The Tapas Room

We were very excited when we heard that The Tapas Room was opening in Broadway Market, Tooting. We love tapas and wine so this promised to be a winning combination for us. The Tapas Room is located just along from Craft Tooting and opposite Hi-Ki. The unit has been nicely decorated and a classy and cosy atmosphere has been created. Seating is available at 2 long wooden bars on both sides. Wooden crates are used as shelves and the food is prepared in the open kitchen in the corner.

We settled in at one of the tables and perused the menu. The food menu included nibbles, cheese, meat and plates. We opted for some padron peppers, a cheese and meat plate, some chicken liver parfait and some morcilla with quails eggs.

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The wine menu contains all Spanish wines and they are available by the glass or bottle. We selected a glass of the Finca Manzanos Rioja Blanco and the Montevannos Roble from the Ribera del Duero region. The wine was served quickly and in really nice, long stemmed glasses (I’m a sucker for nice glassware).

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The Rioja was lovely. Perfectly chilled and with a nice smooth flavour. It was incredibly drinkable but I was on a one glass limit. The Montevannos Roble was nice, with good dark fruit and subtle oakiness to it. It had a dry finish with slight chewy tannins, but it went quite nicely with the food. A glass of the Familia Pacheco Roble was also enjoyed later in the meal, slightly lighter than the Montevannos although not a light red wine, it had more red fruit characteristics with a hint of spice.

Pretty quickly the food started arriving. The chicken parfait was served on a board with slices of toasted crostini and a fig. It was lovely and smooth with a good depth of flavour. The fig cut nicely through the richness of the parfait and complimented it really well.

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The padron peppers were next and we are big fans of these. We have had them plain as well as in batter, and these came plain sprinkled with rock salt. They were yummy and cooked perfectly so that the flesh of the pepper came easily away from the stalk.

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Next came a very impressive cheese and meat board. This was fantastic. There were 5 different cheeses, all of which were explained to us, as was the plentiful slices of Spanish chaucuterie (I believe this included some Catalonian fuet, an Iberico salsichon and Basque chorizo). The board came with slices of baguette, some quince paste and some fig and almond wedge. Not only did this look incredible, it tasted fantastic too.

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The cheeses were lovely and came from their daily selection. There were 2 goat cheeses, one soft and gooey which tasted like a really good camembert and one harder which wasn’t overly chalky, as some goat cheeses can be. There was a lovely blue cheese which strangely, was quite meaty in texture and flavour. All in all, this was accompanied by many appreciate noises from us.

Finally, the morcilla and quails eggs was fantastic. Lovely quails eggs sitting on top of Spanish black pudding, resting on soft sweet peppers, finally on top of lightly toasted baguette. It was great!

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Now, because we were going to be writing a review we gave into the temptation of the dessert on the menu which was a chocolate brownie (not made in-house) with strawberries. This was decidedly wicked. It was quite dense in texture but rich and very chocolatey. The strawberries were sweet and cut through this perfectly.

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As we said, we love tapas and everything we tried at the Tapas Room was delicious. We now have two great Tapas places in Tooting we will not hesitate to visit, but they are both quite different. The Tapas Room, being in a marketplace, has a more relaxed social atmosphere and the more focused menu means it is the perfect place for nibbles or a light dinner. It would be the perfect place to spend an afternoon, grazing on the tapas and working your way through the wine menu.

@thetapasroom

Apollo Banana Leaf

There are lots of Indian (and Sri Lankan) restaurants to choose from in Tooting and we have been on the search to try and find our new favourite. Someone recommended Apollo Banana Leaf as one of theirs so we thought we would give it try. We booked a table for 4 earlier in the week for 7.30pm on Saturday evening. You can’t book online so we did this by calling them and were told “don’t be late”. OK!

The restaurant is situated further away from Tooting Station, along Tooting High Street towards Colliers Wood, not far from Kaosarn Thai. The décor is decidedly 1980’s and took us all back a bit. The walls are painted in interesting colours and are adorned with various large landscapes, and the padded chairs are covered in blue shiny fabric with flashing fairy lights twinkling around the bar. For us though, as long as it is clean, and it was, it is all about the food. We were seated at a table for 6. The tables are crammed in so it was nice to have a little extra space.

The menu was interesting. It lacked a lot of the dishes you would expect to find on an Indian menu eg. rogan josh, bhuna etc but, to be fair, they advertise as a Sri Lankan restaurant which may explain that.

