Many areas of South East London have developed rapidly over the last few years. Leafy locales such as Camberwell and Brockley have attracted new openings, while Peckham has firmly staked a claim as the hippest ‘hood in town. Lewisham though? Not so much.
Ok, we’ve seen an outpost of the street food empire Street Feast in Model Market, but much of Lewisham remains the same, with few developments on the food scene. Old favourites such as Meze Mangal tick along but until now the likes of Sparrow have been absent.
It’s run by husband and wife team Terry Blake and Yohini Nandakumar, who leave a trail of pedigree restaurant experience behind them. Their approach is to combine the flavours of his British and her Sri Lankan heritage and to heck with what is right or wrong when it comes to fusing geographically diverse flavours; what matters is the taste of the finished dish. Agreed.
We order nearly the whole menu between four, beginning with powerfully flavoured bruschetta topped with courgette, humming with garlic, and an earthy mushroom duxelles (that’s finely chopped and cooked mushroom to you and me). A salad of kohlrabi and brown shrimp is simple and elegant, reminiscent of plates at St. John (turns out the couple met when they both worked there) and a plate of eggs with pork and anchovy relish are one of the best restaurant nibbles of all time.
Soft, umami-heavy pork comes aside resolutely squidgy eggs, crunch added by tangles of crisp onion. It’s flavour napalm.
A risotto swoops in with bold green herb oil, wiping away memories of winter like the smell of freshly cut grass. A side of pickled endive with duck leg and chilli jam makes us want to rush home with bundles of the bitter leaf and start piling it immediately into jars. A neat idea.
We admit to a touch of overall disappointment in the main courses but it seems unfair, a bit like over-stuffing yourself on the meze then realising there’s no room for kebabs. Roast pork belly skin, once crisp, had become chewy on cooling, and a gargantuan beef rib, although satisfying, felt underpowered compared to the bold flavours that preceded it. These are minor quibbles.
To finish, we slurped down a crowd-pleasing pannacotta with poached rhubarb and a pressed chocolate cake but it was the condensed milk ice cream that wowed, particularly served affogato (drenched in hot coffee).
The team behind Sparrow has clearly planned every detail of this restaurant, from the tight wine list to the selection of Neal’s Yard cheeses and the staggeringly expensive hand soap in the bathroom. There will be mutterings about gentrification and housing prices. The thing is, as much as it’s tempting to look around at the fixtures and fittings like filament bulbs, and comment on ticking trend boxes, it’s very hard to open a restaurant like this by numbers.
Neighbourhood restaurants, or more importantly, good neighbourhood restaurants require one very important ingredient to survive and that is the genuine warmth of proper hospitality. Sparrow has it in bucket loads.
JO was invited to review Sparrow on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.