I was fifteen years old, a schoolboy in South London, and about to sit my General Schools Exams. It was late June 1944 and V1s had been dropping on London for a couple of weeks. My school - the South London Emergency Secondary School (SLESS), operated in the buildings of Alleyn's School and it had been had been closed down for a couple of weeks because of the danger from 'flying bombs' We fifth formers, who were just finishing our secondary school years were only allowed in the school because we needed to take our exams.
I had previously attended Roan School, Greenwich, which like many other London schools closed because of the war. I was one of those who were not evacuated and so I was sent to SLESS. There were boys from sixteen other South London schools at SLESS - Brockley County, Aske's, Addey and Stanhope, Strand, Wilson's, Westminster, Colfe's, St. Dunstan's, Whitgift and of course a large contingent of Alleyn's boys who were not evacuated with rest of the school to Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire in 1941.
The exams were held in our form room which was on the first floor. It had big windows and nothing much in the way of blast protection. Before each exam, we were instructed to continue to work even after an air raid warning had sounded; should a 'doodlebug' be heard approaching we would be instructed when to duck under our desks and wait for it - we hoped - pass us by. The exams stretched over several days. Each day without fail the sirens would go, and each day there would be several occasions when we'd hear the two-stroke drone of a V1 heading in our direction. The invigilating master would give the signal, and under our desks we went. We were too preoccupied in praying that the buzzbombs would go elsewhere, to have time to exchange notes on how we were doing with the English Literature or Latin paper, and mercifully - for us at any rate - they all did go elsewehere, though a few crashed close enough for us to feel the room shake.
One of my vivid memories is of our English teacher, one William Hutt, whose nickname was 'Polly'. He was about six feet three, with straggly hair and a shaggy moustache which gave him a very lugubrious expression. He was also a brilliant teacher, and cultivated in me a love of the works of Hugh Walpole, Tennyson and Matthew Arnold, which has stayed with me to this day. He was our invigilator for several exams and when the first sounds of a doodlebug were heard, he would stand up and slowly and deliberately extend a very long forefinger toward us and then downwards, with the admonition "Down!". Down under our desks we went. Polly, meanwhile, would step to the side of his desk away from the windows, and lower himself down so that his back was against the desk, with his legs stretching out for what seemed yards and yards towards the classroom door. This exercise he somehow completed with his hands in his pocket.
Once Hitler's latest unwanted present had buzzed by, Polly would elevate himself, and extend the imperious finger towards us and upwards. "Up!" he'd say, and up we'd get and get on with our exams. His whole manner was so calm and reassuring that it made this bizarre routine seem perfectly normal. I don't recall that we were given any extra time to compensate for these interruptions. I do remember that some of us took the trouble to learn the French words for things like 'air-raid',' siren' and 'bomb', in case they came in handy during our oral French exam.
And so the days passed, the exams finished and we ended our school years with no graduation ceremonies, no farewell parties, instead, just quick goodbyes. I heard later that one of our number who had taken the exam with us was later killed by a 'flying bomb' which fell on his home but I suppose that was the law of averages catching up with us. He had, I remember, carved a beautiful model doodlebug out of balsa wood.
Pip Wedge, Toronto, Canada
The Dulwich Society Local History Group is presenting an illustrated lecture by local resident Stephen Henden on the story of the attack on London by VIs and V2s with special reference to the attacks on Dulwich, on Tuesday November 21 in The Old Library, Dulwich College at 8pm - see 'What's on in Dulwich' (p.19 )
Were you one of the Alleyn's boys who de-camped to Rossall in the Second World War? Ever wondered how a South East London secondary day school co-existed for over four years in a Lancashire public school - 'the Eton of the North? And how did Alleyn's develop from being the Lower School of Dulwich College to the day public school of national repute that it is today?
