UPDATE (26/08/14): Triphal’s growing inconsistency means a boost for chain restaurants, with Wahaca moving up to the number five slot. The decider was the latest lamb malvani curry, which featured dry, tough and borderline inedible meat. For all we want to resent Wahaca’s growing presence on the high street, the fact is it’s fast, fresh and consistently tasty.
If you’re at all familiar with my food rants, you’re probably sick of all the moaning about Wimbledon’s impoverished restaurant scene. So with SW19’s infamous tennis tournament drawing to a close, I thought I’d flirt with optimism for a change and highlight the few decent places there actually are to eat around here. In something approaching a particular order, here are the 10 best restaurants and places to eat in Wimbledon.
1) Franco Manca: Just arrived in Southfields, mini-chain Franco Manca does some of the finest pizza in town. Its arrival in this corner of southwest London is hugely welcome and probably marks SW18 as another prime candidate for gentrification by mouth. The excellent and ludicrously cheap sourdough pizzas are served with plenty of healthy blisters and a chewy base, with top quality toppings kept to a minimum to let each individual component shine. Decent wine is as cheap as it comes at £3.50 a glass/£14 a bottle (try the Cortese), while service is unerringly Italian and friendly (if authentically manic at times). Taken as a package, it’s the most righteous place to eat in Wimbledon right now. Note that Franco Manca does not accept reservations.
2) The Lawn Bistro: The Lawn Bistro was probably at its best under the stewardship of friendly Frenchie Ollie Couillard, but it’s still very good following his departure. One of Wimbledon’s few ‘grown-up’ restaurants, it’s unfortunately located in the heart of the Village, aka Buggyville, so it’s usually empty, as the nuclear pram wielding masses seek solstice at ‘family-friendly’ dives like Giraffe. On the one hand, this is good – walk-in tables look like they’re available nearly every night. Conversely, you have to wonder how long it will stick around, given the rent prices in this part of town. So try its affordable, modern French bistro food while you still can – the Andouilette sausage is hard to beat, and puddings are among the best in town. Read my Lawn Bistro review here for more.
3) Suk Saran: It’s easy to miss Suk Saran as, indeed, I did for nearly 10 years living in Wimbledon. Part of a small chain of upmarket Thai restaurants, it doesn’t necessarily score high for authenticity (to my doomsday palate, the food’s quite mild) and is nestled in an unpromising location between two pubs on the unattractively bustling Broadway. Where it does do well, though, is in serving very tasty grub, albeit at prices to match. The salads are wonderfully fragrant if you fancy a light option, squid is cooked pretty much to perfection, and a sizzling steak platter also impresses. Service is nice and polite, there’s an excellent wine list to boot, and you can check out my full Suk Saran review here.
4) Wimbledon Common: On a nice day, the best place to eat in Wimbledon isn’t in a restaurant – it’s picnicking on the Common overlooking the Rushmore Pond, known to us as locals as the ‘Duck Pond’. Stuff a blanket into your hamper, head to the Village, stock up on generally nice (and always expensive) meats, olives, breads, wines and cheeses at artisan deli Bayley & Sage, and you’re good to go. There’s also a couple of good delis down in Southfields if you’re in that part of the world and would prefer a spread in Wimbledon Park.
5) Wahaca: As a rule, I’m none too keen on chain restaurants, but Wahaca is one of the exceptions. While there’s nothing overly exceptional about it, it’s also hard to fault its fresh, light, and even occasionally spicy take on Mexican food. Throw in smiley servers, acceptably punchy margaritas, and affordable prices and you realise SW19’s actually pretty damn lucky to have got one. It all almost compensates for the dire location next to Morrisons and the Odeon, but if you’re trying to find somewhere decent to eat in Wimbledon, you can’t afford to be too picky. Note that Wahaca operates a no reservations policy.
