This intimate south London stalwart has long enjoyed a loyal following. On a balmy summer’s night, sitting out back under a marquee amid potted geraniums, creepers and twinkling lights is undeniably a delight. Some say it’s less fun in the chill of February and, at any time of year, it’s a pity the cooking can’t be pushed up a notch.
At the front, there’s a tiny bar with squashy sofas (so squashy, in fact, your derriere very nearly connects with the floor) where you can enjoy an aperitif whilst gazing out at the Common across the road. Next comes a dining area of church pews, then a rear conservatory, then a sizeable marquee in the garden and, finally, a few tables fully exposed to the elements. Metro has recently acquired next door’s garden, too, which is mainly used by drinkers and smokers at present but provides scope to extend the dining covers still further.
This is unmistakeably a venue for summer. No one could fail to be enchanted as dusk falls and the fairy lights are turned on. Relaxed, casual and perfectly civilised Clapham-ites pack out the place. In winter, though, it’s a different story and it can get jolly chilly despite portable heaters dotted about. Service is friendly (apart from one waiter who seems terribly embarrassed to be there) and generally efficient but not without errors.
The menu features what we have come to know as modern British food, i.e. traditional ingredients with influences from all over the world thrown in. There are five starters, three main-course salads, four pizza breads, seven mains proper, four sides, and five puds or cheese. There is also a specials board of three starters and three mains. Butter and four different breads are offered, all of them acceptable rather than outstanding. For this, £1 per two diners is added to your bill. Is it really worth Metro’s while to recoup such a small sum? 50p a head could and should be ‘lost’ elsewhere to avoid appearing so parsimonious.
Salt and pepper squid with a chilli and roasted garlic mayo (£6.25) isn’t a bad start. The squid walks the line between tender and chewy and possesses a chilli kick, whilst the mayo is agreeably sweet, and there are pleasantly dressed leaves. Pan-fried garlic king prawns on pickled ginger and cucumber salad (£8.70) isn’t quite so successful. The four large crustaceans arrive in their shells so surely a finger bowl should be provided. The meat is delicious but a bit soft – thirty seconds less in the pan might have been better. The cucumber ‘spaghetti’ and ginger are refreshing, but there also appears to be some unadvertised and rather aggressive chilli sauce.
From the specials board, duck breast with mash and Madeira jus (£15.95) is a dreary affair. The duck is tender and perfectly cooked if you don’t like even a trace of pink in the middle. The jus is fine but there’s not enough of it, and the mash is dry. Orange, apple or cherry sauce, for example, would have made all the difference, or they could have done something interesting with the mash. Slow roast pork belly with black pudding mash and apple sauce (£13.50) is a big cube of tender meat and faultless crackling. Again, double the amount of gravy would help. The apple sauce and specks of black pudding in the potato point up what was missing from the duck dish. A side of broccoli (£2.90) could be both a tad hotter and more al dente.
All five desserts are £5.20 whilst the cheeseboard is an eyebrow-raising £10.45. Sticky toffee pudding with a scoop of perfectly okay vanilla ice cream is a light and polite example of the genre. The ice cream selection is confined to chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut, whilst the sole sorbet is raspberry. Scoops of chocolate, hazelnut and raspberry are ordered but vanilla ice cream comes instead of the raspberry sorbet. The hazelnut is the best of the bunch with a deep nutty flavour. A few crunchy ice crystals lurk within the chocolate.
The global wine list features three sparklers including a pink, five still roses, 11 whites and 16 reds. House white and red are £15.50 whilst the priciest bottle on the list is a relatively modest £51.75. Commendably, there’s plenty available by both the 175ml and 250ml glass. Sauvignon Blanc Sierra Grande, Chille 2009 (£4.80/£6.25/£17.35) is light and lemony and arrives correctly chilled. Pinot Grigio Mirabellow, Pavia, Italy 2009 exudes zingy freshness and quality. It is rather oddly priced, though, at £4.80/£6.25/£19.20 making it dearer to buy a bottle than three large (third of a bottle each) glasses. El Tesoro, Malbec Shiraz, Argentina 2009 (£4.50/£6.05/£17.60) is a smooth, substantial, red-fruit-packed pleasure. Merlot Tierra Alta, Chile, 2009 (£4.60/£6.25/£18.40), meanwhile, is tickly, spicy, slightly smoky and totally yummy.
The Last Word
At around £40 for three courses and half a bottle of modest wine (not forgetting that pesky 50p for the bread), dinner at Metro offers fair value for money. The setting is enchanting on a warm evening and, clearly, countless locals have taken it to their hearts. It might not be such fun in the depths of a British winter, however, and, at any time of the year, a few tweaks in the kitchen could make a big difference.