Donald Leinster-Mackay's monograph, Alleyn's and Rossall Schools: The Second World War, Experience and Status, first published in 1990 has now been updated and reprinted. The 48-page booklet tells the fascinating story behind Alleyn's evacuation to Fleetwood in Lancashire. He relates how the Alleyn's association with Rossall was often spoken of as the most successful of the wartime pairings of schools. Other schools which relocated in the way years were Harrow going to Malvern, Mill Hill to St. Bees in Cumbria and Dulwich College which had an unhappy term at Tonbridge School.
At the end of the sojourn, the Vice-Master of Rossall, Col. LH Trist, wrote that "Here two schools lived side by side, sharing all there is, both maintaining their own traditions, each learning from the other, and above all both learning the meaning to give and take". Professor Leinster-Mackay then goes on to demonstrate how the experience with another school helped inform Alleyn's in its struggle to establish its status in the post-war period (between becoming an aided, Direct Grant, or a London County Council school). He relates the drawn out battles fought by Alleyn's parents, staff and Old Boys to maintain the School's links and traditions with the Foundation of the College of God's Gift in the face of the 1944 Education Act and the opposition from the LCC and even, at one point, its Board of Governors (which served both Alleyn's and Dulwich College).
Alleyn's status struggles continued and the booklet brings us to the 1970s when, faced with the government decision to phase out Direct Grant schools, the Saddlers' Company appeared as Alleyn's "knight in shining armour" allowing the School to take one step nearer to becoming independent . Independence - and the decision to become co-educational- happened in 1976.
Alleyn's is very grateful to Professor Leinster-Mackay who has kindly agreed that the sales from this issue will be donated to the School's Benevolent Fund. If you would like a copy, please send a cheque for £5 (incl. p+p) made payable Alleyn's School. To Alumni Office, Alleyn's School, Townley Road, SE 22 8SU.
Ken Round is approaching eighty years of age and was a former member of the Home Guard in Dulwich during World War ll when he lived in Coplestone Road, East Dulwich. He has written describing some of his experiences as a teenager. He says that all young men on reaching the age of 17 had to join one of several agencies including the Cadet Forces and the Home Guard although Ken had earlier been a member of his street fire fighting party.
The attraction of being issued with a rifle and 40 rounds of ammunition which might be kept at home attracted Ken to join the Home Guard "with the men". Ken was therefore slightly disappointed to be issued with an EY rifle (an early equivalent to a RPG) which fired a grenade a distance of 100 yards. After basic training he was attached to a Mobile Column company, members of which were required to have their own bicycles and for this he received an extra two shillings and sixpence pay per week in addition to the payment of three shillings a week received by all Home Guard personnel.
Most of the members of the Dulwich Home Guard were old soldiers from the First World War and some manned slit-trenches in the area including one in College Road near the Millpond. The Mobile Column was one of four companies which comprised the 18th (County of London) Battalion and the battalion HQ was located at 'Tiverton', a large house on Dulwich Common opposite the grounds of Dulwich College where parades were held. During the war, 'Tiverton' was bombed and a sentry killed and the HQ was moved to a house in College Gardens.
Ken recalls that there was a rocket battery, manned by men from the anti-aircraft battery of 103 HG located at the top of the golf course. It comprised 60 iron frames and was loaded by two men to each frame who put two rockets on each frame. They received the range and direction through ear-phones from a central control. The men then retired to their shelter and fired all 120 rockets to form a block barrage. In addition, Ken says, the battery also had at least one turreted heavy gun and a Bofors light AA gun.
One of Ken's duties was to guard the ammunition dump which was located in Dulwich Woods close to the junction of Low Cross Wood Lane and College Road. In 1944, the dump had to moved as it was deemed to be in too dangerous a position, following the destruction of the Golf Club, close to the AA battery at the top of Grange Lane, by a Vl 'flying bomb'.
Ken recalls his pride in taking part in the parade in 1943 to mark the third anniversary of the formation of the Home Guard when the Dulwich battalion mustered in Thurlow Park Road and led by the band of the Royal Artillery, marched into the grounds of Dulwich College to be inspected by Dulwich's Member of Parliament. The 18th Battalion held its final parade in November 1944 when the Home Guard was stood down.
