The Watergate, 7 Watergate St, London SE8 3HR
The Watergate: another diamond in the relative rough, but no sign of scandal
Plenty of things don’t get the press they deserve; why did I learn so much about ‘box-and-whisker’ diagrams only to never, ever need them? Why isn’t Darrell "Delite" Allamby formally recognised as God? Who gave Josh Widdicombe and Andy Parsons a career and more to the point, why? The latest addition to this list is Deptford’s ever-sprawling food scene.
Now site number three for owner Gordon McGowan, he’s pulling a Rick Stein in Deptford but to much less bitter acclaim by the locals with his latest site 'The Watergate’. Another ‘small plates and natty wines’ destination but hold the eye-roll for a second, you judgemental creature, you.
I’ve rattled on before about how this configuration of restaurants is grey territory. For some, it’s a cash cow that plays off a trend, where the menu represents a spreadsheet more than an actual menu. For others, it’s a chance to showcase a range of influences and skills for which the selection of several plates is the best way to experience this. The Watergateoperates mainly with the latter, thankfully.
Starting off with the courgette flower stuffed with goat's cheese that’s pleasingly unbrash with acidity, fried tempura style with the stem still tender and beating with chlorophyll. Oozing with truffled honey, it isn’t gloating with the bougie fungus which so often feels like a status ingredient, which is something to be respected.
The crispy cuttlefish is brilliantly so- mottled with parsley, the panko coating is so light that it’s more like a forcefield of carbohydrate that shields a just-cooked halo of cuttlefish from the world. A big ol’ dollop of parsley aioli that is just below biting in terms of garlic content is of good balance and amount because it’s not something you should ever need to ration or use sparingly. Of course, there’s a fat wedge of lemon to airburst over the lot which is all that’s really needed.
Our love affair with American culinary culture is an odd thing- we may not have adopted deep-fried lemonade or Big Red chewing gum, but we’re making headway when it comes to cornbread. The Watergate opt for the style with fresh pieces of sweetcorn running throughout; a more savoury rendition of the raisin bread I used to demolish as a kid. But more to the point, they’ve equipped their version, albeit a bit lightly, with a chipotle butter (butter is a food group) with which my Editor is besotted. Perked up with fresh coriander and spring onion, it’s something that I could eat every day with poached eggs.
Another curiosity is the pork cheek in a broth afloat with fresh mint, pearl onions, peas and apricots that obscure some plump pearl barley beneath. It’s a tagine reformatted; capturing the quintessential flavours whilst cutting the heft which, on an unseasonably hot day, is very much appreciated. The pork cheek does what it should, splitting away into its fibrous sections down into the murky depths like a collapsing shoreline- the only concession is that it’s squealing for a touch more salt overall.
I’ll throw my hands up and say no, the onglet and chimichurri isn’t a wildly adventurous selection but I’ll also say, shut up, Dad. With a sidearm of a rather dense wild garlic croquette (slightly put-out as the menu mentions this in the plural and I don’t like a tease), it’s more than made up for by the glittering shimmy of the sauce. It zips, slaps and kisses simultaneously, straddling blushing chunks of beef and it’s been given a thorough rest- that is to say, due to a perceived mix-up in the kitchen, it was perhaps briefly forgotten about altogether.
However, they were training new members of staff this day who, unfortunately, had to give a large share of their non-refundable time on this earth to a punter that kicked off about how there was no elderflower tonic. Preaching to her mates about how she was ‘in such a good spiritual place right now’ before skulking food from her bag and ponced everything but a breath to make a rollie. Namaste.
Returning to my GCSE critique of Yank-Anglo food relations, we’ve come full- very full- circle. Deep-fried Oreo’s, cream cheese and ‘soil’ which is the crushed biscuit- presumably from the inevitable smashed bookends of the packet. From this, I can absolutely, univocally conclude one thing aboutThe Watergate- whoever commands the friers is a master of their craft. Jim Stacy, Butch Benavides and Abel Gonzales couldn’t hold a chubby little candle to this person. The only drawback is that this dish is a bit steep at £8 for 3 cookies and a scoop- especially when they’re not even Double Stuf.
We’ve seen three very different kinds of battering and frying that cannot be ignored- the timing, the temperatures and the consistencies of batter all deserve a moment of silence. But as if my ventricles weren’t squeezing close enough, this scoop of cream cheese ice cream and Peter North ropes of simple icing really hog-tie and haul us across federal lines into the 51st state.
A little hideaway that caps the totem of a slew of restaurants all the way down Deptford High Street, The Watergate marks the end of a strip that is firmly wrapped in the gilded tentacles of gentrification. Although it feels like it’s still finding its feet, it seems to be on course for something good if not great.
I’m rabid to delve back into Deptford for somewhere to eat as it’s an embarrassment of riches-Marcella (sister to Peckham’s ‘Artusi’) the hyper-intriguing Suya and Lobster and Eat Vietnam Bar B Grill to name but a couple being next on the ever-growing list. Winemakers Deptford, whilst primarily a place to drink, outsources their food of which I’ve only had a taste- thick and crisp Panisse chips with fermented chilli drifted with Grana Padano, all washed back with chilled Cremant. If it wasn’t one billion degrees all the time currently, I’d certainly be looking to Manze’s- but I hope you’ll agree; that can wait.