We set off on that long journey, from north to south London, with a lump in our throats, and in the hope that Adam Byatt and his team at Trinity restaurant in Clapham would restore us to good health. They did so most effectively and enthusiastically.
The lumps were the consequence of a rite of passage. Our youngest had finally left home that morning and while this brought certain advantages – for the first time in many years there would be the same number of male opinions in our house as female and the morning would not resonate to the sound of a hairdryer – there was one big disadvantage: as head chef of the household, I had just lost my pastry chef.
The remedy at Trinity began immediately. A smiling receptionist greeted us and then, in a custom I would like to see more commonly practised, followed us to the table with the menus. We were then handed over to the care of David, an Irish waiter, who responded to my question as to where he was from with the very Irish expression, “From Dublin, myself.”
This sense that a good time was to be had was also obvious in the faces of those around us. Even at 7pm, Trinity was more than half full. I could not help but overhear the man at the next table glance at the menu and say, “I only come here for the seven-course tasting menu,” a sentiment with which his companions seemed to agree.
As the manager set out five champagne glasses at another table of obviously regular customers and then returned with the bottle, he was followed by Byatt, who stepped out from the kitchen to tell his guest that this was with his compliments – an excellent PR gesture for the coming year. The host responded by loosening his tie and then also ordering the tasting menu for his table.
By then we were dipping two fritters made from Wigmore cheese into a bowl of thick mayonnaise infused with toasted hay and wishing we had been handed a spoon to finish it off.
Trinity’s wine list has been thoughtfully compiled. The range is very fairly priced; there is a good selection by the glass and to accompany the two tasting menus. Judging by the frequency with which a waiter had to dart along the pavement in front of the restaurant to get more bottles from a cellar, the list is widely appreciated. As part of our cure we treated ourselves to a bottle of J.F. Mugnier’s Nuits-St-Georges Clos de la Maréchale from the 2009 vintage that is already drinking extremely well (£78).
The menu presented two very different challenges. The first was that the starters seemed far more exciting than the mains. Byatt takes his seasons very seriously, evinced not just by the clementines and Vacherin cheese on the bar, but also a pumpkin soup, a warm salad of roast chestnuts with truffled egg, and home-smoked duck with blackberries among the starters.
There was not the same thrill about the mains. Neither salmon nor sea bream set my taste buds alight, and the only other options were a venison Wellington for two, beef, or Byatt’s interpretation of a salad of charred winter vegetables with walnuts and Parmesan. However, I spotted that on both the set menus there was a course described as “Game Daily”. This turned out to be a loin of venison that, once David had consulted with the kitchen, I was allowed to order.
Of the five dishes that followed there was the discernible sense that we were in the hands of an admirable chef who sticks to his principles and has an original approach. These sentiments were much appreciated in a first course of deconstructed pigs’ trotters, sauce gibriche and crackling; the loin of venison with roast parsnips, diced livers and carrots; and a stunningly good spiced clementine soufflé with ginger ice cream.
But both the scallop ceviche and the salad of charred vegetables lacked acidity, that essential ingredient to bring out the very best of any dish. The ceviche would have benefited from lime, the salad from a dash of balsamic vinegar.
We both, however, benefited not just from good food and wine but from a genuine sense of bonhomie. But what impressed me most about the manner in which we, and the rest of a very busy restaurant, were served was the unflagging enthusiasm of Byatt’s team.
We returned to our quiet, empty house with the sound of a roomful of very happy customers still buzzing in our ears.
4 The Polygon, Clapham
London SW4 0JG
020 7622 1199