It was a desperate situation. Our being half an hour late for the reservation was not the issue, rather a more pressing, personal need that prompted the camply-panicked dash for Foxlow from Balham station. I barely managed my name to the maitre d’, cutting him off in his welcome as I urgently asked after the restrooms and dashed below decks.
Once discomfort had been alleviated, I accounted for our tardiness – and my predicament – on the distance of our journey from Westminster. There’s more than a degree of daring for the likes of Foxlow to open this far south of the river; though I vaguely remember passing a clutch of well-to-do emporia and a gentrified market street quite unlike the Balham I used to recall as a student holed up in the Bedford Inn over a decade ago. My last experience was reminiscent of Peter Sellers’ satirical turn of it being the ‘Gateway to the South’. An ironic nod perhaps from the After the Fox film poster I noticed in the gents’ loos as I made my way back upstairs. Balham. Sellers. Foxlow. Geddit?
Never mind. Suffice to say that Hawksmoor’s newest no frills steakhouses have cast their net some 8 stops down the Northern Line and Larman and I were intrepid- nay, fortunate, enough to reacquaint ourselves with them. I recognised the location immediately. Housed in the former Balham Kitchen Bar, Foxlow is undoubtedly a vast improvement on its predecessor and somewhat indicative of the neighbourhood’s ascent in London, from suburban gentrification to genuine gastronomic interest.
It may be early – the best they could do to fit us in at short notice – but it was already half full and thrumming with activity. It reminded me of a busy Brooklyn dive – we sat gleefully – and there really are no frills on offer here; one is kitted out with the basics required for a dinner – table, chair, knife and fork, no ornate crockery, no fine glassware, beers delivered in chunky frosted mugs, and rightly so. This is where you come for hearty fare and happy times. Proper hair-letting down stuff; elbows on the table, tucking into ribs with your fingers, that sort of thing. That’s not to speak lightly of the food, mind, which is absolutely corking. The chalk board reveals steak specials by weight, as any self-respecting steakhouse should, as well as some mouth-watering à la carte options.
We deliberated for an age, me growling with drink envy over Larman’s choice of the ginger beer – made with a dash of real ale and more acerbic than a Christopher Hitchins’ diatribe – which he assured me tasted far better than it sounded. It did. Which is nothing to speak of my ‘honeyed’ dirty martini; in any other bar I would have had the superior choice. That tells you a lot about Foxlow’s drinks menu.
By the middle of the next week we’d decided on our food, aided ably by the maitre d’. Paper thin and melting to the touch, the salmon crudo was as sharp as the beer. And those ribs I mentioned; no gloopy sauce and sticky fingers, smoked as they were, and all the flavour of a full-on marinade. Fabulous. My earlier envy, incidentally, was placated when our man dismissed the white wine and recommended said ginger beer with our starters. Well, this could hardly get any better, frankly.
It was our mains, however, that set the hares running. I was drawn to the short rib purely for the side of kimchi. “Not the porterhouse?” Larman enquired, slightly deflated, “…do you even like kimchi?” Not particularly, old chap, but I was intrigued. Once again, our man settled matters. It should be the steak and a side order of kimchi for the curious. Thus, an 800g Porterhouse, between us a fair measure, landed with a thud from the cast iron skillet it was served in, nearly flooring the waitress in the process. And with it the usual fare, done delightfully well; fries, steamed greens, a dollop of mac cheese, a range of sauces. And, of course, kimchi.
“I’ve never known anyone to obsess over kimchi,” Larman sneered.
“Like I said, I was curious…”. I sniffed…”nope, don’t know why I ordered that. Want to try, old boy?”
“No.” The reply was resolute, and reinforced with a forkful of fries.
But it worked surprisingly well. I should stress, kimchi is not what Foxlow is all about, but it is suggestive of their approach. Theirs is steak done exceptionally well, with an inventive twist, if it’s desired. The bone was plucked, the sides swept through, the sauces mopped up. The kimchi, all but tasted.
No such deliberation went into the dessert. Come to think of it, we barely got a look in. There was but one offering that was proposed; the Bourbon Caramel Sundae. I should qualify things by saying that I’ve not seen a ‘sundae’ on a menu – let alone had one – since they were passé back in 1986. But, by Jove, are they likely to make a return to form if Foxlow have anything to do with it. The soft, think, creamy Mr Whippee-esque ice cream and crushed nuts aside, that hot bourbon caramel sauce is the stuff of which history is written. It reached a point that we ran out of ice cream to add it to, so shared the last of it poured directly onto spoons. Ye Gods.
Balham, bring back Sellers’ spoof and pay heed. Honey’s back on the menu.
For more information on Foxlow and their fare, visit www.foxlow.co.uk.