Dulwich Picture Gallery Exhibition - Adam Elsheimer
20 September - 3 December
Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610) was one of the most famous artists of his day and his output played a crucial part in the formation of three of the most important artists in the seventeenth century - Rubens, Rembrandt and Claude Lorraine. He died at thirty two and only 34 of his pictures survive. This exhibition brings together 32 of these and it will be an once-in-a-lifetime chance to see his works under one roof.
Elsheimer was born in Germany but worked mostly in Italy exerting a profound influence on his successors. Elsheimer is one of the most subtle, most original and most influential painters in the history of art. He was a miniaturist and a meticulous worker: his largest painting is just two feet high; his smallest, a mere three inches.
Like Durer before him, Elsheimer was inspired by the brilliant colour and exotic costumes seen in Venetian painting. In Rome, he was exposed to the stark realism and dramatic lighting of Caravaggio and to the Flemish artists, who specialised in small scale landscapes, sometimes including religious or mythological narratives. Throughout his life Elsheimer worked on copper. This not only allowed him to work with absolute precision but also gives his scenes an uncanny luminosity as the light reflects off the metal ground and makes the painting literally glow. He created certain effects so vividly that his works set a standard for landscape painters for at least a hundred years. This exhibition offers a unique opportunity to rediscover this painter.
12th London Festival of Chamber Music
The London Festival of Chamber Music is coming again to Dulwich, with four concerts at St Faith's Church, Red Post Hill on September 29, October 6, 13 and 20 (see 'What's on in Dulwich' p.18). The programme includes rarely heard works together with masterpieces of chamber music repertoire. In the first programme, the String Quartet No 3 by the Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen is placed between Quartets by Mozart and Dvorak. The second concert is dedicated to English music, with works for tenor and ensemble by Vaughan Williams and Warlock, and instrumental music by Moeran and Bliss. In programme 3, the String Sextet by Korngold follows Quintets by Boccherini and Mendelssohn, and the final programme opens with a Mozart Piano Trio, followed by the Piano Quintet by Dvorak. Among the artists taking part are the English String Quartet, the tenor Richard Edgar-Wilson, the oboist John Anderson and the pianist Martin Jones. For more information telephone 020 7435 6232 or visit wwwlondonfestival.co.uk
The Dulwich Players
The Dulwich Players are presenting Frankenstein by R A Sandberg at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College on 19th,20th,21st October at 8pm. Directed by Stefan Norwak the play is a complex psychological drama that explores the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and the monster he creates. It is very different from the traditional Hammer-horror version of the story that most people are familiar with through numerous films. Instead, the director asks us consider the monster as more like a child who is rejected and abandoned by his father; a child who is articulate and whose view of the world comes from learning to speak from reading a mixture of Plutarch's Lives, Milton's Paradise Lost and Goethe's Sorrows of Werter...Ooh what would Boris Karloff say?
Tickets £6 from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village.
William Powell Frith was born near Ripon, Yorkshire where his parents were employed as butler and cook at nearby Studley Royal. His parents' occupation may have been a form of apprenticeship to the hotel business, because when he was seven years of age, his father became landlord of the Dragon Hotel, Harrogate, one of England's leading spa towns. After an unsatisfactory start in schooling in Knaresborough, the new-found relative affluence of the Friths' allowed them to send their son to board at St Margaret's, near Dover where William was allowed free reign to indulge in his enthusiasm for drawing. His parents encouraged their son's interest in art and his father was himself an amateur artist. From an early stage, Frith's powers of observation indicated his preference for genre, a preference which remained with him and which he exploited fully.
At 16 his father entered him into the private art academy of Henry Sass in Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury and two years later he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools. In the same year, 1837, his father died, and his mother let the hotel and moved with her two other surviving children to a house near Regent's Park where William had space for a small studio. Very early in his life, Frith's qualities of independence, ambition and self-promotion showed themselves and in his second year at the academy he began to make money from portrait painting. Through contacts of an uncle, who had also been an hotelier, he found a clientele among a body of affluent Lincolnshire farmers and Frith made two tours of the area, charging between five and fifteen guineas a portrait.