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We decided to choose a range of dishes which were similar to those we have had elsewhere to make it easier to compare. For starters, we opted for onion bhaji, chicken pakora and deep fried prawns. We also ordered poppadums, but these never arrived.

The starters were good. The onion bhajis were large, very crispy and easily shared between the 4 of us. The prawns were great. They had a spicy finish and a meaty texture to them and the coating was nice and crispy.  The chicken pakora were also good and had a nice bit of heat to them. They were served with a mint yogurt and a spicy dip.

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For mains, we ordered chilli chicken, chicken korma, chicken tikka masala and jeera chicken. To accompany these dishes we chose mushroom rice, pilau rice and a garlic and plain breads. The dishes arrived in stainless steel dishes and were good sized portions.

The tikka masala was slightly different to others we have had bit tasty. It had quite strong garlic flavour to it and came with plenty of sauce.

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The chilli chicken was a drier dish and not as hot and spicy as we had hoped. It was tasty but lacked a bit of kick.

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The korma was creamy and had a nice balance of coconut flavour to it. The chicken was tender and nicely cooked.

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Finally, the jeera chicken was really good. Marinated in herbs and then flavoured with cumin and fennel seeds, giving it a lovely peppery and aniseed hint. The sauce wasn’t quite as thick as I’d like but it was still tasty.

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The bill came and it came to around £15 a head. We were pretty impressed with that. This was of course helped by the fact the restaurant was BYOB which makes it a considerably cheaper option.

Is the Apollo Banana Leaf our new favourite South Asian restaurant? Probably not, but it is certainly a good value meal and we had a very nice time. We weren’t rushed at any point and could have sat there all evening. If you have a favourite Indian dish, you may be disappointed with the menu here, but if you are happy to try something new, this is a good place to try. The dosa, which the neighbouring table had, looked fantastic. Next time we will give that a go.

Kaosarn Thai

Kaosarn was recommended to us by friends who had previously visited both the Battersea and Tooting branches. We booked a table with them at the Tooting branch for 7.45 on Saturday evening.  Kaosarn is situated on Tooting High Street, about 5 minutes walk away from Tooting Broadway Station in the direction of Colliers Wood, but it’s worth the walk.

We were warmly greeted by Giselle, and seated at a table in the middle of the restaurant. Kaosarn is BYOB and cash only so we had all come equipped with our preferred tipple for the evening. The menu was extensive and had all the thai staples you would expect to see.

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Whilst we made our choice, we were provided with a couple of bowls of fantastic Thai prawn crackers to nibble with a sweet chilli sauce.

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Between us we ordered a selection of starters: spring rolls, chicken satay skewers, king prawns in batter and fish cakes. They were all served piping hot and very quickly to our table and were delicious. The spring rolls had a perfect crispy shell with a soft mushroom and vegetable filling. The prawns had a light and crispy batter and were served with a grated radish and soy sauce dip. The fish cakes were soft, fragrant and spicy, and the satay skewers had a chargrilled flavour with a lovely sweet peanut sauce.

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The main dishes we had ordered included a Gai Tod (deep friend garlic and pepper chicken with sticky rice and green salad). A good crunchy coating surrounded the chicken, which was very tasty. The sticky rice perfectly cooked, and the salad was lovely and fresh. The dipping sauces were a good contrast to each other, and the hot dipping sauce had a good kick to it.

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We also had a beef massaman curry, and this was so much nicer that when I have had it in other restaurants. The sauce was just the right balance of flavour with soft chunks of beef, potato and onions.  It was full of flavour and served with soft and fluffy rice.

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Chicken pad thai was also ordered. This was also delicious, and again it was considerably nicer than has been eaten at other Thai restaurants.

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Finally, one of us ordered the Kao Pad Kra-Praw with chicken. A good mix of flavours and textures, and a fair bit of heat from the chilli.

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We were all full by the end of the meal and when the bill came, it came to about £15 per person. Based on the amount and quality of the food we had had, this seemed like really good value. Because the restaurant is BYOB, it’s a great way to keep the overall bill down and Kaosarn would be a great place to go with a group of friends.

The service all night was friendly and speedy and when we left, there was a queue at the door. If you are planning on giving Kaosarn a try, we’d really recommend you book a table or go on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday evening when it is a bit quieter. Whether  you like Thai food or have never tried it before, Kasoarn is sure to hit the spot.

