Amid the cranes of south-east London, Michael Deacon enjoys a small-plates dining experience
Michael Deacon at Sparrow in south London
At last it’s over. the battle is won. After weeks of psychological and bodily str uggle, requiring iron self-discipline a nd Herculea n resolve, i have emerged bloody, sweaty, emotionally drained – but victorious.
i’ve finally conquered my addiction to rocky-road clusters.
to recap. At the star t of the year, i stopped drinking. With all the mountains of rich food i was eating for this column, i was putting on weight. Going teetotal, i thought: that should help.
except it didn’t, because – as so many former drinkers find – when the body is denied its usual source of sugar, it demand san alternative. Hence my abrupt cravings for chocolate, sweets, biscuits and puddings. At night, after my wife had gone to bed, i found myself digging to the back of the kitchen cupboard and scoffing the remnants of a short bread tin from Christmas 2014. Children’ s birthday parties–which, thanks to having a th re e-year-old, i attend most weekends–became a nightmare. At the buffet table i would pile a paper plate with Party rings and Mini rolls, as if thoughtfully fetching them for my son – and then scuttle into a corner and wolf them myself.
the rock y-road clusters, t hough. those were the worst. You know the things i’m talking about: knobbly little brown nuggets, look a bit like chocolate haemorrhoids. one morning before work, i popped into tesco, bought a tub of them, got on the train – and, before we’d even reached the first station,
devoured the lot. All 15 of them. It was like the time Alan Part ridge had a mid life crisis and drove barefoot to Dundee while chain-eating Toblerones. My stomach groaned. My colon winced. My skin turned the shade of a seasick avocado. Honestly. A tub. A whole tub. That’s pretty bad.
Still, not as bad as the morning I ate two tubs.
Eventually, though, my sugar-mania faded. My body let go. The need was defeated. I was clean.
Until I realised I’d instead become addicted to coffee.
Now this, if anything, is sillier than the rocky-road clusters, because I don’t even like coffee. In fact, I hate coffee. Always have. Caffeine drives me nuts. Genuinely. It makes me go all weird and wobbly and melodramatic. I once drank two espressos in the space of an hour and almost had a nervous breakdown. I felt like I was walking on my hands up an MC Escher staircase.
So the coffee I’ve become addicted to is the only one I can cope with: latte. Latte’s so weak you could give it to a toddler at bedtime. Pathetic, really. But I can’t help it. It’s so creamy. So gorgeously, gorgeously creamy.
And so fattening. God, I might as well have stuck with the booze.
Anyway, more on my embarrassingly low-level addictions another time. You came here to read about a restaurant, and this week’s is Sparrow, in Lewisham, south London. Lewisham isn’t a hotbed of haute cuisine, or, to be honest, of anything else. It’s basically a roundabout covered in cranes. But Sparrow could be a breakthrough.
It isn’t much to look at: bare walls, character less furniture, and g rot ty windows squinting out at tower blocks and endless buses. But the atmosphere, the night I went, was great: busy and buzzy and thrumming with chatter. The food wasn’t bad, either.
The menu was yet another of these sharing-plates jobs, its influences a jumble of British and Asian. I tried six dishes. The grilled lamb was good: juicy, firm and a florid, almost Faragean pink. I also liked the rabbit ril let tes (a kind of chunky pâté ): cool, limber, lit he and served with thin slices of sour dough bread, the shape of the BFG’S ears. Then there was the kohlrabi salad with tiny sweet shrimps, followed by fried-chicken tulip: essentially, poshKFC, but much less salty. (Salt, since we’re on the subject, isn’t just bad for your kidneys. It also makes you look fat, by increasing water retention. I have a terrible weakness for salt, which is why I have a face like a water balloon.)
I wasn’t so keen on the green risotto, which was grainy rather than smooth, and piously flavourless. Still, my friend liked it. ‘Smells like hot grass,’ she said. ‘Tastes like garden soup.’ She seemed to mean this as a compliment. Finally, there was the massaman beef brisket – probably, of the six, my favourite dish, infused with a blast of Thai spice that left my tongue glowing like a brazier.
For pudding, my friend had the kefir pan na cot ta, which was light as a dream. I, on the other hand, had the flour less chocolate cake. It was the thick est thing I’d ever eaten. On the outside, velvety and inviting – yet on the inside, sullen, heavy and slow as tar. The sheer bulk of it. I felt as if I’d swallowed a sofa.
Still, could have been worse. I could have ordered the affogato: ice cream doused in coffee. I’d already had a latte on the way to the restaurant. A drop more caffeine and I’d have been leaping about like a scalded macaque.
This, just so you know, is my last column for a few weeks. I’m off to concentrate on the general election and its aftermath. If that doesn’t drive me back to drink, I’ ll know that I’ve really cracked it.
I have a terrible weakness for salt, which is why I have a face like a water balloon
Above Grilled lamb leg, lemon and parsley salad. Below Flourless chocolate cake