Llewelyn’s, Herne Hill

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Christopher Hirst enjoys a memorable lunch in Herne Hill’s new neighbourhood restaurant

Surveying the street outside Herne Hill railway station in south-east London, a friend declared, ‘It’s completely changed in three years. If I’d known it was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have bought a flat in Brixton.’ It would, however, have been hard to predict the transformation. Why should a distinctly grungy corner of inner suburbia become the sort of stylish milieu that features as a backdrop for fashion shoots? Clustered together in this almost traffic-free nook are a florist, a refurbished pub, a café/bakery, an upmarket hairdressers and an art gallery.

A recent addition provides the cherry on this stylish cake. Between the hairdressers and the florist, an eccentric eatery called Pullen’s Dining Room and Bar has been replaced by a clean-cut restaurant called Llewelyn’s. It has a gleaming black exterior and stark white interior with polished pine floorboards and spare, modern furniture. Outside, a flotilla of tables and chairs colonises the wide pavement. The guiding spirit behind this transformation is Katya Davis.

It is no coincidence that the neighbouring hairdresser (female friends who live locally hymn its praises) is called Myla & Davis. Katya Davis’s recruitment for her new restaurant is impressive. She brought in Alcides Gauto, formerly of Margot Henderson’s Rochelle Canteen, as General Manager. The head chef Warren Fleet comes from top gastropub Anchor & Hope in Waterloo while the pastry chef Ravinder Gill was with Fergus Henderson at St John in Smithfield.

Seating 53 inside and another 20-odd outside, Llewelyn’s (the name was borrowed from a relative of Ms Davis) looks promising but is it as tasty as it is tasteful? After our exemplary waitress Harriet helpfully arranged three of the white-topped tables into a little crescent to accommodate five of us, we roamed among the starters.

Oak smoked salmon consisted of four deep-flavoured thick-cut chevrons. Smoked in Essex, it was reasonable value at £7.80. A small bowl of salt cod brandade (£6.40) was enhanced by chopped parsley, an unconventional addition advocated by Caroline Conran in her cookbook Sud de France (‘gives a new lift to the dish’) though one of our party said the result ‘tasted a bit like fishcake – I still like it though.’ We all relished a happy partnership of buratta, juicy borlotti beans, rocket and crumbs (£7), while a rough-chopped slurry of broad beans, peas and mint on toast was the quintessence of early summer (£7).

Having punted heavily on the starters, we decided to share a couple of main courses. A salad of borlotti beans and subtly spiced baby globe artichokes with chard and ricotta (£15.40) was the proposal of two female members of our party. Somewhat to my surprise, I loved it too. My choice of Swaledale lamb kliftiko and Greek salad (£16.80) proved to be two great chunks of fall-apart meat with potatoes in a richly flavoured stock. From the high fells of Cumberland, the lamb was perfectly suited to this slow-cooked Hellenic classic.

Moving on to the severely truncated dessert menu, we sampled two of the three choices. Within a thin chocolate crust, tiramisu (£6) was foamy, chilled and curiously refreshing. A chocolate sponge cake steeped in Guinness and served in a pool of dark brown caramelised sauce (£6.40) was a noir triumph.

On repeat lunchtime visits, the number of customers was variable. Llewelyn’s was pretty much packed on a Tuesday and fairly empty on a Thursday. Maybe the provision of a couple of cut-price lunchtime specials would encourage daily patronage. One all-day attraction of Llewelyn’s is the top-notch patisserie of Rav Gill. Her lemon drizzle cake (£1.60 per slice to take away, £2 to eat in) was a paragon of the form with sensationally lemony drizzled icing, while her raisin-studded Welsh cakes, somewhere between a biscuit and a pancake, were good enough to merit a re-order. Open from 8am to 11pm, Llewelyn’s is the neighbourhood restaurant that anyone would want in their neighbourhood.

Llewelyn’s, 293-295 Railton Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0JP, 0207 733 6676, llewelyns-restaurant.co.uk

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