As I entered the Apollo Arms in Clapham I thought how, like most people who really like pubs, gastropubs fill me with suspicion.
The “pub” part often feels like a trick to excuse bad service and food and the “gastro” part unfair prices.
Meanwhile they exploit the pub-look with Union Jack tat and silly pictures of bulldogs above the urinals meaning they all end up looking the same and feeling the same.
Not so at the Apollo Arms.
My friend and I arrived on a rainy afternoon, and the soft lighting made you happy to be indoors with a quick and unstuffy welcome.
The food is fantastic.
A starter of scallops was served with a creamy chicken jus, and a sweet apple puree.
This lacked a little tartness but fresh apple slices provided what its mashed-up brother missed.
Being a Sunday, we decided on (and were gently guided towards) roasts, beef and pork.
They looked suspicious looking at first. Served on a large plate, it held a reflective mirror of gravy that looked like hell not to spill in transit from the shallow rim.
A restaurant roast risks refining and spoiling a home favourite with the fussiness of professional cooking.
However, I was happy, more and more with each mouthful, and finally convinced by the last, that this roast was not spoiled.
Perfectly cooked meat, and that mirror of gravy truly was the finest of them all.
Crunchy-yet-edible crackling and soft pullable meat meant the pork with apple sauce stood out.
The Yorkshire puddings were giant, big enough to impress any child, if a bit singed with pureed carrots hiding beneath provided sweetness.
The weakest point was a spoon of horseradish cream which lacked any heat, quickly discovering that whipped cream on beef is not very nice.
I cannot speak for the beers, as we watched the rain fall on the window over a delicious bottle of South African Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot.
My friend sagely told me that what stood out in the two courses so far was the balance of the flavours in the food.
I agreed and decided to steal the comment for this review.
However, the balance was not for long, the sticky toffee pudding throwing sending you into a slide of sweetness.
A double layer of sponge with banana in between, toffee sauce and then ice cream on top.
All around was cream beneath which the toffee sauce had hardened into a chewy base.
I wish every restaurant had this on their menu.
My friend’s baked Alaska tiramisu was definitely more of a looker.
It was hard to find the coffee but was covered in the most finely carved marshmallow fluff I have ever seen, looking a bit like the top of an asparagus.
Tasty, but maybe not if you were really wanting a baked Alaska tiramisu.
With my prejudices in mind, I like to think the Apollo Arms is not a gastropub but a restaurant, hopefully preventing it from being lumped in with those other bastardised institutions and doing justice to its excellent food.
Furthermore I didn’t see one Union Jack, although there were some pictures of gentlemen with top hats and canes in the loos.