 

Hinta – Japanese tapas

Hinata is housed in a small unit next to Plot in Broadway Market. It is newly opened and serves Japanese style food.  The menu is succinct and in the evenings they describe their menu as ‘tapas’.  The unit is decorated in a modern way with 4 stools along the counter and a table in the main walkway of the market. Stylish copper lights hang over the counter and everything is clean and tidy. The kitchen area of the unit is neat although it doesn’t look quite finished.

We sat at the bar on the stools and in order to get into the ‘tapas’ spirit decided to order 1 of each of the 6 available dishes.

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As Hinata is BYO we ordered our food and then quickly popped round to Craft beer to get some drink. The food started arriving quickly. Edamame are a favourite of ours and those came first, followed by a bowl of potato salad. Potato salad may not sound like a Japanese dish, but it is yōshoku cuisine, which I think I’m correct in saying is western food done in a Japanese style. Crushed chunks of potato, with carrot and cucumber in a light mayonnaise, it was nice. Both of these were a good start. 

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The gyozas arrived next and were really nice. Soft shells with a tasty pork filling and served with a soy dip. Something like some slices of spring onion would have livened up the plate a little, but they were good. I’ll be honest and say that I prefer these soft grilled gyoza to the fried ones at Hi-Ki, although I wouldn’t turn either down.

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We haven’t had chicken Karaage before and this is best described as Japanese fried chicken. It was very tasty and the batter was crisp and well cooked, although a bit more of the dip would have been good.

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Finally the salmon and prawn tempura were served. The salmon was well cooked and served with a soy dressing and sesame seeds. It was served on its own but it really needed something to go with it; some rice on the side would have been perfect.

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The tempura prawns were good, the batter was light and crispy and it came with a soy dip with plenty of fresh ginger to warm it up. 

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At the end of the meal they asked me if we had enjoyed the food, having just opened, and they wanted honest feedback. I told them that we had enjoyed the food but the salmon needed an accompaniment, and she did admit that they’d run out of rice.

The food was well cooked and it was tasty, which you would expect when the menu is limited and focused in this way. For all of the dishes on the menu, it cost us £30, and it’s cash only so make sure you’ve been to the cash machine and somewhere for drinks beforehand. It’s not bad value for money but with the choice of 3 Japanese style kitchens in close proximity in Tooting, they need that addition of rice or perhaps another accompaniment dish on the menu that would give customers a bit more choice.

Hi-Ki Robata Grill & Sushi Bar

We were sushi virgins until we paid a visit to Hi-Ki Robata Grill and Sushi Bar. They opened a month ago in the up and coming and eclectic  Broadway Market, and what originally drew us there today was the thought of gyoza, which we like… a lot. They have a corner unit near the entrance to the market, next to Craft and opposite Hill Station. The grill is open and they have seating at the bar along both edges of the unit, and they also have 4  tables inside in a more traditional restaurant setting. We sat at the bar which allowed us to see our food being prepared.

The service was very friendly and after explaining we had never had sushi before, they explained all of the different options and recommended a Hi-Ki Set Platter to start us off. This was priced at £12.50 and included 6 pieces of sashimi, 1 uramaki and 4 nigiri.  We also ordered a portion of chicken gyoza, some pork gyoza and some prawn and chive dim sum. These were priced really cheaply with a portion of 4 gyoza costing only £2.50! The dim sum were £3.60. Drink wise we went for a bottle of Asahi Beer and a bottle of Sake. There were bottles of fruit infused water on the counter which were frequently topped up.

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The food didn’t take long to arrive and was presented in a very appealing way. Both types of gyoza were delicious. They were deep fried which gave them a crispy outer shell and the fillings were tender and flavoursome. We had been given some sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce to dip our food in and the sweet chilli went really well with the gyoza. The dim sum were like little soft pillows of tasty goodness.

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Once the sushi platter arrived we tucked right in. Having never braved sushi before we quickly realised that we have been missing out. The platter had 4 pieces of nigiri: one salmon, one sea bass, one prawn and one tuna. Nigiri is basically a slice of the raw fish on top of a portion of rice. It was lovely, especially with the soy sauce. Urumaki is what I think of when I think of sushi. It is basically a roll with rice on the outside, seaweed, and then fish and in this case avocado, all rolled up and  cut into mouthsize pieces. Again, these were lovely. The flavours worked really well and the distinctive flavour of the seaweed came through each mouthful. The slices of sashimi were also lovely.

