Under the Counter Behaviour
Counter Culture l http://www.countercultureclapham.co.uk/ l 16 The Pavement, London SW4 0HY l 020 8191 7960 l Visited November 2017
It’s funny how many things outside of actually eating food play into your enjoyment of a meal in such a large way. Slow down, I’m not about to become the first food blogger to think the food is a by-product of everything else. But, as my employer likes to remind everyone, ‘experience is everything’.
Such a huge part of that experience is made by the company you’re in and, if I might be so bold, intimacy. (Ahem, stop laughing at the back). Much like the recent trip to Plaquemine Lock in Islington, it can take many forms. Maybe it’s a candlelight setting; maybe it’s a chef’s table at a Michelin Star restaurant, or maybe it’s finger-picking through the shells of crayfish with your best friends. Memories are made of sharing experiences.
Fortunately, intimacy is the word of the day at Counter Culture, just overlooking Clapham Common. It’s the little brother (or sister) of acclaimed next door restaurant, The Dairy, and its diminutive stature is immediately noticeable. It’s almost possible to miss the restaurant itself entirely.
It looks as though it might be a waiting room for big bro. Somewhere to grab a craft beer or an organic wine, maybe. But it’s in the small, 13-stool confines that they continue The Dairy’s British small plates in a less formal setting. It feels like someone has opened a side kitchen and nicked a chef who didn’t look overly busy. Better hurry in before someone notices you’re ‘smoking behind the bike shed’.
Sitting on one of the four stools that overlook the ‘pass’, you feel like you’re part of the team. I half expect to be asked to throw on a pinny and garnish the plates. A friendly Irish voice greets us and the two-man team don’t let up for a second. It’s never intrusive, we’re left alone to chat and sip our drinks, but the tight confines and large smiles draw us back in. It’s reminiscent of a really good tapas bar in Spain. It’s inviting and fulfilling all at once.
It’s a carefully orchestrated ballet, as one passes out drinks, the other twirls metal trays. It’s both complete control and no commotion. The general pitter-patter between the two and hearty cheeriness forces you to feel like you’re at a best mate’s dinner party, just with a really smart kitchen.
This ‘experience’ isn’t short an ample selection of food, however. Like The Dairy, their’s a focus on sustainability and old British techniques like pickling and curing. A place will always have my heart when it’s suggested the best thing to do is order one of everything. Who am I to argue now I’m so enraptured? The courting has truly begun.
If ever the theme of intimacy were to continue in such public surrounds, I would insist that it started with a smearing of nduja. The rich, pork belly fat with chilli heat pressed into warmed ciabatta is like the devil’s bread and butter. Washed down with a cold beer, it’s questionable whether dreaming up the rest of the menu was necessary. Spiced cellar salami accompanied by pickled turnip rounds out the tribute to a pig well remembered.
Stems of charred tenderstem broccoli are served like soldiers, ready for dipping. With a smattering of pumpkin seed brittle for a necessary crunch. They’re embarrassing to eat in these close surrounds. Alternating smiles as you try to hide the long stalk jutting from your mouth with your hand. It’s these times you really learn who someone is.
Time stops momentarily for me as a bowl of gnudi is placed in front of us. The small gnocchi-like dumplings nuzzling up to charred cauliflower and blanketed by a velvety-smooth artichoke sauce. The gnudi have a satisfying chew and the cauliflower florets look like they lost a fight with a blowtorch and are almost caramelised. The overall sensation is like being transported to eating macaroni cheese. If the setting is intimate, this is Sunday Netflix and Chill.
By the time the Bambi Big Mac arrives, I’m already spent. A succinct half is eaten as the slow-cooked beef falls apart, on a meagre press of the bun. And I do so hate to make a mess. It feels like it should be the main event but, at this point, it’s merely a kiss on the forehead.
It’s been said that ‘millennials’ (eurgh, that term’) favour experiences over material possessions. That experience and engagement are more important than things. After eating at Counter Culture, I’m more than inclined to agree.
Intimate Setting, Passionate Food.
Counter Culture manages to hit it out of the park. It’s informal yet intimate setting, with engaging service, provides a perfect setting for catching up with a friend or a relaxed date. The food is imaginative and seasonal, it’s refined but still manages to be homely. Turns out, everyone could do with a little more intimacy in their life.