Review: Tapas at The Lounge Bar, Balham

In a town where so much has changed over the past few years, there are some establishments that stand the test of time. The Lounge in Balham will be celebrating 13 years this year – no mean feat.

Tapas selection at the lounge bar balham

Pictured: chorizo in red wine sauce, scallops, cod croquets, patatas bravas, the remainder of a dish of olives…

It’s consistently popular with the locals though, and if you haven’t been before, make an effort to go – you won’t be disappointed. Don’t let the simplistic decor fool you; behind these doors is a vast menu of delicious tapas dishes masterminded by an incredibly hardworking husband and wife team.

Spicy garlic prawns - mind the eye-watering chillis...

Spicy garlic prawns – mind the eye-watering chillis…

Most items on the menu are what you’d get in every tapas restaurant but what makes The Lounge so unique is that they take a simple dish and, well, pimp it up. The classic Patatas Bravas dish isn’t just chips and ketchup, it’s crispy chunks of potato in a spicy tomato sauce that we’ve never been able to replicate at home. It’s the same with their meat dishes – when you order the meatballs and chorizo, be sure to order a side of ciabatta to dunk into the rich sauce. #yum.

A side of bread to dunk is a must with these meatballs

A side of bread to dunk is a must with these meatballs

The restaurant fills up fast at the weekends so we’ve been taking to getting our fix during the weekday (except Mondays, when it’s closed) when we’re more likely to get a table immediately.

5-6 dishes between two of you is more than enough. Throw in a couple of drinks and the bill is typically around £40.

If you fancy finding out more about their menu we reviewed the Lounge Bar three years ago, here.

Reviewed: The Lounge Bar, Balham

We wish The Lounge Bar was open during the day at the weekends, because we’d go there all the time. It used to be; a few years ago our favourite thing to do would be to turn up with the Sunday papers in tow and pick at tapas all afternoon long. Alas, the owners have a life too, and need some rest time of their own.

The Lounge Bar opened 9 years ago and has been consistently successful ever since. Run by a husband and wife team, Philippe cooks up a storm in the kitchen while Manuela holts the fort in the dining area. They are, so far, the friendliest restaurant team we know. They welcome everyone, new or regular, with the same warmth you’d offer to a family member. The restaurant decor is simplistic but warm and cosy, like a family dining room. There isn’t the biggest array of lagers and wine but plenty enough. Besides, they make their own sangria and it’s definitely worth a taste.

We’re creatures of habit when we visit, ordering pretty much the same thing every time; patatas bravas, chorizo in wine, meatballs, panna catalana, occasionally opting for garlic chilli prawns. We know what we like there and it always tastes good. In particular, the patatas bravas, a plate of potatoes topped with a spicy tomato sauce that we actually took for granted until we saw what most tapas places in Spain offered. Their version consisted of potatoes with ketchup and mayo squirted on top. Tasteless and utterly boring. Who knew that we could get better tapas ten minutes walk from our home?

The last few times we’ve visited we’ll be greeted with a sample dish to try out; Philippe is always experimenting and coming up with new dishes, and quite frankly we’re willing guinea pigs. They’ve recently introduced a specials board to boost their menu, too.

We decided to mix up our usual choices with some new ones. First up, the specials board; pigs trotters. Not to everyone’s taste, but we were willing to give it a go. Between the two of us, opinion was split. They’d been slow cooked, so the fat and meat was soft and tender. The soft nature of the fat wasn’t personally to my taste but our date for the night couldn’t get enough of them. My favourite part of it? The sauce. You might think that’s a bit of a cop out but it was delicious; spicy and full of depth.

Next up, mushrooms with mince and cheese. A random combination but it worked for us. Two portobello mushrooms with a layer of tender mince, coated in cream cheese with herbs. Perhaps the nearest to vegetarian we’re going to get. Our other mushroom offering were quartered and soaked in a sauce of garlic, olive oil and parsley. The mushrooms were really substantial; they hadn’t shrunk in size and had retained their texture instead of shrivelling up, plus the mushrooms soaked up plenty of the sauce giving a usually blank canvas a whole lot of flavour. Our last dish, an old favourite: chorizo. Plump discs of the spicy meat soaked in red wine, we often fight over the last slice. When the main bits of tapas are gone, we’re always left with plenty of rich sauces to mop up – always ask for bread when ordering.

Prices vary according to each dish but expect to pay between £4-5 per tapas plate. We recommend you book to avoid disappointment at the weekend, as they fill up fast. They’ll always accommodate where they can though; they were happy to seat our table of 16 with 15 minutes notice on a Saturday night once!

Lunch at The Fat Delicatessen

The Fat Deli is a bit of an inbetweener – more formal than a traditional deli, but more laid back than a restaurant. Basically it acts as a great place for a slightly posh lunch, which is what we opted for one chilly December weekday.

The menu boasts a large amount of regular favourites including addictive tapas bar snacks. Think cured meats, salty cheeses, olives, pickles… there’s a whole lot of smorgasbord action going on. For a little pre lunch nibble we opted for the ham croquettas; cheesy, potatoey breadcrummy, um, croquettes which the Fat Deli sprinkled with extra rock salt, as if we needed them to be any more addictive.

For our main lunch we went for spinach and ricotta ravioli with pumpkin and a sage butter dressing, and a lentil, pancetta and chorizo stew.

The pasta was plentiful (available as a small or big portion, we of course opted for the larger plate), as was the parmesan (big thumbs up from fromage fans at SJ) and the sage butter dressing really addictive, but we could have done with a few more chunks of pumpkin dotted around the dish.

The stew was served in a deep tapas dish and initially we had a false sense of “oh, that’s a little small”, only to find that what lacked in size made up for in richness and flavour and that actually, we were full when we finished (always the way – eyes bigger than our stomach!).  Particularly impressive was the quality of the meat. Chunks of pancetta fell off the bone and the chorizo sizes were generous, adding an intense smokiness to the sauce.

The ambience was casual, just as you would typically see in a deli at lunch. The clientele at the time of eating consisted of young mums finishing off their morning coffees but it was peaceful, not rowdy. Including tip and soft drinks our bill came to around £25, pretty good going for a homemade lunch that satisfied our bellies until dinner (well, we’re only human…).

Enq: The Fat Delicatessen, 7 Chestnut Grove, SW12 8JA.