Colonial Britain comes to Clapham. St John’s Hill gets a shot of Victorian kitsch from Powder Keg Diplomacy, which shows bars in the area how it’s done.
The exterior of Powder Keg Diplomacy gives little away – you may even think, on glancing, it’s merely a pub as opposed to the Victorian England-inspired establishment hidden within. On entering, you'll find the bar area with plenty of seating, comfy sofa booths and exposed dark woodwork. The back of the building houses The Observatory – a conservatory-style dining area complete with gramophone lampshades and vines up the walls. Somehow it works, whether it’s an intimate dinner you’re after or a larger gathering instead.
The staff at Powder Keg Diplomacy are very attentive, friendly and knowledgeable – more than willing to offer opinions or suggestions on drinks and the menu. They clearly take a great deal of pride in what they do, and want to make sure you sample the best of what they have on offer. As for the clientele, it’s what you’d expect in the area – young professionals. The whole mood is very relaxed and easy.
For something light to nibble, the duck liver parfait covered in pistachio is very smooth and rich, but needs more crunch from its coating. The pan-seared scallop starter is light and beautifully seasoned, while the ham hock is rich and flaky, accompanied by homemade piccalilli with a twist - it’s a light dressing rather than a thick condiment, and comes with toasted sourdough for added texture.
When it comes to the main course, the duck is succulent, pink and tender, served with a crunchy sultana coleslaw, but could do with more of the cherry sauce to stop the dish becoming a tad dry. The ox tongue is also a good call, again tender, served with salted broccoli and a super-fluffy kale mash that sits well with the richness of the dish. There are a few capers as well, a zingy addition and a welcome flavour cutting through the meat. If all that isn’t enough, there are sides on offer too – the salted wedge crisps are good in particular, crispy on the outside, cloud-like fluffy on the inside.
Powder Keg Diplomacy offers good portion sizes – you don’t feel too full or hard done by, and of course, three courses become obligatory. Dessert is delightfully presented. The blueberry cranachan is a light, creamy, fruity Eton Mess-style concoction served in a jar with homemade shortbread for some much-needed crunch. The whiskey and choc tart has an intriguing smoky flavour and is complemented with tangy ginger ice cream. For cheese-lovers, try something local from Waterloo cheese.
The decidedly British theme extends through to the drinks list. Specialising in cocktails, Powder Keg Diplomacy are the experts on vintage classics (around £8.50). What’s more, each option is featured on the menu with a little blurb about the origins and inspirations of the drink – making it not just a casual meal and drinks at Powder Keg Diplomacy, but a story experience. Air Mail is a triumph of rum, lemon and refreshingly dry English sparkling wine, finished off with sweet honey and gin. Recommended by the bar staff, Cape Storm is a twist on the classic Dark and Stormy, with a fruity tang and an aromatic, not-overpowering ginger kick – that’ll be from the ginger liqueur, as well as ginger beer.
There’s an extensive wine list. If white’s your drink, the Reisling-esque Chapel Down Flint from Kent is a dry delight. There are also after dinner beers, such as the Bristol Chocolate Stout.
The Last Word
You’ve got to do something pretty special to stand out in this part of town. Northcote Road, Battersea Rise and St John’s Hill all offer larger than life establishments with something to say. With its Victorian theme, excellent cocktails and delicious menu, Powder Keg Diplomacy too has something to shout about.