Thali & Pickles, Balham

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We really wanted to like Thali & Pickles. The brainchild of Indian Room down the road in Balham, and Indian Moments on Northcote Road, this is a more modern offering serving street food. Plus filling where Trinity Cafe used to be with something other than an estate agent is always a bonus.

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While the aforementioned excel in your traditional curry house fare, housed with cloth decked tables and piping music in the background (and we love it – some things should never change), the decor here is more up-to-date and reflective of the food trends we’ve seen in the past couple of years.

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The menu is smaller than a typical Indian restaurant but that’s never a bad thing, of course. We opted to share the Pav Bhaji starter and each went for the thali, choosing the chicken and seafood variants.

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The starter at first glance just looked odd. Upon further scrutiny we realised that a ‘pav bun’ is an Indian bread roll. A quick Google gave us the conclusion that not all pav buns are the same – some are sweet, some are quite dense and chewy in texture. Ours was slightly buttered with a sesame seed topping and to be honest, could have been plucked out of packet from Sainsbury’s. Unlike naans or chapatis, there was no real distinction.

The Pav Bhaji starter at Thali & Pickles

The Pav Bhaji starter at Thali & Pickles

The vegetable bhaji mixture it came with hit the right notes with its earthy, spicy taste. Perhaps we’re too westernised when it comes to our penchant for Indian food but we weren’t keen.

Onto the thalis. When ordering the chicken we hadn’t banked on getting a korma. Big mistake. The other additions to the dish were dips, chickpeas, a traditional bhaji and a pudding (the dark coloured ball) which we didn’t try so can’t offer an opinion. The other flavours were very sweet with minimal spice so combined with a main that lacked power, the whole dish was a let down.

The Maharja Murgh thali (aka chicken korma. sad times)

The Maharja Murgh thali (aka chicken korma. sad times)

The seafood one, however, was a lot tastier – plenty of depth and gave the whole dish the kick it needed.

The seafood thali was more impressive

The seafood thali was more impressive

The other downer was the overall price. One starter, two thalis, one alcoholic drink and one soft drink came to around £45. Quite the dent in the pocket when it’s not an extravagant spending spree. If we’d gone all-out with three courses, booze, coffees after dinner then sure, we’d expect to a sizeable sum. This felt like a hit to our budget without the post dinner satisfaction.

We’re not saying don’t go to Thali & Pickles. The rest of their menu looks great and if Indian Room is anything to go by, their traditional curries are probably spot on. For us though that isn’t street food. We could go down the road to their sister restaurant and get the same but at a cheaper price. Sadly an underwhelming experience.

Thali & Pickles, 5-6 Balham Station Road, SW12 9SG.

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Forza Win, Peckham: Spring Chicken

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We didn’t know what to expect when signing up to Forza Win.

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What used to be a pop-up establishment is now a full-blown event in an old cash and carry in Copeland Park, Peckham.

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Check out their website for examples of past ‘projects’, turning basic locations like rooftops and pickle factories into feasting halls.

The set menu for the evening

The set menu for the evening

It’s a basic set up that really works – arrive between 7:30-8pm to take your seat (anywhere goes, it’s just a case of parking your bottom where there’s space) at one of the long tables. You’re encouraged to get to know your neighbours as ultimately you’ll be sharing dishes with them.

Limoncello mojitos were served on arrival

Limoncello mojitos were served on arrival

As soon as you enter, you’re enveloped in a warm atmosphere. Quite literally, too – the barbecue helps to heat the whole place and the woody smells reminded us of summer festivals (without the grim portaloo aspect, obvs).

Chickens for all! Food is cooked over the fire pit

Chickens for all! Food is cooked over the fire pit

Forza Win’s forte is Italian food using locally sourced ingredients. It’s a set menu and the price of the food (and aperitif – here it’s a limoncello mojito) are included in the £35 ticket price. Water is readily available on the table but if you want more drinks, you can order at their makeshift bar.

Homemade sausage served with cabbage and carrot to start

Homemade sausage served with cabbage and carrot to start

It’s a smooth operation run by a small group of individuals splitting duties into front of house, drinks server and a group of chefs. Dishes are served one by one; first up we had their homemade sausage with carrots and cabbage, then followed a series of greens before the main event – their 100 day old spring chicken.

Celeriac with apple

Celeriac with apple

Blackened leeks with Parmesan

Blackened leeks with Parmesan

Let’s just say you don’t go hungry. The ingredients might seem simple but everything has a delicious twist – think lemon and chilli infused broccoli with almonds and cheesy leeks. Platters of food are laid down with the intention of splitting between six people, and even if you think you’ll struggle to share fairly, you don’t – you won’t go hungry.

Serve yourself the chicken, with blackened potatoes and more greens

Serve yourself the chicken, with blackened potatoes and more greens

For those who aren’t ardent meat eaters, the chefs offer a vegetarian option too, so there’s no missing out. For those who are, enjoy some pictures of chicken.

