Diamond in the rough

Lamberts, 2 Station Parade, Balham High Road, London

The paradigm for London restaurants that punch above their weight is Chez Bruce, the wildly successful Wandsworth eaterie named the other day (in Hardens Restaurant Guide 2008) as the London foodies' No 1 favourite place to chow down for over 45 a head. Established by Bruce Poole on the site of Harveys a now-legendary venue, where both Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay cut their haute cuisine fangs in the early Nineties its name is uttered with trembly respect by Claphamites and Stockwell-dwellers who can only dream of having such a classy joint as a neighbour. Inhabitants of the sprawling Nowheresville that is Wandworth hold their heads higher because of Chez Bruce. But for a year or so, the denizens of Balham have acquired a similar boost to the spirits because of a place called Lamberts.

It's located on Balham High Road, the dismayingly wide and windy thoroughfare that becomes a riot of car showrooms and designer sari shops when it hits Tooting Bec. Don't let that put you off, though; this place is a haven. I discovered it when I was lunching with friends one Sunday, and noted (NB unsleeping devotion to duty) its generous slabs of pink roast beef, crispy Yorkshire pudding and heavenly apple and blueberry crumble. I also noted that it offered excellent value at three courses for 20, and that I couldn't fault any of the cooking. It seemed too good to be true. So I went back to see if I'd been dreaming.

Even on a freezing Monday night in December it was almost full at 9pm, its diners clearly not the passing trade from Balham Tube next door. The warmth of the place was mirrored in the dcor: warm brown velvet sofa-banquettes, cream walls, discreet lighting. It was cosy without making you feel too, you know... enfolded. The maître d's welcome and his enthusiasm over the dishes seemed genuine. My friend Tim and I felt like travellers in some territory of yak and steppe who'd stumbled unexpectedly into a Dickensian tavern.

The December menu offered some hearty treats: winter vegetable stew, for instance, or Lancashire hotpot, or "Farmer Sharp's Herdwick mutton, werther and lamb" (Farmer Sharp sounds as if he's got a suspiciously large amount of dead sheep to unload). It couldn't be more redolent of home fires burning in the deep midwinter ...

Lamberts is all about British cooking, and is performed with flair and ambition, though sometimes Joe Lambert, the owner, overdoes it. I loved the sound of "Line-caught scallops, black pudding stuffed pig's trotter" but was crestfallen to find, on three cocquille shells, six small scallops into which teensy lumps of boudin, wrapped in trotter marrowbone, had been rudely introduced. It tasted good but was, if I may coin a phrase, just too effing sophisticated. Tim's walnut and cheddar tart with caramelised pear was a solid-looking wedge of protein, but suffered from a similar preciocity: the cheese had the consistency of a mousse, while the wedges of pear sat a little glumly on the sidelines.

I feared I might have been wrong about Lamberts, but things improved, as they so often do, with the arrival of cooked meats and a bottle of Chteau du Grand Pierre '04 costing a reasonable 25. My partridge, jointed and cooked in its own pot with new potatoes and baby carrots, was a dream of juicy game poultry, moistened by a simple wine-and-flour sauce. Tim's daube of White Park beef, smoked bacon, baby onions and mushrooms simply whacked you with flavour. The meat was tender and chewy and falling off the bone, accompanied by colcannon, the old Irish dish in which yesterday's cabbage is reconstituted with mashed potato and finished with shallots and cream. Any flavour deficiencies in the beef were redeemed by the smouldery kiss of bacon.

Over a very superior lemon posset pie, a plate of Neal's Yard cheeses (notably the Strathdon Blue) and final glasses of Muscat and white Bel-Air Bordeaux, we agreed that Lamberts was a discovery, a diamond in the rough, a pilot-light of classy cooking in the wastes of Balham High Road, and that Chez Bruce does indeed have a south London rival snapping at its heels. Next day, I looked at the Hardens guide again. In the list of the London foodies' favourite restaurants under 45 a head, Lamberts came second (after Inside in Greenwich). How enraging to find that one's newest discovery has been well and truly discovered ...

Lamberts, 2 Station Parade, Balham High Road, London SW12 (020-8675 2233)

Food threestar
Ambience threestar
Service threestar

Around 110 for two people, including wine

Side orders: Balham bites

By Madeleine Lim

Polish White Eagle Club

The food here is predictably hearty: beef goulash and potato pancakes, pierogi, blinis with smoked salmon and caviar and platters of herrings, washed down with great Polish beers. Eccentric dcor; charming ambience.

211 Balham High Road, SW17 (020-8672 1723)


Sam Harrison, who runs the popular Sam's Brasserie in Chiswick, recently took on this Balham hotspot; try a steak bavette with fries and bearnaise sauce (11.50) from the brasserie menu or Maryland crab cakes with chipotle aioli (7.50) from the brunch menu.

15-19 Bedford Hill, SW12 (020-8675 6900)

Gurkhas Diner

Imaginative, well-executed Nepalese cuisine. Mains cooked in the charcoal oven include marinated Gurkhali chicken andlamb shank cooked on the bone with gravy. Prices are reasonable; starters are 2.90-4.25 and main courses start at 5.50.

1 The Boulevard, Balham High Road, SW17 (020-8675 1188)


From classic pizzas to seafood pasta and grilled meats, the Italian cuisine at this popular local is classic, well-executed and refreshingly unpretentious. Generous portions, well-priced set meals and friendly service add to the appeal. Children are welcome.

225 Balham High Road, SW17 (020-8682 3553)

footballHe started just four months ago
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect