There’s no place like home is a sentiment that stretches far beyond the confides of one’s abode. The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy wished to return to Kansas – not the little farm-shack she lived in. It’s the unrivalled familiarity and tranquillity of the street, town or even city in which you lay your hat. For instance, you probably wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to visit your 20-bedroom palace with swimming pools and tennis courts… if it was in downtown Chernobyl. This is why I consider the concept of ‘home’ closer linked to ‘neighbourhood’ than it is to ‘house’. A home is a place you plan on living indefinitely, but your ‘house’ can your residence during your 2nd year at university or a placement year for work.
With all of this in mind, the various components that conspire to create the environment of your neighbourhood have to be spot on. Where you eat, drink, shop, have your hair cut (not that I ever have this dilemma) are vital ingredients that culminate in a place with nowhere quite like it. Depending on the person, these different factors hold vastly varying importance but for me there is one ingredient that hold the most importance – the neighbourhood restaurant. A genuine neighbourhood restaurant cannot be self-proclaimed – it absolutely has to be earned.
Certain restaurateurs will try their utmost to achieve a genuine neighbourhood restaurant feel – some fall short in authenticity, others don’t provide the comfort and warmth required and the rest (unfortunately) just aren’t very good. But the very best are restaurants that just tick all of these boxes naturally – not too dissimilar to requirements of being known as ‘cool’.
Zumbura is an Indian restaurant, which can be found in the increasingly elegant Clapham Old Town, is a place that is undoubtedly a contender for a Genuine Neighbourhood Restaurant. On arrival, the first impression drawn from Zumbra is the absolute quintessential rustic restaurant. A long single-piece wooden slab is the centrepiece of the restaurant. Lightly decorated in ingredients (a few of which were actually used) and functioning as a beautiful ornament, bar and dining table. This is where my accomplice (a fellow food fanatic and full-time tennis coach) took our seats. Surrounding this extremely unique feature included exposed brickwork, an open kitchen (always a nice touch… always), comfy seating for groups ranging between 4-8 and some people-watching-friendly outdoor seating. Zumbura ticks the box for a comfy and authentic neighbourhood restaurant but a restaurant isn’t judged on looks alone.
Filling these seats was a kaleidoscope of London’s inhabitants. There were tables filled with women having their weekly Sex and The City-esque natter about boys or Barbies or whatever (having 5 sisters resulted in me being very adept at zoning out of female conversation from a very young age), a group of suits holding their blazers (post-work diners), a ‘meet the in-laws’ scenario, two couples of daters and a mixed group of friends – this all bands together to form a very welcoming atmosphere and environment. Zumbura ticks the box for an authentic neighbourhood restaurant that attracts an authentic neighbourhood clientele.
On to the grub! We ordered a few things here and there which were brought out in a very ‘sharing food’ orientated manner – bring it out when it’s ready. This means you get it whilst it hot and have a continuous flow of courses. Now I don’t usually attach prices to dishes so I am merely going to emphasise the high quality of food, compared to the extremely reasonable prices is worth noting. We start with patties – spiced mince pastries in flaky puff pastry and sikkiwe chops – grilled lamb chops, twice marinated in herbs. The pastries were of the unmistakeable ‘prepared on-site’ quality and full of rich and vibrant flavours. The lamb skewers cause the kitchen to emit a smell that sparked a gluttonous anticipation. Lamb skewers do not require much work to impress but the herbs that had been used to prepare them allowed this popular dish to realise its full potential.
The Kullia, lamb and turnip aromatic stew, slow cooked on the bone for a full meaty smoky flavour, was next to arrive, alongside the murghi ka salan, home-style chicken curry cooked on the bone in a rich sauce. Both were fantastic responses to the fast food (burgers, burritos, tacos.. and everything else) craze that has, in many cases, overlooked the beauty of a slow-cooked meal. The meat had fall off the bone tenderness, with all of the complex flavours of Indian cuisine.
Joining this particular party was steamed rice and the bread selection, including chappati, wholemeal unleavened bread, cooked on a hot plate to produce a soft and healthy bread; poori, fluffy fried bread; paratha, buttery flaky flat bread. For dessert, we shared the Gajjar Ka Halwa, warm creamed carrot pudding, which was a great end to the meal and, according to my accomplice, “the best dessert I have ever had”. We washed these down with cocktails – the Zumbura Martini was the pick of the pack and great to see a cocktail closer to £5 than £10 in London. Zumbura ticks the box of being very good. Very very good, in fact.
In summary, Zumbura is a fine example of a brilliant neighbourhood restaurant with all of the requirements achieved. The staff were on superb form – ever present but never intruding; the atmosphere was lively but cosy; the clientele was nicely mixed and the food and drinks was super (all this at a very affordable cost!).
Zumbura, welcome to the neighbourhood.
36a Old Town
London SW4 0LB