In 1838, when he was 19, he had his first painting accepted at the British Institution, A Page with a Letter and this was followed in the next two years by further acceptances. Along with a number of other like-minded artists, he was the member of a group known as the Clique. The group exploited the gap which had appeared in the art market between the established academic taste perpetuated at the Royal Academy and the growing demand for narrative painting full of character and incident and executed in precise detail. This form of art lent itself perfectly to reproduction by the rapidly expanding popular print market and prints of Frith's work became a valuable and essential feature of his career.
Frith's early paintings depicting imaginary historical subjects demonstrate his great gift for dramatic grouping and it was this particular device when used with contemporary subjects which marks Frith out as being an artist quite different from his contemporaries. He disliked Pre-Raphaelitism (although he was influenced by its minute detail), Impressionism and aestheticism as a whole.
Although it is his scenes of contemporary life which are his enduring legacy, his great interest in literature was also a source of inspiration and much of his work depicts characters or scenes from his favourite authors like Cervantes, Dickens, Goldsmith, Molière and Scott. It was a literary subject which secured his first appearance at the Royal Academy with Malvolio before the Countess Olivia in 1840,
From an early age Frith was at the centre of the literary and artistic life of London. He became a life-long friend of Dickens and the author commissioned two works from him of characters from his own novels - Dolly Varden ( from Barnaby Rudge) and Kate Nickleby. Frith's interpretations of these characters were very popular and he painted six copies of Dolly Varden. He also painted Dicken's portrait.
His autobiography confirms that he wanted to break new ground by painting subjects from contemporary life but to Frith the main obstacle to this was his perceived notion of the 'unpicturesqueness' of Victorian dress. It was a difficulty also expressed by Millais.
However in 1851, during a visit to Ramsgate he conceived his first ambitious modern scene, even placing himself in the picture. Life at the Seaside (Ramsgate sands) took three years to complete and so was a huge investment in time and money. To his relief it was purchased for a thousand guineas and it was voted the picture of the year at the Royal Academy. It was later purchased from its first owner by Queen Victoria and remains in the Royal Collection.
His next important panorama, Derby Day, allowed him to depict in minute detail what the Illustrated London News would describe as the 'temporary saturnalia of social equality'. There are ninety animated figures in this vast work, ranging from aristocrats and society notables to pick-pockets, gipsies and acrobats. Interestingly, Frith had never been to a racecourse before he started work on Derby Day. The painting was universally acclaimed and when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy it was railed off and placed under police guard. Joseph Bell, founder of the Pharmaceutical Society paid £1500 for it and in his Will; he bequeathed the picture to the nation. The picture is now in Tate Britain.
The Railway Station proved to be a worthy successor to Derby Day and in this picture which shows the bustle of a mainline station with the focus being on a family seeing their two sons off to boarding school; it is Frith, with his family who are depicted in this example of Victorian bliss. This is somewhat hypocritical; Frith had married Isabella Baker, the daughter of a Yorkshire stockbroker in 1845, and by the time The Railway Station was completed they had seven sons and five daughters born to them. But during much of this marriage Frith had led a double life, maintaining a mistress - Mary Alford with whom he had a further seven children, three being born by the time of the appearance of the painting.
Frith had great financial success with The Railway Station; he was paid over £5000 for it (although a year after it was finished, in 1863, it changed hands for £16,300. Frith, however, had negotiated a copyright on the painting plus sole exhibiting rights. When it was exhibited in a gallery in the Haymarket, over 20,000 people paid a shilling each to view it over a seven week period. Prints of the picture made the publisher a profit of over £40,000. There was even a 31 page booklet published, in which every character and detail was explained.
In the 1870's Frith produced a number of pictures illustrating the dangers of gambling and in two series of five studies he emulated his admired Hogarth, with The Road to Ruin and The Race for Wealth. It was during the execution of this series that his thoroughness in researching his subject became evident. He visited the law courts and he took the measurements of the court room to ensure the accuracy of his painting!
His last major panoramic work, which won him a sixth guard rail at the Royal Academy, was The Private View of the Royal Academy completed in 1881. By then his star was waning, the public's appetite had turned towards the Pre-Raphaelites and the beginning of Impressionism and Ruskin voiced his distaste for Frith's work. Nevertheless, Frith continued working on scenes from everyday life of which a typical example was Her First Cigarette.
Frith's wife died in 1880, and in the following year he married Mary Alford. It was in the late 1880's that Frith took a house in Dulwich - 'Ashenhurst', on Sydenham Rise, then one of Dulwich's most fashionable roads. However, the financial burden of his two large families obliged him to take on pupils in his new studio in his house at Dulwich and between 1889-1891 he regularly advertised in the Times, initially offering places to two pupils with a separate class for ladies but later extending his tuition to include pupils "requiring education in drawing". He left Sydenham Rise around 1897.
He was appointed to the Royal Victorian Order shortly before his death and he had gained many European honours. In his last years he agreed to accept the title of Retired Royal Academician. By the time in of his death in 1909 he was aged 90 and it was a different age. He still painted but without success and only his family continued to encourage him. Sadly, most of the public had assumed he had died years earlier. Despite his earlier fame he left only £1300 at his death.
On the Street where you live - Ferrings And Tollgate Drive by Ian McInnes
The developments at Ferrings and Tollgate Drive date from 1962-66 and were designed by architects Victor Knight and Manfred Bresgen of Austin Vernon & Partners and built by Wates. They are perhaps Dulwich's best known 1960s housing, partly because of their prominent site, but mainly because of their interesting design. Their gestation period, however, was a long one and the original proposals for the sites were very different from what was finally built.
The Dulwich Estates' Architect and Surveyor's report on the site dated 28th July 1962 described a mixed development of three storey houses and blocks of flats 'Sketch plans of the houses and flats have been prepared following discussions with Wates Ltd and are submitted for approval. As shown on the layout plan previously approved the houses are in groups of three and have been carefully designed and sited to avoid overlooking. The elevations are in facing bricks relieved with stucco. They are roofed in copper. And the balconies and copper canopies are reminiscent of the Regency period. The flats are sited as shown on the approved layout plan and model. Each of the four T-shaped blocks has nineteen flats, generally three per floor, served by lifts. On the first, second, third and fourth floors, each flat of 1260 sq ft is in a separate wing, and comprises Hall, Living Room with Dining recess, two Bedrooms, Study (or third Bedroom), Bathroom, Kitchen and Utility Room with separate back access to the Kitchen for Tradesmen. In two cases this also gives access to the dust chutes. On the ground floor, one flat is identical with those above, but the two either side are slightly reduced in area. The lower ground floor provides 18 garages, electrical intake rooms, store rooms for the flats, and a small caretaker's or staff flat.'
Building work had started on the first block of flats, Gainsborough Court, during 1963 but, by late 1964, there were clearly serious problems over the development's financial viability; it appeared that the housing market in Dulwich for flats had been fully satisfied by the recently completed developments in Dulwich Wood Park and there was little demand for the type of more luxurious flats proposed on this site. The Estate had already agreed to reduce the number of blocks of flats from four to three but the debate came to a head at an Estate meeting on 14th November 1964. The Manager reported first saying 'The building agreement originally provided for the erection of 29 houses and 72 flats. In order to improve the amenity value of the site, the Governors agreed to the omission of one block of flats, reducing the number to 54. Following recent discussions, I received a letter from Mr Neil Wates stating that the sales of the flats in the block at present under construction are proceeding extremely slowly, and suggesting that, although there are problems of density and loss of ground rental income to be considered, the remaining two blocks should not be proceeded with and the site should be completely re-planned around the existing block to give the greatest possible architectural effect at a satisfactory density coupled with the appropriate financial returns.'
