By the time I had walked up Anerley Hill to Crystal Palace Market I was ready for a drink. But Anerley is a big hill so all I could manage when I got there was water. ‘Cold, and plenty of it, please,’ I rasped, writes Michael Holland.
My lunching companion, Fiona, was already there, equipped with tape measure and writing pad, ready to measure up and take notes! She had somewhat misconstrued my invitation to lunch as some sort of DIY mission! Don’t ask…
Crystal Palace Market is all about great meat and fish – The menu tells you exactly where the meats come from and you can see the elegant, erstwhile swimmers on a bed of crushed ice at the front of the open kitchen. Fiona, though, declares she is a vegan straight after the waiter informs us there is no Crystal Palace Market Salad. I coughed, spluttered and took a hefty swig of an extremely smooth Pinot Noir. Fiona sipped on her water.
‘I bet the Goats Cheese Croquettes are nice,’ I said hopefully.
Fiona is not a complainer; she’d had a good week and no salad deficit was going to spoil that. The croquettes were actually ‘wonderful’, she said after her first course. They looked good too.
I began with the Seabass and Crab Ceviche. It came with a mango sauce that was both unexpected and very good.
Bolstered by her recent good fortune, Fiona had lots to tell, so I was updated on her ongoing creative projects, council disputes (won), furniture disputes (won), allotment poachers and a device that helps her concentrate more and hear better. I was just about to mention that she had misheard me and brought a tape measure to lunch, when our main courses arrived.
Across the table was a sea of green. My fellow luncher had opted for the last remaining vegetable option: Gnocchi with a Creamy Mint and Pea Puree and Green Beans. A plate of gnocchi always looks good to me, even when it is just one colour.
I chose the Lamb Chops (Devon). They were not those petite, one-bite cutlets, but thick and juicy slabs of meat. Beautiful. All three of them. And the salad that accompanied the chops had the most delicious dressing. Our server explained that it was created from grain mustard, orange, lime and lemon juices. So simple but so effective.
The lunchtime rush had diminished somewhat by now and the sun had broke through the clouds, so we sat chatting and sipping at our respective drinks. Then our informative waitress appeared behind me and like a devil on my shoulder uttered those dangerous words of temptation: ‘Would you like to see the dessert menu?’
Fiona, who had been unable to finish off all her gnocchi, made a noise of surrender and mentioned something about being too full, but I’m a professional and made of sterner stuff. ‘It won’t hurt to have a little look, will it?’
From that point on it wasn’t difficult to lure Fiona in. In fact, it was she that chose the Pineapple and White Chocolate Sauce for sharing! It was like a trip back to the days of fondues except this was chunks of pineapple to be dipped in a sauce of white chocolate. How could you not fall in love with that?
The Crystal Palace Market is very special. All the food looks good as well as taste good.
Monday – Thursday there is an attractive Lunch Set Menu (2 courses £9.95; 3 courses £12.95)
Crystal Palace Market, 3-7 Church Rd, London SE19 2TF
0203 475 7080
Friday: 11am–4pm, 6–11pm; Saturday: 10am–5pm, 6–11pm