Comfort at The Candlemaker, Battersea’s English Food Kitchen:
Last Friday marked the end of an era for me. I bought a small flat in West Kensington about 15 years ago. For five years it was my own home, for a further six it housed my mother. It was a time when she was deemed too unwell to live alone but was refusing point blank to go into ‘one of those homes’. Originally when I outgrew it, I kept it because it was a pretty place, somewhere I could see myself retiring. High ceilings, period features, stained glass windows and even a balcony and a little garden at the back. But, as I watched my mother deteriorate, I grew to realise I wouldn’t want to go back. So, this summer I put it up for sale. It was under offer within 3 days of going on the market and sold just ten weeks later. Last Friday I went back there to take the few things that remained there away. That chapter of my life is over, the book is closed. And, I feel inexplicably sad.
Comfort food was exactly what I needed. Going to a new pub in an area of London I don’t know might not sound like the ideal solution, but it turned out to be the perfect choice. Battersea was once home to Price’s Candle Factory – which became the largest producer of candles in the world. Although the factory moved to Liverpool and eventually closed down, there are many buildings in the area which pay tribute to what was, at the time, one of the most important manufacturers in the UK. The Candlemaker, a refurbished 1930s pub that was originally called the Bellevue, provided a delicious meal with all the comfort of home cooking but none of the hassle.
We arrived early to find a buzzing venue with a lot of people taking advantage of the current special offer of Prosecco for £12.50 a bottle. So of course, I had a glass of fizz while my companion enjoyed a pint of Laines. It’s a pleasant space with a couple of outdoor areas which look as if they could be real sun-traps. This year’s apology of a summer though, didn’t tempt me to leave the comfy indoor tables!
The current manager and chef is Michele Cremona who comes from a background of formal training at Le Manoir and the Hand & Flowers, but who is perhaps best known for her Soho pop-up cafe ‘the Full English’. She’s responsible for the retro, comfort food on the menu, dishes that support small British family farms where everything, even the tomato sauce, is made from scratch.
That does mean that the menu looks more like ‘local’ than ‘gastropub’. I suspect it’s deliberate, but may just push the boundaries back a little further than potential customers would like. There’s home made soup, a whole host of homely sounding dishes, including an all day ‘Full English’ and then, if you have space, apple crumble with home made buttermilk custard. We loved what we ate. But, we’d also have really liked a sharing dishes or starters and perhaps a couple of options for dessert (even ice-cream or cheese). Then again, I have no idea what the kitchen is like and I’d rather have a few dishes done really well than a menu five pages long where nothing quite works. Sad though that we heard the tables close to us discussing where they were going for dinner and not for one minute considering staying put (despite the prosecco)
I chose the shredded lamb shepherds pie. Six hours of slow cooking made the meat filling beautifully tender. A rich gravy, lots of lamb juices all topped with mashed potato and finished off with some roasted carrots. Perfect comfort food.
Simon’s plate of beef brisket hash with black pudding was equally well executed. I tasted a bit – just to check that it was proper black pudding and that the beef was as good as it looked. And I’d have tasted quite a bit more if I’d been allowed to do so.
There were a few side dishes available if for any reason you thought you needed more on your plate. But, despite the very reasonable prices the portions were generous and neither of us would have dared attempt a plate of chips for example.
We did indulge in a shared apple crumble, that most traditional of English puds. And, Simon indulged a lot more than me in lashings of admittedly delicious custard.
A bottle of Argentinian Tilia Malbec Mendoza helped wash everything down nicely. I loved the clever use of emojs to highlight appropriate pairings. And I loved the pricing. Main courses are around £8 or £9 and the wine is mostly around £20. For a relatively central London pub that is smart enough to take your parents out for dinner and relaxed enough to meet up with your friends, that’s quite a bargain.
All in, I’d recommend trying the Candlemaker. A few more dishes on the menu might help a bit but, the prices are keen and the food is excellent. For now it’s not too busy so, catch it while you can.
136 Battersea High Street