This popular Clapham Cafe gets it almost perfect.
The Pavement, Clapham Old Town. Clapham Common stretches opposite to the south across an expansive gulf of tarmac. Because the street is so broad there is an open quiet feel to the area occasionally interrupted by a noisy parking bus. There is a Starbucks, a Caffe Nero, and a few other modern-euro-cuisine looking restaurants. The odd pub. All these other places are empty. Everyone is at Fantasia. The broad pavement is host to a thick swathe of outdoor tables belonging to the various establishments. But only Fantasia’s tables are full. A few tables outside a pub are used, not by early drinkers but by an overspill of Fantasia customers. Inside - if you make it inside - is a clean narrow room, white walled, red tiled, black window frames. All very nice and unfussy.
A mixed crowd of families, couples, hung-over account managers and Australians frequent Fantasia religiously. Customers will queue for months, gazing at lucky ‘sitters’ tucking in to brunch. Peering politely to see who has eaten the most and might therefore leave so that they might get a chance to sit and casually sup mochas and feel slightly smug towards those still waiting. Tables are shared so expect to hear what Grant from the Battersea branch did or did not do in the company of Ushma from the Clapham branch last night.
Food, judging by the queue, is better than most places and, unexpectedly, a lot cheaper than anywhere else. A Full English or a Club sandwich at the four pound mark, and they are seriously good. The general measure of a Full English Breakfast is the egg and the sausage. Together they form a gauge by which one can read how much thought, how much devotion, goes into the meal. Sourcing and skill are paramount. Fantasia’s sausages are thick, and well done, and of a sufficiently high quality to make everything else on the plate a bonus. The egg is almost as good; whites can be a little runny but the yolk is perfect for smothering on the sausage. Also in evidence are hash browns, crisp yet succulent bacon, a tomato and some rich tar-coloured mushrooms.
The Club sandwich is also a triumph, bread is lightly toasted, chicken is thin and slightly crisp, bacon is thick cut and everything is in proportion. Even if it were a bit sloppy, or the bacon were a bit too crisp, it would still be hard to complain about given the meagre price. Burgers are also good, as is spaghetti bolognaise, served in a bowl, sauce slightly dry but better for it. The only complaint is the Eggs Benedict. While the egg is nicely vinegared, it's sadly under-poached, revealing thick globs of transparent albumen, and the ham looks and tastes cheap and reconstituted. The hollandaise is good for dunking golden skinny fries, but it's a scant reward for a substandard classic.
Cappuccinos are creamy enough to hold the sugar atop for a decent period and taste good enough to have two. Hot chocolate soothes, and teas are in pots. All perfectly good. Milkshakes are the best, a replica of how they were in the days of our youth, served in a ridiculous frosted curly glass ornament.
The Last Word
Almost everything is competently done. There is a righteous sense of pleasantness just to its location. It’s so cheap the food could be worse and it’d still be a nice place to eat – everything tastes better half price.