The Architect and Surveyor's report which followed later in the same meeting was more emphatic saying 'The developers have reiterated from time to time the difficulties of developing this site owing to its nature and the very high cost of the proposed development and attempts to reach agreement on the original development have failed. Mr Neil Wates has now put forward a suggestion for a drastic revision of the layout on the grounds that the cost of tall flats and the peculiarities of the site dictate a sale price of £7000 per flat which he considers uneconomic. Since preparing the original scheme the Architects have produced no less than nine subsequent ones, the last of which is for houses alone, reducing the total number of units by half, resulting in very high road and underbuilding costs.'
The Governors initially declined to vary the agreement but by the end of the meeting they became more amenable and they instructed Russell Vernon, the Architect and Surveyor, to go back to Wates to try and negotiate a new scheme but to try and retain the original density (and their income from ground rents).
On 9th January 1965 Messrs Norman and Neil Wates were invited to address the Board meeting. The minutes noted 'Briefly, the views of Messrs Wates was that the two blocks of flats remaining to be built should be abandoned. Mr Neil Wates was emphatic that the flats were not a viable proposition; they wanted a complete
redesign for the site; they recognised that the site was the supreme prestige site of the Estates of all those available for development; they recognised also that to achieve the necessary density there would have to be seven houses to the acre'. In the discussion following the presentation the majority view initially was that Wates should just be told to go ahead with the original plan but by the end the recommendation was to build houses on the northern part of the scheme (Tollgate Drive) and then review the situation for Ferrings later.
Wates wrote to the Governors again on 30th July 1965 saying 'As you are aware, over the past months we have been discussing with Mr Vernon and Mr Knight the designs of the 18 houses on the northern section of this site. They have now been worked up from their original conception in much more detail and it is our considered opinion that the results are beneficial for a number of very cogent reasons.
Firstly, the houses have much more individuality than before, and are not just a series of three very similar houses. Secondly, the substitution of two and single-storey houses in place of three stories gives greater variety. The demand for expensive three storey houses outside the immediate centre of London is limited, and we know that single-storey buildings have a great attraction and are a much more marketable proposition. We also believe that the internal layouts have been improved and will provide much better living.
Finally, the present economic climate is moving against us, and it does not seem likely to improve very quickly. It is, I am sure, true, backed up with all our experience in the field of housing, that in difficult times it is absolutely imperative to offer value for money. These latest designs do just that. For these reason I trust therefore you will recommend this scheme to your Governors.'
In the end, both sites were redeveloped with the same type of houses and the only amendment to the revised scheme was when the outer row of houses, originally accessed directly from College Road, was turned round so that access to both rows of houses was from the central road. Work started very shortly afterwards and the houses were occupied during the latter part of 1966. The prices were from £14950 for the bungalows and £16450 for the houses.
The ground floor layout of the two storey 'pavilion' type houses was totally open plan but the most radical design was the bungalow with its clear zoning of living and sleeping areas and the monopitch roof over the lounge. The roofs on both types of house were clad in a copper covered felt material, and it is clear from conversations with the first residents on the development still living in Dulwich that the houses were not built to a good standard, and many people had problems with leaks and shoddy workmanship.
Nevertheless, forty years on, with the initial problems just memories, they remain fine exemplars of a memorable period of stylish modern houses whose qualities of planning and space are seldom seen in speculative housing today. They are Dulwich's best 1960s houses, and some have argued that their quality is sufficient to justify consideration for listing.
Do we really need a restaurant review in the Dulwich Society Newsletter? Is this getting too lifestyle or do restaurants come under the umbrella of amenity value? At the invitation of the Editor, my intention is to review restaurants either in or within walking distance of Dulwich. This will include Herne Hill, Lordship Lane and Crystal Palace. I welcome any reader's suggestion for restaurants to be considered for a review. I will remain anonymous and I will be paying my own way.
