food was good. The principal restaurant in the Village at that time was the London Steak House, now the site of Bella Italia, where the steak was always correctly cooked. The food at the Grove, now the Harvester, was good and the restaurant in the Crown & Greyhound, which was situated in what is now the non- smoking room, was homely and adequate. Then Nico Ladenis opened in Lordship Lane, in premises now occupied by Mr Lui's Chinese restaurant, and suddenly Dulwich was on the gastro map. Sadly I didn't eat there, but I do remember the sign in the window which warned 'We do NOT serve prawn cocktail or well done steak'. The rest is of course history.
'The only consistency is its inconsistency'
Today we have an almost bewildering choice, reflecting the way the nation's eating habits have become far more cosmopolitan and adventurous. However, in Dulwich itself there are very few restaurants and certainly no Chez Nico. In the Village we have three chains, Pizza Express, which I have been told turns over more money per square foot than any other restaurant in the group; Bella Italia and Le Piaf, both of which members of chains of similar restaurants based on the Café Rouge model. Pizza Express is a reasonable hangover cure and somewhere to take the kids while Le Piaf, known locally as Naff Piaf, has offered me fine, as well as appalling food. The only consistency is its inconsistency.
In West Dulwich we have Porcini, which I like for its unfussy Italian food, and which is one of only a handful of independently run restaurants I am aware of on the Dulwich Estate. We also have Café Rouge at West Dulwich, which I understand is to extend into the Village. The Café Rouge chain does have its merits and again I have experienced both good and bad there.
'What I am looking for this time is a good value lunch'
So, where to start? It has to be Belair, now known as Beauberry House. Surely, with its fantastic setting it has guaranteed success. Or has it? I have been there a number of occasions, although not under the present management, and as elsewhere in Dulwich, I have often experienced food that has, at times, been exceptional and yet on other visits, disappointing. What I am looking for this time is a good value lunch; like the ones offered in Lordship Lane at Franklins or The Palmeston, both of which offer outstanding value with excellent set menus ... So let's go to Beauberry House for lunch.
I know I'm here primarily to comment on food, but the décor cannot pass without notice because at Beauberry House it is somewhat startling. It is nevertheless great fun. Shocking orange 'flock' dining chairs are ranged against a stark white background which make the dining room feel light and airy. Presentation is obviously something a great deal of thought has gone into, with the bar and dining room contrasting radically. My companion and I decide on the set menu and I started with a cold beetroot and cinnamon soup, my companion having smoked salmon with olive mayonnaise. Both dishes were beautifully presented, although I do have reservations on the marriage of beetroot with cinnamon. The main courses of Chicken Teriyaki with stir fried rice for my companion and Cod Tempura with chips for me looked as though thought and care had gone into how they arrived at the table and, joy of joy, it was served on hot plates! The chicken was well marinated, the tempura light and delicate and the chips hand cut and cooked perfectly. After this, the desserts of chocolate cup with saffron cream and banana tart with green tea ice cream were a little disappointing. Perhaps a little too much for lunch on a hot day?
At two courses for £14.50 and three for £16.50 I felt it was good value for money, although creeping a little towards what one would expect to pay in the West End. Yet I have a feeling that, despite the quality of the food, Beauberry House is rather pretentious. This could be its flaw, and unless it becomes a destination restaurant for people outside the area as well as within, it could fail. I hope they are successful because it looks as though they are trying very hard and it appears very professionally run.
Beauberry House Restaurant Open Tues-Saturday 12-3pm and 6-10.30pm. Sundays 12-3pm
Bar open Tues-Thurs 12noon-11pm, Fri-Sats 12 noon till late, Sundays 12noon-5pm
Telephone 020 8299 9788