Having finished off that lovely lot, and in the spirit of writing a full review, we decided to try something from the grill and chose the honey-glazed pork. We were happy to wait but they gave us a portion of edamame beans to tide us over while it was being cooked. We love edamame beans so these were a welcome offering.

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The pork smelt delicious as it was being cooked and tasted as good as it smelt once it was served.  It was sticky and sweet, and full of flavour with that lovely juicy meat and fat you get with good pork belly. It came with a portion of perfectly cooked rice as as simple accompaniment.

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Feeling satisfied we paid the bill and walked away discussing why we had never tried sushi before and thinking about who we could take to Hi-Ki next time we go. We are sushi novices but are sure that even if you are a sushi fan, you will enjoy what Hi-ki have on offer.

@HiKiTooting

 

 

Unwined & Matt Osborne

Unwined will always have a fond place in our hearts. It is the first place we visited which started us spending our time in Tooting, and we like to visit every four weeks or so, sometimes for food and wine and sometimes just for wine. We have loved seeing it evolve and develop into a popular night spot over the last 2 years and always feel welcome here. In fact it is the closest thing we have to a ‘local’.

In the kitchen for the next six weeks is Matt Osborne. His food is modern European in style with some Asian twists, and we had to Google a few of the dishes prior to heading down there.  One of the things that has appealed to us about Unwined over the last 2 years is the range of pop ups they have had on offer and the fact this has encouraged us to sample an eclectic mix of cuisines. Matt’s food was a good example of this.

The premise is simple: Unwined have a theme for their wines (this month it is rainbows) and they match the wines within that theme, to the food on offer from the pop-up. The menu will include a couple of small plates/ nibbles, 3 starters, 3 mains sometimes with side dishes, and 1 or 2 desserts and a cheese board. The prices are always reasonable with a main dish costing between £7 and £11. Being food and wine fans we nearly always have the wine paired with the dishes we choose and this can lead to discovering some unusual but fantastic wines. What adds to the experience is the fact that the staff are always able to explain the story behind the wine.

We booked our table for 2 online through their website and arrived at 7pm. We were greeted and seated quickly and perused the menu.

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To start, we chose the mackerel with cucumber, radish and thai spice and chawunmushi, asparagus, peas and nasturtium. Chawunmushi is a Japanese egg custard which we’d never tried before it was served warm with thin slices of asparagus and peas on top. It was delicious. Like nothing we’ve ever tasted before but really nice.

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The mackerel was lovely. Lightly cooked, served with thin slices of crunchy radish under slices of fresh cucumber, and a nice hint of Thai spices.

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The wines to accompany the dishes were a Clip De Monte Da Vaia from Portugal and a Verus Vineyards Pinot Gris. With both starters having quite strong and complex flavours, finding wines to compliment them can’t have been easy, but they succeeded.

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For our mains we chose the leek and taro tart with pear and pickled mushrooms and the beef short rib with coriander and XO sauce. We also ordered a portion of fried new potatoes with chilli salt. These dishes were delicious. The leek and taro tart was served on a thin, crispy and flaky pastry and the flavours worked in harmony with each other. The pickled mushrooms supplied a nice bit of acidity which was supported by the fruity pears on top of the tart.

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The short rib was, as you’d expect, meaty. A good strong beef flavour, with meat that came away from the bone with ease. The accompanying XO had a bit of a kick.

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The accompanying wines were A Mano: Negroamaro from Italy. Red wine is not usually my thing but with the tart, it went really well. The short rib was matched with a Viteloper ‘TN/15’ Touriga Nacional from Australia. A grape normally found in Portugal, it was great with the beef. Plenty of fruit to start with, and then a nice smokey and spiciness to the finish.

We always have a lovely time when we visit Unwined and this time was no exception. Matt Osborne is in the kitchen until May 14th and is certainly worth a visit.

@agrapenightin

http://agrapenightin.co.uk

Vagabond Wines

We only popped into Vagabond Wines on Northcote Road, Battersea, to see what it was all about and to peruse the wines on offer. Two hours later we emerged, full and ever so slightly bleary eyed, but having had a jolly nice time.

