It always rather irks me, when reading about a restaurant outside of Zone 1, to see it described condescendingly as a 'good local restaurant', as if to reach it would require a journey worthy of Gulliver and that the preparation of decent food is somehow dependent on the possession of a W1 postcode.
To those of us who live in Zone 2 (or - horrors - even further afield) it's the central London gaffs that need travelling to; our local restaurants are just our restaurants, ta very much, and many of them are very good indeed.
One such, which I've only just got round to visiting despite the enthusiastic recommendation of others fortunate enough to have it on or near their doorsteps, is Soif in Battersea. The third wine bar and restaurant to open in a group which now numbers four (the others being Terroirs, Brawn and the newly-opened-at-the-time-of-writing Green Man & French Horn), Soif follows broadly the same if-it-ain't-broke don't fix it formula - great produce, rustic dishes, carefully-chosen wines in convivial casual surroundings.
If that sounds like your idea of somewhere fantastic then I'd heartily concur; the slightly bistro-by-numbers interior might feel a little dated but there's nothing not to love about the food. While choosing from the daily-changing menu, chalked up on a large blackboard, three of us grazed on an excellent charcuterie selection - butch rillettes, the fat countered by tiny, mouth-puckeringly sharp cornichons, herby pork terrine and salty, paper-thin salame toscano - and a dish of perfect little leaf-on radishes Peter Rabbit would've risked Mr McGregor's wrath for.
The fat, tender chicken livers on toast with anchovy and rosemary butter which two of us chose for our starters were so big on flavour and beautifully balanced that I found myself craving them for breakfast the next day; I'd go so far as to say it was one of the best things I've eaten all year. Steak tartare - simply done, un-fannied about with, a process yellow egg yolk on top ready for smooshing in - was excellent.
Other mains - a nice hunk of roast cod with moreish, Moorish spiced chickpeas and alioli and a blushing pink magret of duck with garlicky sarladaise potatoes - were gutsy and faultless. It was a shame that bavette with duck fat potatoes was only available for two; I fancied red meat but no two of us could agree to have it so I ended up having the steak tartare from the starters, padded out with an exemplary green salad.
Instead of dessert, neither of the only two choices for which appealed, we shared a selection of immaculately kept French cheeses including Soureliette, a wonderful unpasteurised ewe's milk whose nutty sharpness was the perfect match for a tangy bleu d'Auvergne and smoky Curé Nantais. I often find the prices charged for cheese in restaurants rather hard to fathom; £10 for three decent-sized pieces here seemed about fair.
As you'd expect from a restaurant whose name means 'thirst', drink is taken seriously and Soif's lengthy wine list is big on natural varieties, idiosyncratically categorised. There's a decent selection by the glass and carafe but cheap it ain't, with very few bottles under £25. That said you get what you pay for and our 2011 Roussillon 'Les Foulards Rouges' was, like my fellow diner Rich, full-bodied and bursting with character.
Two bottles of it, aperitifs and service pushed the bill for three up to £183 - just over £60 a head - which took me rather by surprise. The food had been good, and exceptional in places - those chicken livers, my gosh - but that still felt high, especially as similar quantities of even-better food and booze at sibling restaurant Brawn had only come in at about two-thirds that.
No matter; Soif is a very good restaurant and one to which, being lucky enough to be able to call it local literally, I'll be returning. Wherever you live, it's a journey I'd recommend you make, too.
Soif, 27 Battersea Rise, London SW11 1HG Tel: 020 7223 1112 http://www.soif.co
Posted by +Hugh Wright