I have always adored Clapham, yet I hardly ever visit. Some of my fondest memories of my pre-Dubai time in London was when a couple of close friends lived in this leafy South London neighbourhood, giving me endless excuses to trot down there, grabbing beers and snacks at the Sainsburys before getting sun-kissed on the Common, and moving on to any number of standalone bars and restaurants in the vicinity. Even travelling there caught my imagination; I loved the quirkiness of those dangerous-looking island platforms at Clapham North station.
On one occasion, one of these chums was decent enough to allow me to tag along to a family dinner at a restaurant called ‘409’. I cannot recall specific details about the evening, but over time, it has become ingrained in my mind as one of the best meals I have had in the city, just being one of those moments in food-time where everything aligned perfectly. Great company, slick service, tasty and substantial food (it was a modern British a la carte I think) and a speakeasy-like location, ensconced above the Clapham North pub, accessed by an easily missed staircase off a side street.
Indeed, I was so impressed with 409 that I took a lady friend there on a second date, in 2013, I think. There was no third date, but I will put this down to mutual compatibility, not the quality of the food. Once back in the city after my time in the Middle East, I looked up 409, only to see that it had been replaced by a place called The Treehouse, a self-styled private dining space which may or may not serve a tasty-looking pub grub menu from downstairs; nevertheless, once I saw that 409 was no longer there, I closed the tab.
As they say in the movies: “Present day”: The European recently tagged me in a post about a pop-up raclette bar. This involved a trip to Wimbledon – which seemed a frightfully long way away – but ‘tis the season for melting cheese over potatoes, so why not? When I went to book, I saw that ‘The Raclette Bar’ was also open at The Treehouse. It was like the stars had aligned.
Like any reputable London pop-up, The Raclette Bar offers a decent amount of hard to find food off a limited menu for an affordable price – in this case, £twenty-five excluding drinks. The set menu gives you a few snacks to enjoy while your personal raclette iron heats up. Canapes of raclette croquettes, baked camembert and sausage are nice enough, but they really are just the warm-up act (no pun intended). Once the iron is hot you get melting and prepare your starches, The European being very impressed with my surgical deconstruction of new potatoes and careful arrangement of sliced cornichon. You’re also given some pretty damn fine French fries and a salad garnished with whole-grain mustard, all of which can be replenished as long as you have cheese to melt.
The food is hard not to like – it’s not like the kitchen can mess up potatoes, fries, salads and garnishes – and you sort out your own cheese. I’m a sucker for raclette and The European, having basically been raised on the stuff in Switzerland, was happy too, although she did say the cheese reminded her of what can be “bought in Migros” (Swiss Tesco), so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.
We washed down our glorious stodge with a slender bottle of Riesling, a wine which pairs beautifully with dishes such as fondue or raclette but is a lot harsher when the cheese runs out; a fact that I had never realised before The European mentioned it while scrunching up her face at the end of long gulp. We ended by sharing a chocolate fondant, which was exactly as it should be – rich, runny and with a strawberry garnish to distract The European so I got most of it to myself.
In many ways, this simple lunch bore all the hallmarks of the gone-but-not-forgotten 409, which can be summarised in one word: comfort. The Treehouse’s décor of warm woods and faux-leaf decoration seems little kitsch at first glance, but actually makes what is actually quite an empty space much homelier; this was compounded with a corner table allowing us to people-watch over Clapham Road below (arguably a better view than we got in SushiSamba a week before). The service was faultless from start to finish – supremely attentive but never overly so, and very friendly. We paid £ninety for the privilege; given that forty of this was unnecessary wine and pudding, you can’t argue with the price.
The Raclette bar was never going to be 409, but critically it has given us a new reason to come down to this part of town. I mean, given that everything is operated by the pub downstairs, we will have to go back to try their gorgeous-looking bottomless brunch menu… well straight after lockdown take three anyway.