Balham is not a town that struggles for decent pubs and the one mass-market chain pub that didn’t quite fit in with the rest has gone and in its place now stands a sparkling gem, also known as The Cyclist.
Pubs have certainly upped their game in the food stakes, gone are the days of a few old roast potatoes left languishing on the bar to delight customers.
We’ve gone from gastro pubs to pub-kitchens and now perhaps we’re seeing the emergence of the pub-restaurant, where decent food sits front and centre of the offering.
In fact, dining on Friday lunchtime as a family of three, alcohol was very far down on our list of importance.
We were lured by what I can only describe as the most impressive pub grub menu I’ve seen in a very long time.
The menu is well considered, bringing together a varied collection of dishes with international flavours that will please any number of palates.
We took ages to place our order as we laboured under massive fear of missing out – or FOMO – as I believe it’s commonly known.
There are just too many good dishes to choose from. Spiced aubergine, coconut yoghurt, pomegranate, flatbread (£6.50) sang out to me rather loudly, but keen to save myself for the main, I resisted.
Of course, no sooner had I committed to restraint, said dish arrived at the table next to me, filling me with an all-consuming envy. Thankfully, I was able to nibble at my husband’s starter, ssamjang fried cauliflower, sweet peppers, ginger, spring onions (£8.50).
If, like me, you’ve never heard of ssamjang, I can share with you that it’s a thick paste used to season dishes in Korean cooking.
To give you an idea of its flavour, think the sweet, sticky, chilli, deliciousness of Szechuan crispy chilli beef – it tastes exactly like that.
Its flavour was a complete surprise, and so different from the buffalo seasoning most
cauliflower florets seem to be doused in at the moment.
My husband chose so well that he lost most of his main course to our daughter, who loved the squid, black rice, aioli (£9.50). A great example of a restaurant standard dish you don’t really expect to be served in a pub, and full marks to the chef.
Trying to keep my choices healthy was no problem at The Cyclist, with several options available to me, but the nourishment bowl won out on the name alone.
This large slice of heaven included chickpeas, crispy kale, avocado, grapes, sweet potato, spinach, pickled carrots, chia seeds and tahini dressing (£10.50).
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so virtuous ordering a dish and downright wholesome after eating it. It was sensational, and left me feeling satisfied.
I was unable to finish the whole thing and particularly loved the crispy kale and pickled carrots. You add protein for between £2 and £4.
There are so many dishes that have been devised with health at the centre, but without being boring. Baked eggs, chorizo and labneh (£9.50) and smashed avocado, Aleppo chilli,
lime, feta and poached eggs (£8.50) being just two examples.
Those on the lookout for the classics, will be able to avail themselves of fish and chips (as my daughter did), burgers and steak, but there is just so much more to the menu than this.
Dessert of an ice-cream trio made its way to our table, and in all honesty the only flavour I can remember was cornflake flavoured.
This was to die for and a new one on me. I am so pleased to have made The Cyclist’s acquaintance and am currently plotting my return.
Paloma was a guest of The Cyclist, 194 Balham High Road, Balham, SW12 9BP