What? A speakeasy in Clapham-blooming-Junction? Home to the Sunday Service clubbers roving around Sainsbury’s dressed as Fred Flintstone? That’s right, and it’s about time that the dining establishments of St John’s Hill justified the extortionate cost of residing in the surrounding Victorian mansions. To be clear, this restaurant is south of the river. Just sayin’.
So it wasn’t with trepidation, but with mounting glee that I made my way to Powder Keg Diplomacy. A name just pretentious enough to pique the interest of city workers with an inexorable need to throw their ill-gotten gains on quality dining not involving burgers.
Let’s call it PKD. PKD is a cocktail emporium and restaurant full of imperialist promise. Walking in, you’re met with opulent yet funky décor. It’s all midnight-blue walls, wallpaper adorned with nocturnal creatures and empty picture frames. The dining room aesthetic veers straight into Agatha Christie territory. Who needs Downton Abbey when we dine at a vast mahogany table, marvel at multiple candelabras and utilise enough cutlery to bring The Dowager Countess out in hives. All this old-world charm might explain the proliferation of women dining. It’s the fairer sex that runs the PKD world.
So, we started with a drink. The cocktail menu was uniquely created, and you might require a PKD PhD in chemical engineering to decipher it. It’s testament to the management that one of my dining guests, after furrowing her brow for a few minutes said, “Look, I can’t understand this menu, can you just provide me with something that I’d like.”
The waitress dutifully trotted off and returned with a Baron Collins, the most divine orange cooler you’ve ever tasted. My martini was perfectly chilled, refreshingly alcoholic and served in a bizarre sherry glass. Another cleverly blended fruit and brandy cocktail came in a teacup. How kitsch. So round 1 goes to PKD: thumbs up for content, if not for size of measure.
Now for the main event. We sat in a conservatory on the look-out for Poirot - thoroughly enjoying playing ‘posh dining’. The carnivorous menu is perfectly placed for autumn, but I’m not sure how it will hold up in a blazing hot July (or January, perhaps). Are you vegetarian? Go elsewhere. PKD is only really catering to the game girls and boys.
I started with a delicious mackerel pâté on far too little toast, with a velvety chive-laden cream. It was delicious, but I had to ask for bread. The combination of soda and a heavy white bloomer was sampled by all of us, but it shouldn’t have been necessary. A companion had a scrumptious and full-plated beef carpaccio that was both chewy and melting. Cue lots of empty plates, partly due to the quality and partly due to the staff inattention. Keen to bring us a water decanter, and an excellent wine list (with heavy emphasis on full-bodied reds to go with all the MEAT), they then went AWOL for about 30 minutes between starters and mains. Another round to PKD, but this time, a slim win.
A note about the staff. They were pleasant and extraordinarily attractive. Men in bowler hats, girls in floral skirts, flitting around our new-world diner. Yet, all that glamour fails to detract from their distraction in the packed house.
My next dish was pork belly that oozed fleshy goodness. Cooked to perfection, a decent portion of mash with it, but not enough greenery. I like at least to pretend I am getting one of my five-a-day when chowing down on a feast Henry VIII would approve of. My companion’s partridge didn’t provide enough meat, although her vegetable quotient was infinitely higher than mine. I can confirm that the steaks were firm and full with a spiky peppercorn sauce. We ladies indeed ate like kings.
Obviously we moved quickly on to dessert, and the ‘Ginger Three Ways’, a delightfully named dish (no sniggering), was fantastic. With portions again on the slim side, it featured a cheesecake, a moist cakey pudding and popping-candy-laced granita, all perfectly melded. PKD is winning all the culinary rounds.
So, it’s a terrible shame that my own powder keg diplomacy had to kick in. I had tolerated the lack of staff attention and the discussion over portion size but I was so disappointed when I nipped off to the bathroom. Woefully overlooked, the décor was bland, and as I tentatively entered (two stalls only – bad PKD) I was confronted with a leaky cistern and liquid all over the floor. Yes, dear reader, mucky toilet water everywhere – exactly what you don’t want after indulging in a three-course colonial gorge-fest. Exchanging grimaces with other patrons as I tip-toed around, I reckoned even Poirot would have been hard-pressed to lay the blame on anyone but the owners.
An old-world menu newly applied, excellent beverages and well-thought out ambience; the food absolutely delivered. I would have given PKD the highest marks but for the service and facilities errors. A beautiful façade, strong hearty fare, but less a powder keg, more an exercise in imperialist smoke and mirrors.
Powder Keg Diplomacy, 147 St John’s Hill, London, SW11 1TH. Tel. 020 7450 6457. Website.