Firstly, a brief look back. My earliest memory of eating out in Dulwich was the Italian bakery in Calton Avenue. A very nice Italian family ran it and we went almost every Saturday lunchtime. There was a small corkage charge for wine and the food was good. The principal restaurant in the Village at that time was the London Steak House, now the site of Bella Italia, where the steak was always correctly cooked. The food at the Grove, now the Harvester, was good and the restaurant in the Crown & Greyhound, which was situated in what is now the non- smoking room, was homely and adequate. Then Nico Ladenis opened in Lordship Lane, in premises now occupied by Mr Lui's Chinese restaurant, and suddenly Dulwich was on the gastro map. Sadly I didn't eat there, but I do remember the sign in the window which warned 'We do NOT serve prawn cocktail or well done steak'. The rest is of course history.
'The only consistency is its inconsistency'
Today we have an almost bewildering choice, reflecting the way the nation's eating habits have become far more cosmopolitan and adventurous. However, in Dulwich itself there are very few restaurants and certainly no Chez Nico. In the Village we have three chains, Pizza Express, which I have been told turns over more money per square foot than any other restaurant in the group; Bella Italia and Le Piaf, both of which members of chains of similar restaurants based on the Café Rouge model. Pizza Express is a reasonable hangover cure and somewhere to take the kids while Le Piaf, known locally as Naff Piaf, has offered me fine, as well as appalling food. The only consistency is its inconsistency.
In West Dulwich we have Porcini, which I like for its unfussy Italian food, and which is one of only a handful of independently run restaurants I am aware of on the Dulwich Estate. We also have Café Rouge at West Dulwich, which I understand is to extend into the Village. The Café Rouge chain does have its merits and again I have experienced both good and bad there.
'What I am looking for this time is a good value lunch'
So, where to start? It has to be Belair, now known as Beauberry House. Surely, with its fantastic setting it has guaranteed success. Or has it? I have been there a number of occasions, although not under the present management, and as elsewhere in Dulwich, I have often experienced food that has, at times, been exceptional and yet on other visits, disappointing. What I am looking for this time is a good value lunch; like the ones offered in Lordship Lane at Franklins or The Palmeston, both of which offer outstanding value with excellent set menus ... So let's go to Beauberry House for lunch.
I know I'm here primarily to comment on food, but the décor cannot pass without notice because at Beauberry House it is somewhat startling. It is nevertheless great fun. Shocking orange 'flock' dining chairs are ranged against a stark white background which make the dining room feel light and airy. Presentation is obviously something a great deal of thought has gone into, with the bar and dining room contrasting radically. My companion and I decide on the set menu and I started with a cold beetroot and cinnamon soup, my companion having smoked salmon with olive mayonnaise. Both dishes were beautifully presented, although I do have reservations on the marriage of beetroot with cinnamon. The main courses of Chicken Teriyaki with stir fried rice for my companion and Cod Tempura with chips for me looked as though thought and care had gone into how they arrived at the table and, joy of joy, it was served on hot plates! The chicken was well marinated, the tempura light and delicate and the chips hand cut and cooked perfectly. After this, the desserts of chocolate cup with saffron cream and banana tart with green tea ice cream were a little disappointing. Perhaps a little too much for lunch on a hot day?
At two courses for £14.50 and three for £16.50 I felt it was good value for money, although creeping a little towards what one would expect to pay in the West End. Yet I have a feeling that, despite the quality of the food, Beauberry House is rather pretentious. This could be its flaw, and unless it becomes a destination restaurant for people outside the area as well as within, it could fail. I hope they are successful because it looks as though they are trying very hard and it appears very professionally run.
Beauberry House Restaurant Open Tues-Saturday 12-3pm and 6-10.30pm. Sundays 12-3pm
Bar open Tues-Thurs 12noon-11pm, Fri-Sats 12 noon till late, Sundays 12noon-5pm
Telephone 020 8299 9788