When my friend and I moved to Clapham the first thing we did was scour the local area for somewhere good to eat (obviously). Halfway down the high street we stumbled across two remarkably similar establishments, one called Esca and one called Eco, both with huge glass windows, billowing white awnings and wooden tables scattered outside. We were instantly drawn to the tantalising selection of cakes in Esca’s window and, one double-chocolate chip brownie and one oversized meringue later, we were sold; we had found our go-to place for lunch. However, I recently discovered that its neighbour offers some strong competition.
Eco has an amazingly friendly and welcoming atmosphere, partly due to its lovely staff and partly due to its newly renovated, warmly lit interior; as soon as you step inside you want to stay a little longer (although this effect was partly heightened due to a need to avoid the Icelandic weather conditions London braved at the weekend). Shivering from the cold and needing a drink to quell my nerves at being on a particularly hot date, I was relieved that we were seated quickly; and, as if he could read my mind, no sooner had we settled in than the waiter was over to offer recommendations for wine.
“What do you like? Fruity? Sweet? Or do you like dry wines?” he asked politely, proffering an extensive list and a helpful smile. Unfortunately I know next to nothing about wine, apart from the fact it gives me hideous hangovers, but I wanted to impress my date so I asked for something ‘crisp’ – I think I must have subconsciously read that on a bottle somewhere – and crossed my fingers. Luckily the ‘crisp’ Sauvignan Blanc was a hit and served charmingly in tumblers rather than traditional wine glasses to give the impression of dining on an “Italian farm” (the waiter’s words; not as weird as it sounds).
Once I had a drink in my hand I duly turned my attention to the menu, printed on a single sheet of brown paper – that rustic farm effect coming into play again. As a big fan of Italian food I could easily have eaten anything on offer, but I went for chilli prawns to start with and, since Eco is renowned for having the best pizza in Clapham, a smoked aubergine and pepper pizza for my main. My date decided to be a bit more adventurous and opted for artichoke and baby mozzarella to start and a cod dish from the specials menu as his main, which the waiter promised would be “fishy but not too fishy”; surely the perfect amount.
Despite every table in the restaurant being full and a queue of people waiting to be seated, our food arrived extremely quickly and was beautifully presented. The chilli prawns were fat and juicy and the hit of spice perfectly complemented the sweetness of the accompanying cherry tomatoes. The artichoke and mozzarella starter was equally good and tasted extremely fresh; both were gone in a matter of minutes.
The mains were also delicious. I have a thing about pizza bases but this one checked all of my requirements; not too thick, not too thin and with a good crust. There were large pieces of baked garlic scattered over the pizza, which could be a garlic-overload for some but it was offset perfectly with a generous splash of basil pesto. The cod also got a stellar review from my date; I had a taste and thought the butter sauce and parmesan mash were the perfect accompaniment to the baked fillet. We even managed to give the desserts a try, and I would happily return for more of the raspberry sorbet or panna cotta, washed down with a shot of limoncello.
Overall, Eco is a rustic and authentic Italian restaurant with great food, a brilliant atmosphere and excellent prices – a starter costs around £5.95 and the mains range from £5.95 for a basic margherita to £16.95 for a steak. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for relief from the formulaic feel of the UK’s high street Italian chain restaurants.