the UK Restaurant and Hotel Zine

Belair House

Holly Acland put on her crinoline and took her carriage to
Belair House in Dulwich Village

With acres of parkland behind, a sweeping drive in front and shielded from the hoi polloi by elaborate wrought iron gates, Belair House is something of an anomaly for a London restaurant. In fact this listed Georgian house is the place to head for if you hanker for the atmosphere of a country house restaurant complete with high ceilings, a grand central staircase and yawning fireplaces framed by large flickering candles. Indeed, so much grandeur prompted fears that we might be underdressed, but in fact, the atmosphere was refreshingly informal.

Belair house is owned by the TV and stage actor Gary Cady, who - berating the lack of quality restaurants in Dulwich Village - opened it as a restaurant two years ago. "What's this Gary bloke been seen in?" I demanded of the waiter as soon as he came to take our drinks order - not wanting to miss out on the opportunity of familiarising myself with a star of screen and stage. The waiter looked taken aback, quickly recovered and assured me he would find out, mentally logging me as a sure troublemaker.

It turns out that Gary Cady was in a film production of Melissa (I nodded wisely), had appeared in bit-parts on Coronation Street and was currently filming a period drama in Ireland for the BBC. There's a portrait of him in the hall for diners who are interested. Leading actor or not, Mr Cady certainly knows how to run a good restaurant.

When I asked the waiter if he had any recommendations he replied, "Well that depends if you are a meat person or a fishy person" - a perfectly sensible response although he did mention the lobster and mango starter which was new on the menu that night.

While we waited for the food to arrive, my guest greedily munched through at least half a loaf of warm onion bread and I enjoyed probably one of the best Bloody Marys I have had for years - almost a meal in itself.

After a surprise pre-starter of smoked salmon with a couple of spears of asparagus (delicious), we tucked into the proper starters. The lobster had been steamed out of its shell and was served with slivers of mango, a mixed salad and light dressing. This was a winner although big guys with big appetites might be less than satisfied. I had ordered the croquette of duck confit, foie gras and apple with celeriac remoulade (£6.50). The croquette looked uncannily like a large Findus spring roll (had they craftily taken one apart and restuffed it, I wondered, thus giving a practical twist to the notion of post-modernist deconstruction). In fact the combination of flavours and textures worked well.

The wine list ranges from £14 for the house white to an eye-watering £120 for a bottle of Chateau Talbot, St Julien 1982 from the so-called guest wine list. Dessert wine lovers will also appreciate a good selection available by the glass and half bottle. Positioning ourselves somewhere in the middle, we opted for a red Pinot Noir '96 from New Zealand at £28.50 which proved a very good choice - smooth and we could even detect the 'hint of raspberry' we were promised in the description.

For the main course, I chose a fillet of dover sole with langoustine fritters, risotto and shellfish jus (£17.50) It was beautifully presented but I seem often to be a little bit disappointed by fish, even when the dishes look so tempting. The fish jus was rather bland and tasteless but the langoustine fritters were out of this world - tender and done in a moist batter. I was not convinced by the risotto which was rather too like sticky Thai rice. But I am assured by those of the sticky risotto school that sticky is just how a good risotto should be.

Roast rump of lamb with crushed jerusalem artichoke and green beans (£16.50) received top marks and was the perfect winter dish for a cold windy night. The sauce was strong, the lamb pink and tender and the beans perfectly 'squeaky'.

The highlight of my meal came at the end - a green apple crème brûlée with red apple granita (£5.50). The smooth brûlée, iced sorbet and dried apple slices and was a truly inspired combination. After some consideration, my friend plumped for banana vol-au-vent with pistachio mousse and crème frâiche ice cream (£5.50), another adventurous pudding which received top marks. An unusual addition to the dessert menu was a savoury, a very eighteenth century English culinary tradition. Scrambled duck egg on brioche with anchovy sounded more like a delicious starter but wouldn't meet my craving for something sweet at the end of a meal.

For those who are willing to explore the outskirts of London, Belair House promises something very different and rather special. With the wind and rain battling outside, the low lighting, music and small but well placed tables combined to create a feeling of intimacy and warmth. Despite the impressive surroundings, there's nothing overbearing about it, and you might even spot a celebrity or two!

Holly Acland February 1999

Belair House
Gallery Road
Dulwich Village

Tel: 020 8299 9788 Fax: 020 8299 6793

Opening hours: 
Monday - Saturday 12.00 - 2.30pm. 7.00 - 10.30pm
Sunday 12.00 - 2.30pm

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Views or opinions expressed by authors are not necessarily those of the publishers, Midascode Ltd. While every care is taken in compiling this publication, the publishers cannot assume responsibility for any effects arising therefrom.

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