It is a rare moment when one can say that an enchanting place to eat does not have a presence on Zagat, but unless I am being a little bit daft then this is the case we have with Four O Nine, a smart little restaurant which is as hidden away in real life as it is online.
It took an especially well-informed restaurant mate of mine, to introduce me to Four O Nine, which is to eating what the Luggage Room and the Mayor are to drinking. She led me to the discreet entrance – a common garden front door really – where a buzzer grants you access to the first floor dining room (above the Clapham North pub – ideal for pre-dinner drinks), providing you state your name and reservation – or at least your intentions, I guess. The front door gives way to a staircase up (it is a bit back-alleyish to be honest) and then through an another door and there she is, Four O Nine’s consistently cheerful hostess;
“Table for two, sorry we’re late”
“Haha! Did you miss the door?”
(Missed the damn street, to be honest)
“No, it was the Northern Line” (TFL make a great excuse)
Booking is certainly recommended – if only for the reason that Four O Nine is quite ‘cozy’, as an estate agent would put it. Nevertheless, once inside and sat down (the restaurant once had plush swivel chairs, though these have sadly been replaced with more standard restaurant seating) the pokiness easily lends itself to intimacy, particularly given that nice long candles – seldom seen these days -provide a centerpiece to tables come dinnertime.
Four O Nine is packed full of romantic nuances as well as fondly leaning towards the finer things of fine dining. For a start, the restaurant has a encyclopedic wine list, boasting chapter after chapter of choice. A recent visit on a cold winter’s evening placed heavy reliance on a couple of bottles of Vaquero Cabernet Sauvignon – reasonably priced as is much of the wine list – but those wanting to splash out will find that it seamlessly stretches from plonk to pedigree, whilst covering all tastes. Diners will feel cradled by attentive service which – on all my visits – seems to begin by feeling quite pushy, but the staff get the hint and settle down without too much of a fuss.
Make no mistake, Four O Nine is a restaurant to settle into and be savoured. Dinner is pre-meditated with amuse-bouche – a fantastic touch seldom seen in non-starred establishments. These light bites offer an apt introduction into Head Chef Dariusz Zajac’s wholesome world of British cuisine. Starters are imaginative and successful; on a recent visit the rabbit with spinach gnocci was delicate and did away with the dish’s inherent risk of stodginess or volume. The ‘squid ink-braised squid’ was quite a mouthful in more ways than one, but was again executed with a light, hand and talented chef.
My fondest memory of Four O Nine relates back to that first visit, and a tender, generous pigeon main course, which rendered my notoriously critical companion almost speechless. Make no mistake about it, Four O Nine’s meat main courses are the stars of the show. More recently, a haunch of roast venison with artichoke and salted caramel was probably as close to Heston’s venison as I have ever gotten, but somehow it was sidelined by a sirloin of Orkney beef which – cue clichéd comment – melted in the mouth. Both were cooked to a frightening degree of precision.
Not once at Four O Nine have I ever made it to dessert: the mains are generous, to say the least. On my latest visit we made the mistake of ordering too many sides (accompaniments are extra to the meat) and ended the meal pretty much buried in a pile of buttery new potatoes and my new guilty pleasure – their perfect triple cooked chips. I’ll base my favourable judgement of dessert on the menu offering a selection of Neal’s Yard cheeses (cheese being the new chocolate and all that) and a spoonful of apple and pear crumble that I nicked from my friend recently.
Ah yes, the awesomeness of Four O Nine’s food means that it is all about sharing the love. The dimmed lights and detail mean that even the slight loudness and irritation of claustrophobic tables blends into the background. This leaves you, the diner, to concentrate on the things that matter most to eating out; the shared experience, which in this case is spectacularly carried along with smashing service and some of the best-value food in town. Having said that, Four O Nine is not exactly cheap but you’d begrudge the cost to bask in their world of details.
A reasonably hidden gem, Four O Nine is tucked away opposite Clapham North Station. It’s somewhat off the charts, making it a favourite neighborhood restaurant, but damn it makes a good detour too – and it takes a lot for me to leave East London. I strongly recommend that you get there and try it out too, before Zagat does.
mains around £twenty, wines from £twenty a bottle. Three course meal with wine? Yes please! You’re looking at £eighty to £hundred, all in
fouronine.co.uk | @409restaurant | 0207 737 0722 | 409 Clapham Road, London, SW9 9BT