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The Fox and Grapes has been in Wimbledon for a very long time.
Since 1787 to be exact.
In those days a 4×4 probably meant a particularly strong donkey and, if you said you were looking for a Norland Nanny, anyone overhearing would assume you’re in the market for a goat.
Happily we’ve all moved on from the 18th century but the Fox and Grapes is still here, all these years later, doing pretty much the same thing as when George III was on the throne.
It’s in a gorgeous location, perched right on the edge of Wimbledon Common, and the fabulous white and black frontage looks right out of an episode of Midsummer Murders. The theme continues inside, although it’s surprisingly light and spacious, but there is a lot of wood and leaded glass to remind you that this place is old.
Paul Merrett, a chef famous on the telly, is the executive chef and since it changed hands way back in 2011 I’ve been hearing pretty good reports from this SW19 outpost.
There’s a longish bar cutting the dining room in two. A busy kitchen can be seen in one corner and although we had to wait just a little too long to be seated and offered a drink, everyone was very smiley and friendly.
It was a Friday night and, unsurprisingly, very busy. The tables were mainly a mixture of families covering almost every possible combination. I spotted grandparents with toddlers, older parents with grown-up children and the odd couple on a date night, but they were in the minority.
The a-la-carte menu is traditional english with salmon sitting alongside beetroot and pig’s cheek next to scallops. This may be an old coaching inn but it’s not certainly not pub food. I stared with the chicken liver parfait which was smooth and rich. The hazelnuts and mandarin jelly sat nicely alongside the sourdough toast and it had none of that gamey roughness which can turn this choice into a one flavour wonder.
My partner went for the slow braised pigs cheek, which he devoured along with shallots and mustard mash. This sounded like a mini-main course to me with too much heft for the precursor to the mains, but he pronounced it light and delicate and I have to admit it looked delicious.
We drank Prosécco and and the house red, a fresh, easy-drinking red from Emilia-Romagna, in the north-east of Italy. For the house white they’ve plumped for Santo Isidro de Pegoes a forward thinking co-operatives in Portugal which at £7.50 a glass for the house wines is pretty good value.
For the main event I plumped for wild mushroom risotto, that perennial favourite and so so hard to get right. Without love and attention it descends into a flavourless mess but the Fox and Grapes gave it the love it deserved and the woody flavour of the mushrooms sat hand-in-hand with the creamy rice. The other half of the table plumped for salt marsh lamb which was plump and pink with baby onions and smoked bacon.
By the time it got to the idea of dessert we were far too full but with sticky toffee pudding and poached pears I could have been easily persuaded.
So what did I think?
It’s a gorgeous space in a gorgeous place with beautifully prepared food. The name is a misnomer, I was expecting posh pub grub but this is a restaurant with proper skills in the kitchen and a real wine list.
For my few hours in SW19 I felt like I could be out in the countryside so next time I want to feel I’ve stepped away from the ‘Bright Lights Big City’ I will definitely be back.
9 Camp Rd, Wimbledon, London SW19 4UN