Have you heard about The Lodge?
I heard about it last year, soon after moving to the Big Smoke; it’s a ski-style cabin of a restaurant serving warm cocktails and cheese fondue, basically. Such was the popularity of Jimmy Garcia’s pop-up, I didn’t manage to bag a booking. But this year, oh this year was different. As soon as summer stopped I put an eagle eye out there, waiting for word, and sure enough The Lodge was repositioned in Clapham for the winter months of 2015.
We went yesterday, a slow Sunday afternoon activity, myself and Alex. As you exit Clapham North station, you are almost immediately met with The Lodge. It’s next to the Clapham North pub, and is but a sign and a door you’re not sure you should go in. Go in! Up the stairs and through a small terrace, equipped with faux fur blankets and cushions, should you be feeling brave, is the little mountain retreat itself. The staff are really friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed. And toasty. On the walls are retro ski pictures and ski-related slogans, and the chairs and tables are all light and woody with tea lights and pretty glass bottles galore.
Having skipped breakfast and midday snacks in preparation, which I would suggest is wise, we were really ready to get started, and that was no problem, with menus being brought to our table pronto. The menu is a cold weather want list, with belly boldening drinks you can sip warm or cold and nibbles I like to imagine I’d find in the Swiss Alps, on a ski holiday where I can miraculously ski and where I recover from an exhilarating day on the slopes with an afternoon in the hot tub, followed by the aforementioned drinks and edibles. I kicked off with an Earl Grey tea and gin concoction, which was not too sweet and perfectly chilled. Alex chose an Espresso Martini, steamy.
The starters include venison tartare, duck hearts with pickled blueberries and beetroot with goat’s cheese, while the mains are wild mushroom risotto bowls, guinea fowl with grains and monkfish or a hefty burger. Tempted as we were, we were there for one thing: the fondue. We chose the Comte & Coolea Fondue for two, which comes with buttered new potatoes, bread and salad. I’d expected the salad to be some bonus greens, designed to make you feel better about the vat of dairy we were about to dive into, but, actually it’s worthy of its own spot on the menu (and I don’t really do salads) – a fresh, crispy arrangement of leaves, carrot, red pepper and a delicious dressing. After the ceremonious lighting of the fondue, our waitress positioned our dipping tools and left us to it. Warning: it’s a lot of cheese. And it’s very good. You might eat it all. We came close. Courtesy of those in the cheese know at Neal’s Yard, the fondue is creamy but not too creamy, with hearty globules of stringy cheese bobbing around; and you can really taste the wine, in a good way. The potatoes were pretty special too, firm but not hard, with a lightly crisped skin and a sprinkling of chives. The lovely waitresses did offer us more, but that was certainly not needed.
Out of concern that we might still be peckish (fools!), we pre-emptively ordered a charcuterie board to share too. We didn’t need it but if we went back I wouldn’t do it differently. A generous selection of chorizo, bresaola and ham, alongside tart gherkins was just what I wanted in between mouthfuls of fromage. I have it on good authority, that the chorizo and serrano are chosen by Papa Garcia, Jimmy’s Dad himself, who tapped into his insider network in the family’s hometown of Asturias to source the meaty treats.
Feeling pretty stuffed we declined dessert. I had a look and nothing jumped out at me, but that could have been because I knew I wanted to end on a hot chocolate. And not just any hot chocolate, a super duper chocolatey hot chocolate with orange liqueur, whipped cream and a fluffy pink marshmallow. Needless to say, it went down a treat. Alex finished on a beautifully presented pot of tea for one, and then we really were done.
For a lazy afternoon with your partner or a friend, or for family affairs, The Lodge is a fab little lunch or drinks venue that I really can’t recommend enough. If you’re looking for something festively on-theme, get booking quick – tables are very limited!