The words “fancy restaurant” and “Lewisham” don’t usually spend much time together.
Could this month’s arrival of Sparrow change that? It’s the first restaurant venture of husband and wife team Terry Blake and Yohini Nandakumar, a culinary duo who met while working in the Michelin-starred kitchen of St John in Smithfield (“a glorious celebration of British fare and a champion of ‘nose to tail’ eating”, according to the Michelin guide).
Sparrow lands officially in central Lewisham today (March 28), where there hasn’t been as much excitement for a new opening since the Model Market offered refuge from the long, hot summer of 2014.
It had its soft launch last week when Mrs Lewisham Lately and I managed to bag a table. Tucked just off the high street on the fringe of “old” Lewisham, the restaurant looks out over the “new”: the soaring towers and cranes of the Lewisham Gateway and the four-lane traffic that surrounds it.
With a large, open kitchen, industrial-style light-fittings, tiles, and stripped-down decor, it already looks different to most of the area’s other venues.
Not only is this a fancy restaurant, it is also something of a pioneering one – certainly for an enclave of south-east London better known for its rich and varied selection of fried chicken shops. Don’t expect a traditional sit-down meal: instead you order two or three sharing plates each, which arrive one after the other. It’s an innovative way to cater for a more flexible seasonal menu.
“We chose the name Sparrow because it reflects the kind of food that we make,” Yohini explained to the Evening Standard. “Like a sparrow we aren’t specific to a place or country. One week we might put a classic Italian dish on the menu and other times we’ll make a crunchy Malay-style salad with whatever is in season.”
Interesting idea, but does it work? Our verdict: you’re in for a treat. Terry and Yohini were orchestrating the kitchen and each dish they cooked up was a winner – even the unexpected ones. Soft boiled eggs looked the least enticing option on the menu, so we chose it, counter-intuitively, as our first plate. With its pork and anchovy relish and crispy onions, the evening was off to a flyer.
As the next plates followed there were no weak spots: from the fennel and blood orange salad, to the cured salmon with kaffir leaves and orange zest.
The rabbit with satay was my only mild disappointment (and it was mine alone). Marginally not as striking as others, I thought, but amply compensated by a wonderfully tender grilled lamb leg with lemon and parsley salad.
The wine-list is short – so minimalist that there were no bubbles for a special occasion (perhaps this may change post-soft launch) – but we enjoyed our Italian primitivo.
We supped the last of it over cheesecake and chocolate tart (“amazing” according to Mrs Lewisham Lately. “You can really tell he trained as a pastry chef”). As the kitchen wound down for the night, Yohini stopped to chat at our table. “It’s in a great spot,” I said, thinking of the footfall of hundreds of newly arrived Lewisham Gateway residents. “What, for the lovely view?” she said, with more than a dash of irony, as the traffic flowed without respite beyond the restaurant windows.
She knows the area well and said they had been considering starting a business in Lewisham for a while.
“It was only when I took Terry to the Model Market last summer that I managed to convince him it was the right move,” she told us.
Could this be the start of familiar tale: a successful pioneer that encourages more to follow? On the evidence of our meal, we think so. The words “fancy restaurant” and “Lewisham” are about to get better acquainted.
- Sparrow (2 Rennell Street, SE13 7HD) is open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, as well as for brunch on weekends. Walk-ins are possible and reservations can be made at sparrowlondon.co.uk.
- Dinner is a treat and you should expect a bill to match, especially with the 12.5 percent discretionary service charge (£100+ for two with wine is easily achievable).