Vagabond is situated near the junction of Northcote Road and Battersea Rise. There is a small seating area at the front, along the pavement area, which is covered by an awning and is made nice and cosy with cushions, blankets and patio heaters. Inside, the decor is an inviting mix of high wooden benches, built using wine boxes, comfy seats near the front and high metal  bar stools. What really seals the deal though are the Enomatic style wine dispensers which house 80 bottles of wine, just waiting to be tasted. There is no mistaking the fact that this place does wine.

Please excuse the slightly wonky iPhone landscape photos of the wine dispensers.

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The way the wine works is simple. You can buy a bottle and enjoy that, or you can pay a £5 deposit for a dispensing card, top it up with credit and then sample a range of wines from the 80 on offer. You can select either a tasting shot, a 125ml glass or a 175ml glass of your chosen tipple. Each wine is displayed in the machine and is accompanied with helpful tasting notes, which you can take a copy of, to help you make your choice.

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Over the course of the afternoon, we sampled 6 different wines.

Each dispensing unit has 10 different wines in, splitting them up into different categories. The 40 red wines are split into; Bold, Elegant, Spicy and Vibrant. The 30 white wines are Crisp, Aromatic and Rich. The last unit had 5 rose wines, and 5 sweet and fortified wines. Above each wine is a small paper sheet which provides you with a good description of the wine, and along with the dispenser categories, helps you chose one that you should hopefully enjoy, or perhaps a wine you don’t know much about but want to try. This is the description for the Vibrant Rall Cinsault, a fantastic South African red wine from a very good wine maker:

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The notes above are about spot on. Lovely fruit up front, a hint of violet, supple tannins, and an almost savoury finish to it. Fantastic. I also enjoyed an Elegant Rioja (Tempranillo with a small % of Garnacha and Graciano) which started with cherry and bramble fruits and finished with a lovely spiciness to it, and an Elegant Nebbiolo from Langhe (Northern Italy) which again was very nice. A pleasant hint of strawberry, red fruits and rose, but, as the description said, a tarriness to it which, along with the tannins, gave it a bigger mouthfeel and structure to what was a paler red wine. It was young (2015) so the tannins were quite firm, and I’m sure it would be even better in 5-10 years time although I’m not sure Vagabond will have any left by then!

Due to a slight oversight of enjoying the wine too much, notes for the white wines were forgotten, but we do recall that amongst those enjoyed, was a Crisp easy drinking wine of unknown grape variety (forgotten tasting sheet!), a Rich white Rioja with tropical fruits, some minerality and fresh acidity, and a Rich Viognier from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, which had lovely peach and mango, was full bodied and buttery smooth. Some very enjoyable wines.

 

Now we’ve been over the wine, we can move onto the fantastic food. The menu here includes a range of dishes. There are some nibbles which include sourdough bread, croquettes, white bait and chorizo. They also offer small plates and then a range of sharing platters, all of which sounded delicious. It was lunchtime and we had planned to get something to eat on the move but having a quick glance at the menu and having a mutual weakness for cheese and charcuterie, we decided to order a platter to enjoy alongside the wine we were going to sample.

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The tasting board didn’t take long to arrive and it looked impressive. It included 3 cheeses and 3 meats, cornichons, olives and a basket of sourdough bread with salted butter.  We were hungry and we enjoyed it, washing it all down with our carefully selected tipple.

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When it became apparent we would be staying for more than 1 glass of wine each, we decided to try a few of the nibbles on the pretext of them helping soak up the alcohol, but basically because they sounded so good. We went for  the pork crunch and a bowl of the parmesan and proscuitto croquettes.

The pork crunch are puffed up pork scratchings, aptly named, they were light and crunchy, dipped in the mustard on the side they were great. The croquettes were lovely, with a creamy and gooey inside, and a piquillo pepper sauce which was a well matched accompaniment.

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Finally, being big fans of them, we had a portion of padron peppers. These were served in a crispy batter and with an aioli dip. They were delicious, we loved the batter and the dip went perfectly.

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The team serving were friendly and polite, and more than happy to talk about the wines on offer and answer the questions we had. Based on the number of people that arrived after us, it is probably advisable to book a table in advance. The secret courtyard out the back looked lovely.

So, that was a very enjoyable and unexpected couple of hours and I know we’ve said it at the end of most of our other reviews, but there is no doubt we will be going back to Vagabond Northcote Road, or one of their other branches, in the very near future and “dragging” a few of our friends along with us.

@VagabondWines

http://www.vagabondwines.co.uk