Share a hearty treat from South Africa
Hammer and Tongs – ‘a man’s kind of place’ – has magnificent braai, and wines that are worth making a fuss about
18 January, 2018 — By Tom Moggach
The Big Braai sharing platter designed for three or four
LESS meat, more veg – that’s the hot trend for 2018, with the rise of the plant-based diet. But some countries, I suspect, may take longer to embrace this style of eating. Especially the carnivores of South Africa.
Over there, the “braai” is a national tradition: the art of roasting meat on an open fire.
Hammer and Tongs, a restaurant in Clerkenwell, proudly celebrates this approach. Or, as their publicity puts it, the “primal elements of smoke, fire, food and good company”.
Their magnificent three-metre braai takes pride of place: an elaborate, multi-level contraption fuelled by imported Sickle Bush hardwood.
The rest of the room is simply set out with wooden tables and unadorned walls. Downstairs you’ll find a small bar, more tables and private dining room.
You’ll find the restaurant on the junction of Farringdon Road and Rosebery Avenue, a few doors from legendary gastropub The Eagle.
“This is a man’s kind of place” said my female companion as we sat down. The majority of diners were certainly blokes on our visit.
The menu is split between braai sharing platters and individual dishes. The Big Braai, for example, is designed for three or four people to share and stars T-bone steak, sausages, skewers, curry, prawns, salads and veggies.
We picked and mixed separate dishes. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the grilled meats that thrilled.
The Cape Malay curry is wonderful: chunks of sweet potato with complex, mellow spicing from coriander seeds, curry leaves, cumin and more. Good value, too, at £5.
The “potije” is a cast-iron pot for cooking stews outdoors. Ours was brimming with seafood and velvety rice simmered in white wine.
But spiced pork belly was less successful. The menu describes a marinade of anise, Muscovado sugar and coriander seed. But the charring from the braai had dried the meat and leant a bitter taste, obliterating these subtler flavours.
Our chicken dish was much the same – a touch too scorched and blackened for my taste.
Perhaps we were unlucky. Next time I’d try the Boerewors sausage, slow-cooked lamb ribs or rib-eye steak.
Finish your meal with refreshing sorbets, grilled pineapple with ginger ice cream or a moreish moist Malva sponge pudding.
Overall, the food is – by design – hearty rather than refined. For me, a highlight was the wine list – a mix of Old and New World with many gems from South Africa, where the quality of winemaking is superb.
Apparently, the team behind Hammer and Tongs weren’t convinced that Londoners were ready for a full-blown South African restaurant.
If you ask me, we’re always up for trying something new. I reckon they should make a bigger fuss of their native wines, with more regional info and options by the glass.
A meal at Hammer and Tongs won’t leave you hungry. Eat well for £25-£30 per head without drinks or service, or a fair chunk more if you go the whole hog.
Hammer and Tongs
171 Farringdon Road, EC1R
020 3774 2884