Cara Cummings visits Herne Hill’s Yummy Cow for an exclusive first review.
Is there anything more thrilling than finding a fantastic new restaurant on your doorstep? Yes: doing so in 2020.
Covid has been cruel to hospitality. Opening a London eatery was tough enough before the world imploded, let alone in Year of the Plague’s Q4 when the state-sponsored bacchanalia of Eat Out to Help Out feels long gone, replaced instead by grimly puritancial 10pm curfews and the start of a second lockdown. For a chef to even think about setting up shop in the current climate is like the Titanic’s head of health and safety taking one look at that iceberg and going: nah, I reckon we can get a bit closer. Much like said scenario, opening a restaurant today takes stone cold balls.
Which makes it all the more joyous to see a new south London venue not only throwing open its doors, but absolutely smashing its offering out of the park. The bravery of the team behind Yummy Cow has paid off, handsomely: this restaurant is good. Really, really good. In fact, with its warm service, brilliant, generous food and a wine list you’ll want to spend a lot of time with, Yummy Cow is exactly the restaurant we need for now. It should be prescribed as an apocalypse antidote for anyone on the brink; so all of us, basically.
We rolled up to Yummy Cow in the heady pre-Tier-Two-but-still-curfewed days when eating indoors was legal – remember that? WILD – and London had the air of the last days of Rome as everyone rushed to do their debauching by 10pm sharp. (What exactly happens after 2200 hours, nowadays? Do chefs turn to stone? Are Ubers really pumpkins? I couldn’t possibly comment – I’m always outside by 9.59, officer.) With HM government’s fun limit looming, we did the right thing: ordered hard liquor at once.
Yummy Cow’s cocktail menu holds the first clue to its quiet brilliance. Short, yet somehow covering all bases and with room to spare for an intriguing wildcard – chilli margarita with pineapple and yuzu, more on this later – it’s a window into the philosophy of founders Nanden, Vinny and Rod. The trio met working at legendary Brixton haute haunts Naughty Piglets and Mamalan, and share Sri Lankan and South American roots. Dashes of that background peep through amongst Yummy Cow’s sharing plate-style dishes, in which seasonal British ingredients are given a bold international spin. At first, the menu reads like a fever dream – “Fried gnocchi with coconut salsa and paneer, guys? Guys…?” – but rest assured: embrace the madness, because you won’t want to wake up.
Back to that margarita, which arrived larger than expected – a pattern for the evening – and promptly left me speechless. Actually: my friends wish it had, because for the next twenty minutes all I could do was breathlessly carp “THIS IS SO DELICIOUS” whilst they tried, and failed, to change the subject. Again, a pattern for the evening.
Every dish that followed matched that dazzling intro, and some. Beef croquettes the size of cricket balls that somehow still felt airy. Pitch perfect pork chops served with bonkers-sounding fermented cabbage, korean bbq sauce and shrimp powder that again, somehow, just sang. A plate of aubergine with pickled shimeji mushrooms and miso that made me want to roll around naked on a forest floor. Raw beef with coffee mayo – coffee mayo! – on homemade Keralan flatbreads even brought a vegetarian at our table tumbling off the meat-free wagon. By the time our desserts of doughnuts with chocolate mousse and ‘Drunken Grapes’ (shan’t spoil the surprise) arrived, we were ready to move in.
Perhaps it was the Blitz spirit in the air. Perhaps it was the faultless service of Vinny, London’s smiliest maitre’d. Perhaps it was the hot pink dining room… No, hang on, it wasn’t that. The only tiny, miniscule critique you can level at Yummy Cow is that sitting in the back room can feel a little like having dinner inside a giant raspberry sorbet. But who cares when everything else is this good – and this good value? We ate (and drank, woops) like kings, all for less per head than you’d expect to pay at a high street chain.
So consider this a public service announcement of the rare, easy to follow kind: book Yummy Cow immediately and get down there after lockdown.
119 Dulwich Road, SE24 ONG
020 7274 6409
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