Sparrow, 2 Rennell St, London SE13 7HD

- Review -

Sparrow: Leaving Lewisham with empty nest syndrome to spread their wings

One of my greatest regrets is never having gone to Wallfish Bistro before it closed. You could tell by the fervour with which it was always referenced that it was an institution; a legend- particularly after its demise. A fitting reputation for a premises that, at one time, housed Keith Floyd’s restaurant ‘Floyd’s Feasts’. Owners Seldon and Liberty packed it all in, buggered off to Dorset, and, being the culinary creep/fanatic/loser I am, I tracked them down to the Seaside Boarding House where I ate extremely well. At the risk of sounding basic, the chips, in particular, being everything Wallfish fans had quite rightly, banged on about.

I vowed there and then never to take a restaurant for granted again.

In my new home borough of Lewisham is Sparrow. I’d always walk past, having eyed-up a menu that didn’t really ‘do it’ for me. Seemingly safe and uneventful dishes, I was never enticed enough to book, until Xanthe Clay endorsed it with a velocity echoing those of Wallfish Stans. “They’re under-promising because they will absolutely over-deliver” she insists.

Then just a few days later, we got the news.

“Sparrow’s closing!” mourns the Editor, slightly panicked. We book immediately. What followed would turn out to be one of those rare times where actually learning from my past would benefit my future.

Slipping through the cloaked vestibule into a sparsely populated dining room to our seats, we’re either early or sadly, the word hasn’t spread yet. Luckily, it’s the former as a trickle turns to a stream of people arriving on the dot for their tables. Clinking and chatter inflate the room.

Unctuous and gleaming, smoked cod’s roe piped onto grilled toast and strewn with pickled red onions that verge on juicy, with a mouthwatering sourness. The special of miso-glazed pork belly are a chubby dice of melting sweetness, spiked with fresh chilli, spring onion and nigella seed. Although not crispy as it’s billed, the comforting render on the fat overrides your impulse to care too much.

A pearl barley risotto plump with quality fish stock, is generous with chunklets of monkfish, Argentinian prawns, mussels, silkily bound with butter. From the bite of the grain to the proteins, it’s a masterclass in the requisite patience needed for risotto construction- everything added at just the right time and not a moment sooner.

The ox cheek is another example of the virtues of patience; like me, it’s a meaty lump barely holding itself together. Simmered to within a Planck of disintegration, it splays out into tender shreds when pressed with the back of a fork, into a pool of what appears to be mostly cream, laced with some savoy cabbage. A chop of mirepoix in various dimensions lurk around the globules of butter, splitting from the cream and, although the latter isn’t thick as you’d expect, it’s reminiscent of a chowder. This is not a complaint.

An order of truffled potatoes seems only right and, despite being dressed with an oil infusion, its trademark funky sweetness hangs over it nonetheless. I find truffle completely overrated in many of its applications, especially since Action-bloody-Bronson seemingly discovered it for the first time and treated it like a grateable Rolex. It’s the new gold leaf; the bump of caviar to an insecure dish and it bores the absolute arse off me. But not this time- yeah it might not be freshly grated, raining from the heavens to aesthetically ruin a dish, but it’s there and what’s more, it knows its place amongst these toe-tappingly crisp nuggets.

The goat’s curd cheesecake is a neat cross-section of biscuit base seeping into lemony frangipane, a deeply rich lemon layer bright with yolk, topped with a vanilla-speckled surface. A dollop of sweetened cream clings close, offsetting the tang-fest with which the Editor is thoroughly engrossed.

But maybe the best dish of the night that has just set and still a little warm, is the malted custard tart. You can see where the heated knife has departed from the filling on the last stroke, wibbling as it’s placed in front of my face, agog. It’s just so…sleek. I immediately see St. John in this dish and so I should- the owners are indeed part of the ever-growing alumni.

Cosily packed with the essence of Horlicks, I want to sleep in it- not a little power nap but a full-blown, let-them-find-me-like-this, proper kip.

Pangs of regret and cringe used to keep me up at night, but now they spur me on to act so I may sleep half-decently. Yes, Sparrow is closing and yes I’ve been a fool, but these great people who’ve curated such a fulfilling experience are leaving us to do other things. So print this review off, hold it aloft as if it were Simba and hum The Circle of Life because that’s what it is. These people have other aspects of their lives that they want to focus on, maybe without this closure, they’d be hampered from doing so. I live with enough guilt as it is, so fly, my pretties, fly.