I’ve always slightly mistrusted gastropubs that have names and trappings that imply that the food’s going to be some sort of novelty. (I’m thinking of the now defunct Fat Badger of Notting Hill, but there are other contenders.) When arriving at Chelsea’s The Surprise, one of the Geronimo Inns group, the rustic-chic décor and signs for ‘Lords and Ladies’ to use the ‘Thunderbox’ made me feel slightly weary. However, it was a beautiful sunny day, and the staff were unusually friendly and polite, which allayed my suspicions. And then the food started arriving, and I was properly surprised.
Although The Surprise prides itself on offering small plates, the eclectic menu flirts with everything from traditional pub favourites, done really well (fantastic Welsh rarebit and proper, runny Scotch eggs, though the latter are on the dear side at £6 a pop) to more accomplished dishes. Cornish squid with lemon mayonnaise was lighter and fresher than many of the clammy offerings that pass muster at far more expensive places, and treacle cured smoked salmon easily stands comparison with Mark Hix’s. The decent and well-priced wine selection offers plenty by the glass, and a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was a fitting accompaniment.
The real delights were yet to come, however. Miniature shepherd’s pie with hogget shoulder was like an infinitely more accomplished version of those canapé-like snakes that you occasionally get given at posh art launches. It was rivalled by a very impressive crispy pork belly with apple sauce and sage, and the set-piece joy of a macaroni cheese made with the splendidly pungent Stinking Bishop. Perhaps it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s certainly one worth picking up. A more conventional pair of desserts rounded things off, a cheese board featuring the mighty Blacksticks blue cheese, and a well-executed apple tarte tatin.
Geronimo have a reputation for a sort of reliably upmarket middle-class fare, the Boden of gastropubs if you will. This excellent establishment shows that there’s still plenty of vim and excitement in their operation yet.
The Surprise, 6 Christchurch Terrace, London SW3 4AJ, Tel: +44 20 7351 6954
Well there’s a Surprise!
Alex Larman visits Chelsea’s The Surprise – a gastropub hidden away in a quiet residential street – and, wouldn’t you know it, is surprised by what he finds.
Alex Larman woke up at the tender age of 23 and, Martin Luther King-like, announced to the world that he had a dream. He was simultaneously going to write the 21st century's answer to Ulysses, direct the film that the bastard child of Scorsese, Kubrick and George Formby might have made and become a global roue on a hitherto unknown scale. Then reality kicked in, and the dream collapsed, in favour of a parlous and occasionally sketchy existence maintained writing about food, drink, film and all the other essential requirements of a modern boulevardier's life.
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