There are many ways to find great restaurants. The columns of Marina O’Loughlin, Jay Rayner et al, for example. The blogosphere. Instagram influencers. The Evening Standard. A chance comment at a dinner party or via Twitter’s reliably chatty food community. Possibly – cough – even this column.
In the case of Light House, a splendid neighbourhood bistro in Wimbledon, it was none of the above. In this instance, the recommendation came from my wife’s 88-year old aunt, who’d stumbled across it with her son one day. “He’s hard to please,” she explained, “but seemed to enjoy it.”
It doesn’t take long to see why. In an ideal world, this is the sort of thoroughly decent, friendly neighbourhood bistro every area should have (and will, should I ever become Prime Minister). There’s a very reasonable a la carte but there’s also a fine value set lunch at £16.50 for two (generous) courses and £20.50 for three, plus there’s a very decent list of wines-by-the-glass.
The Ridgway is pretty much equidistant from Wimbledon station and High Street (where it’s basically chain after chain) and the slightly twee Wimbledon Village (where it’s basically slightly-more-upscale chain after slightly-more-upscale chain). In the Venn Diagram of Wimbledon eating then, Light House sits in an intersection marked something like “thoroughly decent and infinitely preferable”.
Huge windows mean the large room is flooded with natural light. The available space also means there’s enough buzz – from the open-ish kitchen to fellow diners – but you don’t feel on top of anyone. Decoration – wood and earth tones, occasional splashes of colour – is not what you’d call cutting edge but it’s instantly familiar and, like the staff, welcoming.
Jugs of tap water appear with, as far as I remember, no “still or sparkling?” upsell and the lunch menu is handed over with the a la carte. That’s also a good sign: I’ve been to a couple of places recently where the set lunch is on but not offered unless you know to ask for it. I understand times are tough but come on, play the game. Bread – homemade, decent – is put down, together with a small dish of good olive oil.
French onion soup came with something billed as “gruyere croute” which here translates as “good quality, brick-sized slab of cheese on toast”. Chicken liver and pink peppercorn pate, pear chutney and toast was delightful – still slightly coarse, with the peppercorn giving a little spark and some crunch. On the a la carte, there was a dish of new season asparagus, hollandaise and scallop.
On the set lunch, that dish appeared without the scallop and, frankly, it didn’t need one anyway. The asparagus was just the right side of al dente, soft enough to bite through but retaining some structural integrity, all bathed in a paprika-dusted sauce that required the last of the bread for mopping up purposes.
Spinach and Ricotta tortellini, (piles of) baby spinach, came in a gorgonzola cream sauce and dotted with crispy sage, a thoroughly pleasing bowl of food but not as good as the day’s other choices. Pan-fried, just off pink, perfectly cooked calves liver, peppercorn sauce came with fries so crisp and flavoursome that I’m going out on a limb and suggesting beef dripping.
As good as the fries were, however, the star of the table was the veal and pork meatballs, served with spaghetti and tomato and basil sauce. It’s not cutting edge stuff, to be sure, but these were tender, just that right side of coarse, and properly meaty and rich.
Desserts were generous and varied. Pannacotta with rhubarb. Vanilla rice pudding with Armagnac prunes. Tunisian orange cake and Greek yoghurt. The pannacotta had the textbook wobble, the rice pudding was creamy but not mushy, and the orange cake had the pleasingly bitter tang of great marmalade. If I’m being picky, the prunes could have done with another day or two in the booze, but for the equivalent of £4, I’m not going to be that churlish.
While a relatively new discovery for us, apparently Light House has been doing its thing steadily and pleasingly for 20 years. Based on this performance, long may that continue.
75-77 Ridgway, London SW19 4ST
Tel: 020 8944 6338