6) Triphal: Southfields boasts a handful of curry houses, all of which are reassuring popular come Friday and Saturday night, but the one I keep going back to is humble looking Triphal. Its menu features relatively unusual dishes compared to most Indian restaurants round these parts, with particular favourites including the haryali hurgh tikka, malvani lamb curry, and lamb shank. It’s not the bin end prices you find in nearby Tooting, but it’s still eminently reasonable and its intimate atmosphere and accommodating service complete the deal. They’ll also do delivery if you fancy a lazy night in.
7) The Lighthouse: Before the arrival of the Lawn Bistro and a couple of other (more mediocre) places, the Lighthouse was Wimbledon’s only stab at a proper local restaurant. It’s still a bit of an institution, serving competent modern European food that’s about as adventurous as a Coldplay album – only the harissa mackerel might upset the parents – that’s particularly good value as part of its set lunch and early evening menus. We’re starting to scrape the barrel a bit here, but there are much worse options around.
8) Tortilla: One of the better lunch and post-pub options in downtown Wimbledon, Tortilla was arguably the capital’s first decent burrito purveyor before Mexican wraps got all fetishised. While it’s nowhere near as good as what you get from street food virtuosos Luardos, it’s infinitely superior to the diabolical Chiptole just down the road. The burritos, tacos and salads here are filling, tasty fare (the pork comes particularly recommended as the chicken and steak options can get a bit dry), there’s good beer like Sam Adams on offer, and a small but interesting selection of hot sauces available to buy. Insider tip: go outside of peak lunchtime hours for the best service and portions.
9) Sticks’n’Sushi: My love/hate relationship with Stick’n’Sushi is increasingly just hate/hate, but if you must sit down for sushi in Wimbledon, this is where you’ll probably have to go. Expect awkwardly keen service, a confusing menu system, good cocktails, average food with the odd touch of flair (some of which works, some of which makes you want to scream), and a bill so hefty it wouldn’t be out of place at Nobu. Makiyaki in less fashionable South Wimbledon is another option, but I have yet to try it, and Putney’s Sushi 54 will deliver restaurant quality sushi to SW19 (at restaurant quality prices).
10) Brew: Really want to blend in with the locals in Wimbledon? Then head to the buggy Mecca that is Brew in the Village for weekend brunch and pay through the nose for some distinctly average eggs Benedict and a decent-ish latte. Its hilariously overpriced food is good for the most part, with particular praise reserved for the fresh juices. The Lawn Bistro and The Lighthouse restaurants both also operate cafes in the Village (typically less crowded), while Maison St Cassien has nicely sunny outdoor tables and is said to be a favourite stop-off for Andy Murray during the fortnight (though you’ll find me munching at Cambio de Tercio in Earls Court with Nadal).
Honourable Mentions: A bit away from the main drags, Ben’s Canteen has recently landed in neighbouring Earlsfield (get there by taking a mainline train one stop from Wimbledon station) and does really good quality food – including one of the best burgers in town. Just down the road, Cah-Chi is a hidden gem of a Korean restaurant. And as much I love Triphal, the best curries are to be found a short bus journey away in Tooting – fearlessly cheap Apollo Banana Leaf being the pick of the bunch and probably the best value restaurant in all Londinium. Finally, Putney is just two stops away on the Distict Line and enjoys a small but vibrant restaurant scene. Highlights include upscale Italian joint Enoteca Turi (disclaimer: I’m mates with the owners’ son, but it really is damn good), south Indian fish specialist Ma Goa, and homely sushi bar Cho-San (try the blowfish sake, I dare you).
Steer Clears: Serial restauranteur, erstwhile chef, and top Twitter bully Claude Bosi ruined Wimbledon’s best boozer when he turned the Fox and Grapes into a pretentious gastropub peddling revolutionary dishes like prawn cocktail at inflated prices. Avoid at all costs and, while you’re at it, give a wide berth to the crop of new Lebanese restaurants that have popped up around Wimbledon as well – unless you like minuscule portions of sub-par food at West End prices, of course.