Clapham is a South London anomaly: an area too gentrified to be considered cool. In fact, Vice magazine declared it ‘the worst place in London’, which of course you may consider a recommendation in its self.
In truth, Clapham can feel a little overran with drunk students and ‘young professionals’ in bad suits, but only if you don’t know where you’re going. Areas such as Clapham North and Clapham Old Town are full of great old pubs, cafes with coffee and snacks you’ll be dreaming about and a restaurant scene that is among the most exciting outside Zone 1.
Here are the highlights.
1 | For a fry up with a twist: Osteria Dell’Arte
Hunting with a hangover is easy in Clapham – local favourites Fantasia (SW4 0LB) and The Jam Tree boast solid traditional English fry ups at fair prices – but for something a little different, make your way up the high street to the lesser known Italian café Osteria Dell’Arte.
Their ‘All’ Inglese’ (available until 1pm on the brunch menu) is a top quality twist on the full English that includes Cannellini beans in place of your Heinz, a delicious Italian sausage and homemade toast. They also make a mean Negroni for your hair-of-the-dog needs, and in the Summer you can sit outside. Perfect.
2 | For day in the pub: The Landor
While Clapham High Street – South London’s perpetual Fresher’s Week – is best avoided post 3pm, Clapham North offers a slightly more grown up, infinitely more laid back drinking scene based around a core trinity of solid pubs.
The first is The Royal Oak which, despite an unfortunate recent renovation that changed it from an eccentric little local to a place where the staff wear branded t-shirts, still offers a cracking atmosphere and – crucially – a ping pong room in the back. Up the road and ever busy is The Falcon, which has plentiful outdoor space at front and back and makes a killer bloody Mary.
Pick the bunch though is The Landor – a bright, airy boozer that offers the pub food in the area (order the lamb burger), an excellent beer garden and the best pool table in town. Sports shown on a giant screen and its own theatre located upstairs are two different but welcome entertainment options.
3 | For a meal that’ll impress: That Dairy / WC
The restaurant scene in Clapham is just one of the delights waiting for anyone prepared to put aside prejudice and explore the area.
The most celebrated new opening of recent years – rightly so – has been The Dairy, a seasonal British / European small plate specialist ran by Chef Robin Gill and his wife Sarah, graduates of Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. If this place opened in Soho it would be on every London foodie’s buzz list within a week.
Newer still (and two seconds around the corner) is WC, a wine and charcuterie bar built in a 100 year old former public toilet underneath Clapham Common tube station. That may be enough to put you off, but you’d be missing out: as well as an excellent bottle selection, WC’s meat platters are generous and beautifully presented, while the rest of the menu is both imaginative and well executed. The soft-lit, cosy atmosphere will also counter any thoughts of urinals – in fact, it’s one of the most romantic spots in town.
4 | For informal eats: Chicago Rib Shack
Nothing hits the spot like a rack of ribs, and tucked under the archway next to Clapham High Street train station (over the road from Clapham North tube) is a little gem offering just that.
A cheerful welcome and a decent cocktail bar are bonuses, but the real reason to visit Chicago Rib Shack is the main event: juicy, tender baby back ribs (our favourite) or thick cut belly ribs, with a small but punchy selection of sides (we recommend the chicken wings, or go double pork with the pulled pork spring rolls). Perfect for boy's night out, or a date with someone you don't wearing a plastic bib in front of.
4 | For cocktails and nimbles: Mommi / Fu Manchu
If you're caught somewhere between a full meal and a night out and want somewhere in-between, two Clapham options stand out.
The first is newbie Fu Manchu, a late night dim sum and cocktail bar set in the old railway arch around the corner from Clapham North tube. The menu is a solid (if a little safe) take on the Chinese dumpling thing, priced reasonably and perfect for sharing. The real delights, though, are on the drinks menu. The cocktails here are delicious and inventive, in both composition and presentation. If you're feeling brave, try the Fortune Favours The Bold – a mix of rum, vermouth, whisky and augostura and chocolate bitters that will kick start your evening (and tastes far better than it sounds).
Mommi, meanwhile, is a Japanese-Latin fusion place on the high street with a laidback vibe and some great small plates. You can go down the sushi route, pick something grilled or – as we did – mix it up with a little of both. Some excellent sashimi followed by scallop and pancetta skewers and chicken teriyaki is an unusual but great start to an evening. There is an impressive selection of beers and sake, too.
5 | For a night out: Venn Street Records
The crux of why many people oppose Clapham – aside from a seemingly acceptable objection to Australians – is Infernos, the notorious night club / meat market that epitomises the worst of the area’s nightlife (be lured there under no circumstances: not even ironic ones).
Your best area for a late night drink is probably Clapham Junction, which is located a fair walk from the high street. Head to Powder Keg Diplomacy, a quirky Victorian speak easy with a clever cocktail list, or the basement of Rise 46 for more quality concoctions and a bit of a dance.
Clapham Common’s Venn Street Records, though, is our pick of Clapham’s night spots, a hangout where regular open mic nights and rock gigs are aided by great drinks and one of the best atmospheres in town.
6 | For something other than food and drink: Studio Voltaire
If you’re not looking to get full, drunk or both, there are other options in Clapham. The most obvious, assuming the sun is shining, is the Common – a triangular 220 acres of flat green space that rewards sports, sunbathing or even fishing if that takes your fancy. For rainy days / night times, Clapham Picture House is an excellent little cinema with a good bar.
For something more cultured, we recommend finding Studio Voltaire, the area’s only artist-ran gallery and studio that always features something interesting, whether it’s an installation to enjoy or a original artwork to buy.