Monday, 17 May 2010

Lunch at Gazette, Balham

Considering it’s not one of the most vegetarian-sympathetic cuisines around, I do like French food. Or more to the point I like the admittedly romanticised and rose-tinted idea of Parisian life I’ve compiled over numerous trips across the Channel: the omelette or the salade de chevre chaud consumed while sipping a glass of wine and watching the world go by, that sort of thing.

We simply don’t have the same food and restaurant culture here, I know that, and I realise the futility of trying to recreate a time-dimmed memory out of context, but even so I am drawn to places like Balham’s Gazette.

This is one of a pair of south London bistros - there’s another in Battersea – and has many of the necessary elements in place to be a decent local restaurant, if it ever gets its act together. Unfortunately, there’s a degree of slapdashery in evidence that at times even verges on indifference, a lack of heart, which is a shame as it has the potential to deliver a lot more.
The menu is full of French bistro staples: croque monsieur, various eggy things, soups, salads, crepes, steaks and the like. There’s a two course set lunch for £10 and a fairly extensive French wine list. The table tops are coated in blackboard paint and there’s a little pot of chalk on each one; the desire to create one’s own table art is a strong one (though I resisted on this occasion). There’s a bar at the back, a small terrace and some amusingly low-hanging lampshades on which people regularly knock their heads. Euro-pop plays on the speakers and the staff all appear to be French.

My solo lunch started with a kir framboise and then, after a longish wait, a crepe with goats’ cheese, tomato and spinach (£5). The crepe was tasty enough if a little greasy; basic but satisfying. Many of their dishes are served, not on plates, but in Le Creuset pans and various other kitchen receptacles. This initially seems an appealingly quirky touch, but it’s actually somewhat counter-productive, as these aren’t the easiest things to eat out of and sometimes can get worryingly hot. I’d rather they concentrated on the getting the food right.

I followed this with a couple of freshly made madeleines and a little pot of rich dark chocolate sauce for dipping and dunking. This was a perfectly enjoyable way to an end a meal and wonderful value at £1.80.
The service was friendly enough but rather laid back. I was initially presented with a croque monsieur instead of my crepe; this was returned to the kitchen with a shrug and a giggle. I also waited for a good long while to get the bill even though the place wasn’t particularly busy – I didn’t mind overly, as I had my book (Diana Athill’s eloquent memoir Instead of a Letter) and I wasn’t in a rush to return to my desk.

I’ve had a few lunches here, but they're consistent in their inconsistency, sometimes they deliver but often there’s evidence of carelessness, sloppiness. I want to like this place more, as it’s local, not part of a chain, and if you squint and concentre you might be able to briefly leave behind the grey of Balham, if only for an hour or so, but it has a lot more work to do.

Gazette on Urbanspoon

Gazette, 1 Ramsden Road, London SW12 8QX 020 8772 1232

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