Trinity Restaurant Clapham – Ambition matched by talent is a rare thing

review by Chris Zacharia

A flashy name is usually a bad sign. Whether in American sports or children’s food, they’re usually masking some kind of deficiency.

Your local ‘Best Kebab’ probably isn’t very good. Superdrug is just Boots for Heat readers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (or whatever they’re calling themselves this year) do not, in fact, ransack passing cargo ships for plunder.

Trinity, a restaurant in Clapham, does not fall into this trap. Its title suggests a suburban all-girls Catholic school, or a down-at-heel working men’s club where a portrait of Disraeli hangs behind the bar and you can still pay with shillings. It’s humble, hushed, suggestive of old fashioned dignity and restraint. At a stretch it might be the name of premium anti-virus software.

Yet Trinity, led by head chef Adam Byatt (Thyme, Hospital Club), is one of those restaurants you wish others would take notes from. See how their waiting staff are relaxed and enjoying themselves? Notice the dedication to nose-to-tail principles? This is how you do it. Judging by the fact that the place is buzzing right up until closing time, people are taking notice.

I’m led upstairs to Trinity’s new dining room, which jettisons the straight-backed formality of downstairs in favour of an easygoing selection of sharing plates. Gone are the individual dining tables for couples. It’s all communal benches and barstools. Initially, I’m troubled by a rapier-like ripple of horror at the thought of enduring two hours on a stool. It’s a testament to the kitchen’s quality that I don’t think about it once thereafter.

The dining room is warm and bright, overlooking a tiny segment of Clapham Common, but even if you don’t seize a window seat you’ll have plenty on which to treat your eyes. Much of the back wall is taken up by a playful and inventive installation from Kristjana S. Williams, whose work has appeared at Shangri-La at the Shard.

Divided into honeycomb-like hexagons, reminiscent of diagrams of chemical structures, are three-dimensional scenes of nature. Hand-crafted butterflies cast shadows on trees and meadows, as fruits and vegetables grow ripe behind them. It has a fairytale quality, sharpened into something edgier by the unusually forensic quality of the presentation. It’s a genuinely interesting flourish, proving that installations in restaurants can be far more than visual gimmicks. And in Trinity’s rather sparse dining room, which lacks much in the way of furniture or decoration, it’s a welcome addition.

Matthew, our disarmingly competent head waiter who gracefully chaperones us from dish to dish, advises that we choose five plates between us. On a menu of about a dozen dishes, this should be relatively straightforward, but the menu’s breezy, self-confident tone only hints at the excellence you might miss if you fail to choose well.

More robust than tapas, these sharing plates begin with familiar taste combinations, the addition of surprise ingredients propelling them into genuinely new territory. Goat’s curd, pickled carrot and tarragon (£6) arrives first. Ribbons of carrot encircle pools of creamy goat’s curd, sprinkled with wild fried rice, the flavours utterly symphonic. Tangy, piquant carrot unleashes its tart volley, cutting through the smooth paste of the cheese, as the woody tones of the wild rice adding depth and bass. A simple assortment of ingredients is elevated by intelligent composition to become far more than the sum of its parts, its opposing flavours of citrus and nut dovetailing perfectly. It’s an excellent demonstration of flavour contrast, and a delicious way to start.

We’re unable to resist the haggis bon-bons (£4), a pair of deep-fried arancini lookalikes topped with a crimson quiff of walnut ketchup. Break its amber-coloured shell and gorge on the porridge of haggis within, the acidic kick of ketchup amplifying what was always going to be a hearty taste sensation. It’s pure umami bliss. Be sure to order two plates; one each is too cruel.

From the elegance of the carrot, to the heartiness of the haggis, our descent from refined to primitive continues with an almighty crescent of pork jowl (£10). Matthew explains that its presence owes much to the fact that Trinity are committed to using every cut of each pig they source. With a kitchen this inventive, it’s not hard to drum up plausible, ebullient renditions of pork.

Shaped like a rib, cut lengthways like pork belly, the jowl offers a cross-section of muscle, meat and fat. A crispy crust of skin, cracking like caramel, paves the outer layer. A thick, jelly-like slab of fat dominates within, with a darker, sweeter meat tucked beneath. Cleverly partnered with a black olive mayonnaise, embellishing the pork’s savouriness rather than restraining it, and petal-esque curls of cleansing pickled turnip, it’s a well-rounded dish which brings out the best of the cut. It’s not long before all trace of it vanishes from the plate.

Leg of salt marsh lamb (£10) is a disassembled version of the classic dish. Barbecued chunks of lamb, blushing pink in the middle, lie scattered in a swamp of salsa verde, bracketed by the criss-crossing tails of smoked anchovies. Unusual company for lamb to keep, is anchovy, but their smokiness works surprisingly well together. The unexpected hero, however, is undoubtedly the crumbly, grainy salsa verde, transforming the dish into a salty swamp of oily indulgence. With the thick texture of a really good pesto, the salsa clings convincingly to the meat, adding much-needed fat to the lamb. An intriguing dish, well worth a tenner.

Matthew brings our crispy pigs’ ears (£6) last, as a “palate cleanser”. To my mind, using pigs’ ears as a palate cleanser is like using treacle as toothpaste, but it soon makes sense. Huddled in a thatched lattice, the pigs’ ears are battered like calamari, forming long windy batons of gold. They’re surrounded by a veritable forest of unusual mixed leaves, from the crunch of pink radicchio to the red-speckled Castlefranco chicory. Like all the best partnerships, both participants end up better off: the leaves slice through the savouriness of the pigs’ ears, which in turn tames the bitterness of the leaves. Delicate shards of apple bring sweetness, while a dousing of dill oil lubricates. It’s such a dynamic dish, each component amplifying the others. And it does indeed serve as a good palate cleanser.

With such an impressive volley of tight, articulate dishes, we’re nothing short of properly excited for dessert, with the enthusiasm of children. Chocolate cremosa (£6) with salted-caramel ice cream makes me furrow my brow in amazed bewilderment, it’s so rich; poached rhubarb and meringue soars far above traditional versions of the same dish thanks to a stupendous set custard, thick as butter and alive with vanilla. The meringue is a textural wonder, crumbly at first and chewy thereafter, and the rhubarb has all the sour tartness you could hope for. It’s a beautifully colourful thing, too, all bright yellow and purple, vivid as a school playground. Finally, blood orange granita (£5) loses not one drop of the fruit’s lip-smacking flavour, forming a refreshing crimson rubble beneath an almond-shaped mound of vanilla ice cream.

Trinity’s upstairs dining room is that rare thing: a menu whose lofty ambitions are ably satisfied by a talented and imaginative kitchen. With Adam Byatt in the kitchen and Matthew manning the tables, you’re in very good hands. And with food this good, who needs a flashy name?

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