One of the many great things about living in London is that we are absolutely spoiled for wonderful local café/delis, where we can enjoy a quick, delicious snack or light lunch and then, if so minded, buy the ingredients to make it at all over again at home. As well as well-known mini-chains like Ottolenghi, small but flourishing independents populate many of the 'villages' which, cliché would have it, make up our fair capital; locals love to think of each as being their 'little secret'.
Apologies to the locals of Balham then for blowing wide-open this particular little secret, the absolutely delectable, worth-the-fare-to-zone-3 Fat Delicatessen. I'd walked past it numerous times on the way to and from visiting a friend who lives round the corner and always meant to go in; having finally done so for a lunch with said friend (let's call him Matthew, as that is in fact his name) and Alyn recently, I'm extremely glad I did.
The long, whitewashed, slate-floored room feels distinctly Iberian, which is appropriate seeing as it's tapas, along with a few Italian specialities which are on the menu. As well as a thirty-ish strong selection of dishes divided up into 'Bar Snacks', 'Breads', 'Ham & Salami', 'Cheese', 'Meats', 'Fish' and 'Vegetables', there's a choice of paninis and sandwiches as well as daily pasta specials (all made in-house) and made-to-order salads. Prices are pleasingly low; the only dish on the menu over £8 is Acorn-fed Jamon Iberico at a still-reasonable £13.50, making it possible to order abundantly without breaking the bank.
Between the three of us we ordered a meat-heavy selection including a serving of delicious Terruel Lomo - sweet cured pork loin - confit belly pork with creamed rosemary fagioli beans and Italian sausage with cherry tomatoes, as well as some pan Catalan, hot green Padron peppers and red onion with piquillo peppers and chick peas.
It was all superb, the flavours rich and distinctive, the combinations assured and nourishing. The Padron peppers disappointed only because none out of the generous portion packed the fierce chilli hit that at least one in every serving usually does, but they were nonetheless saltily moreish. The pork belly was a thick brick of piggy goodness, served on a comforting bed of white beans, and the Italian sausage a huge spiral of salsiccia complemented by some tiny, roast cherry tomatoes.
Desserts sounded great so of course had to be tried. Alyn declared his white chocolate cheesecake to be "heaven" - you'll have to take his word for it as there was none available to try - Matthew's sticky toffee pudding was good, if lacking in the sticky richness of dates, and my affogato was comme il faut. Drinks-wise we enjoyed a bottle of bright, fruity 2008 Borsao Seleccion Blanco from a fairly-priced, all-European list, as well as tap water helpfully offered in large jugs, thus avoiding any need for repeated refill requests on what was a hot day.
Our bill for all of this - six savoury plates, puddings and wine - came to less than sixty pounds, an amount you can easily approach (and exceed) per head in some of the West End's razzier tapas/small plates/cicheti joints. The Fat Delicatessen is, of course, not in the West End and therefore lacks any pretensions to fanciness, reflected in its not-fancy pricing and relaxed, friendly service. It is, simply, what it is - an excellent, honest, local business. Balhamites are lucky to have it, albeit perhaps not for too much longer, all to themselves.
The Fat Delicatessen, 7 Chestnut Grove, London SW12 8JA Tel: 0208 675 6174 http://www.fatdelicatessen.co.uk