Mismatched plates and cutlery add to the homely feel

Mismatched plates and cutlery add to the homely feel

All gone: this chicken had no chance with us

All gone: this chicken had no chance with us

The atmosphere is so friendly, it feels like a party. The staff seem to have just as good a time as you even when they’re flat out, and while you can’t always guarantee you’re sitting next to sociable people, usually your love of food translates and that’s it, you’re off chatting away.

They’ve just added some new dates for this particular event in May, so sign up before it’s too late.

As well as this seasonal event, they’ve just started ‘Awesome Sauce’ on Wednesdays, serving a plate of pasta with a glass of wine for £10.

As for us, we’ll be stalking their website to find out what their summer project is set to be…

Forza Win, Unit 4.1, 133 Copeland Road, SE15 3SN. 

The King & Co Clapham kitchen residency – Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen

The King & Co, Clapham

While pub food has certainly become more extravagant than before (pulled pork served with everything, most likely on a wooden slab instead of a humble plate), the King & Co have turned the age old tradition of ‘pub grub’ on its head by offering a changing menu every two months. We love this idea – there will always be something new to try and a platform for up and coming chefs who might not otherwise get such an opportunity. The only downside, we guess, would be that if you find yourself fond of a particular dish you’d need to savour it while it lasts!

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Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is the latest to set up home, cooking up African dishes from now until 31st May. The menu is short but sweet, comprising small tapas sized portions where the recommendation is about 2-3 plates per person.

The menu at the King & Co, Clapham

The menu at the King & Co, Clapham

There’s enough for veggies to get involved but the signature dishes really lie with the meat lovers. Our favourite was the mutton with satay sauce, and pork belly – generous cuts cooked for so long it just falls apart.

Pork belly with sweet plantain jus (closest to camera) and Zoe's signature peanut butter stew with mutton

Pork belly with sweet plantain jus (closest to camera) and Zoe’s signature peanut butter stew with mutton

Cassava croquettes and Red Red were among the vegetarian options Zoe's Ghana Kitchen Clapham

Cassava croquettes and Red Red were among the vegetarian options

Other hits were the mackerel (look past the minor food admin of small bones and you’ve got tender spicy fish) and ‘red red’, delicious black beans in a rich tomato sauce topped with parmesan.

Jollof chicken skewers

Jollof chicken skewers

The only disappointment was the lack of ‘Puff Puff Handmade Doughnuts’, because the kitchen weren’t able to make them properly the night we visited.

Mackerel fillets in chilli, lemon and garlic

Mackerel fillets in chilli, lemon and garlic

Still feeling hungry? Their Instagram page will get your stomach rumbling even more…

If you’ve not been to the King & Co before, there’s no sectioned-off restaurant area. Eating takes place in the heart of the pub and, with the tapas attitude of “you eat when it arrives at the table”, the whole vibe is very relaxed.

If south west London is a stretch, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen frequents Peckham Springs on a Friday night too. Result.

The King & Co, 100 Clapham Park Road, SW4 7BZ

Reviewed: dinner at Lamberts, Balham

It’s been a while since we last visited Lamberts and while they’ve made some tweaks here and there, the cosy but smart atmosphere remains.

The ingenious menu layout at Lamberts

The ingenious menu layout at Lamberts

So what’s new? Well their menu still changes on a monthly basis to reflect the food available each season (so by the time you read this it’ll probably have changed again), but the printed format has changed. Instead of your conventional ‘starters, mains, desserts’ layout, the sections are split into ‘Field’ for vegetarian dishes, ‘Sea’ for fish and ‘Farm’ for meat, with those under £10 being starters, and plates over £10 the mains.

Lamberts Their delicious mackerel and pickled cucumber starter Balham

Their delicious mackerel and pickled cucumber starter

Naturally we delved into the sea and farm sections, ordering mackerel, steak and beef cheeks (look past the squeamish “ugh! I’m eating a cow’s cheek!” factor and you’ll revel in the tender chunks of meat. A bit like pulled beef. In other words, PHWOAR).

Lamberts Balham seasonal menu, including steak, beef cheeks and greens

Vegetarians, look away now

A close up of the chargrilled rare breed beef

A close up of the chargrilled rare breed beef

Beef cheek with January King (that's the green stuff on the side)

Beef cheek with January King (that’s the green stuff on the side)

Even some of the drinks get a seasonal nod. Our pre-dinner cocktail featured rhubarb and as you’d probably expect from a restaurant of this standard, food was matched or recommended with various wines on offer.

The 'rhubarb collins' cocktail at Lamberts, Balham

The ‘rhubarb collins’ cocktail

Custard tart, Lamberts style

Custard tart, Lamberts style

You get all the smartness of a high-end restaurant at Lamberts but without the fine dining portion sizes (you know what we mean – baby sized meals served with a side of weird looking froth). Believe us, you won’t go hungry. We didn’t really need dessert, per se, but it would be rude not to indulge, and so we did – in their custard tart, a far cry from our school days, that’s for sure.

Lamberts, 2 Station Parade, Balham High Road, SW12 9AZ.