Top tipples at Herne Hill’s Number 22

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Number 22
22 Half Moon Lane
SE24 9HU
020 7095 9922
http://www.number-22.com/

If you’ve been to the Lambeth Country Show before you’ve most likely noticed the big red stand of steaming satellite-dish sized paella pans courtesy of Casa Catering. While the catering company traverses England’s south east feeding festival-goers and function guests, Number 22 is their home base.

Illuminated with twinkling fairylights the restaurant is dark and sleek inside and very serene; our waitress takes our coats while we settle at a corner table by the open fire. On a Sunday night all intentions of having a quick bite to eat and then going home to iron are quickly abandoned in favour of four hours of decadent cocktails, tapas and wine!

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The bespoke cocktails are where Number 22 really shines with their own twist on traditional classics. You’re always ensured a high calibre cocktail when you begin with top shelf spirits; anything mixed with Grey Goose or Bombay Sapphire is always in good company. However, the drinks are also skilfully prepared; the gin apple crush is a towering modern mojito of crushed ice, with fresh mint and citrus tones blending with apple juice and smooth Bombay Sapphire. For the James Bond style drinker who limits themselves to one drink before dinner but ensures it’s very large and very strong, the Jasmine is an ideal aperitif. The Cointreau and lemon juice takes the edge off the distinctive bitterness of the Campari while the gin really packs a punch.

The appetisers and tapas at surrounding tables all looked enticing, and our own croquetas with piquillo pepper were very good; my only regret is not ordering an entire meal of tapas and small plates.

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The chicken and shellfish paella comes out sizzling in the pan, but unfortunately the excitement fizzles out pretty quickly from that point on. Although the pan is overflowing with fabulous looking seafood -prawns, mussels and squid- the sea creatures are unfortunately drowning in a claggy, bland mix of rice and battling against grey-ish brown chicken pieces. There’s no salt or pepper on the tables, suggesting it’s not deemed necessary, however anything short of a BP oil spill would add a welcome dose of flavour to this seafood dish. When the salt is produced it’s in such a tiny quantity that you can’t help but wonder if it’s in fact fairy dust. God knows nothing short of magic could transform this meal into something tasty.

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Let’s keep perspective here though. Following on from this course is a selection of high quality desserts that immediately put the evening back on track. The dark chocolate mousse is whipped so thick it resembles an ice-cream scoop; it’s velvety, chocolate perfection.

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The cheese platter, while not particularly visually impressive, boasts some delicious varieties, ranging from a crumbly cheddar to a very pungent blue cheese. Quince pastes and grapes accompany the selection. For good measure I recommend washing it down with a Chocolat martini of orange Grey Goose vodka, Cointreau and chocolate syrup or a peach and orange blossom water Martha’s martini.

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The Damage:
Croquetas with piquillo pepper: £4.50
Chicken and shellfish paella (for two): £16 / head
Jasmine cocktail: £7.50
Gin Apple Crush: £7.50
Selection of cheese: £7
Dark chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis: £6
Chocolat martini: £7.70
Martha’s martini: £7.70
TOTAL: £79.90

Ambience (1-5): ****
Value (1-5): ***
Food (1-5): ***
Disabled access: No
Disabled toilets: No
Pre-booking: recommended, especially for weekends.

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