I was asked the other day where was good to eat around where I lived, and it brought home to me exactly how little I know about my South East London locale. I was so chuffed to find a flat in Zone 2 within a first-time-buyer's budget that I gave little thought to the local establishments: I knew, after all, that London Bridge was less than ten minutes away on the train so not only was central London within easy reach, I would also be living closer than most to Borough Market and its associated pubs and restaurants – no further, time-wise, than when I lived in Borough in fact.
Four years on, I'm slightly ashamed that I still don't know all that much about the area. Although I'd be delighted to be corrected, I really not sure Brockley itself has that much to offer. The pubs (at least the obvious ones) are pretty ropey and, although I've had a few nice simple meals in the reliable local Italian, the procession of ordinary looking curry houses and kebab shops doesn't really encourage exploration at my end of Brockley Road. Slightly further afield, Mr Lawrence (twin wine dealer and gastro-wine bar) probably merits another visits and I know people swear by Babur (so far, I confess, I've been put off by their less than inspiring home delivery operation). And I did see a favourable notice in the Guardian for a Chinese on the way to Forest Hill as well, but other than that...?
It's only a short hop to loads of other SE locations, of course, so there's really no excuse for not exploring. On Friday night I waved down the mystery bus that goes down my road and stepped off ten minutes later at the end of Lordship Lane, East Dulwich. Rich pickings indeed.
First stop, The Palmerston: classic gastro-pubbery. Spruced up pub, scrubbed floors, interesting menu of modern classics, the lot. A decent pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord and a good selection of wines by the glass give the welcome impression of a place determined to hold on to the crucial pub element of The Palmerston's twin status. The food comes highly recommended. I'll definitely be back to try it out.
To Franklins for the main event. An awful lot of people have been misting over fondly and saying to me things like "I haven't been there for years", which once again underlines how rubbish I've been in not going there at all.
From the pub-like front bar we were shown through to the smallish main dining area. They've squeezed a lot of tables in here but it's comfortable enough. Our table was right up against some quite fierce radiators, which threatened to be a problem at the start of the evening but was quickly forgotten when the food started to arrive. I confess to forgetting the name of the red we drank but it fitted my spec (French, not too heavy, interesting) to perfection.
It's hard (for me) not to compare the menu with the Anchor & Hope. It's full of seasonal ingredients, thoughtfully combined and well prepared; it changes every day and is even presented in a very similar style to the A&H. Given that Franklins has been around longer than the Anchor & Hope the comparison should probably be made the other way round. Either way, though, they're both the kind of menu that presents agreeable difficulties when it comes to making choices.
I plumped in the end for the breast of lamb (having turned down the likes of teal and langoustine). Alice went for leeks gribiche. We both got food envy while we were waiting and asked our lovely waitress if we could squeeze in an native oyster each before the starters arrived. We could, so we did. To follow, sole fillets cooked chip-shop style for Alice and partridge for me.
The oysters were perfect, the very essence of the sea. The lamb, as I'd hoped, was Franklins' take on lamb Ste Ménéhould, the brasserie classic I'd read about (but not tried) in Hugh F-W's Meat and Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken et al: slowly cooked, pressed and cooled before being breaded and quickly fried in strips. Not bad at all, although the promised mustard turned out to be a light dressing on the accompanying watercress: I'd have preferred something sharp to dip the lamb 'fingers' into. The leeks were fine, the gribiche working well against the smooth flesh, but were perhaps a little low on imagination. The fish was good, the batter nicely lifted from the well cooked flesh, but the accompanying tartare sauce seemed like just another outing for the gribiche – not sure the hard boiled eggs really belonged. The partridge was a bit uneven – dry in one or two places, bloody in others – but was very good overall: well hung and successfully married to some good sloppy black cabbage. Chips and greens were first rate. Hokey pokey ice cream was the definite highlight of the puds. A treacle tart was less successful.
Serious quality food at sensible prices in a warm and welcoming environment. Who could ask for more than that? I'll still be going back regularly to the Anchor & Hope, not least for the big sharing specials, but it's great to know I can get similar fare a little closer to home. And you can even book yourself a table here...
Franklins, 157 Lordship Lane SE22 8HX 020 8299 9598