db Eats: The Sea Garden and Grill

db’s Lauren Eads heads to The Sea Garden and Grill, an unassuming 20-cover restaurant tucked away in a corner of Tooting Broadway Market for soft shell tempura crab buns and dangerously drinkable Bulleit bourbon cocktails.

Soft shell tempura crab

The concept: Set inside Tooting Broadway Market, Sea Garden is the latest eatery to make a beeline for this buzzing market space, which comes alive in the evening. Don’t come expecting a white table cloth and dining room. The Sea Garden’s charm is that it’s part of the market, literally, with food served from a counter top dining hatch to a handful of tables set alongside the main drag of the market. We dined on a Wednesday evening with the restaurant, admittedly to my surprise, packed by the time we left, leaving me feeling like they knew something about this place that we didn’t…

The décor: A slick countertop with backlit bar is the central feature of the Sea Garden, offering a great view of the kitchen’s inner workings. This space was perfect for finger snacks and drinks, but due to its height a little more challenging when it comes to tucking into a full plate, be warned. Rustic tables are strewn across its front for a more traditional dining space, which run to around 20 or so covers.

Opening in December 2017, this hardy team survived the “beast from the east” in March, before a remarkably toasty overhead heating system was installed throughout the market – a welcome comfort.

The food: Designed with sharing in mind, the Sea Garden offers a small, but well-honed menu that changes seasonly with a focus on fresh seafood delivered from St Ives in Cornwall, and free range meat sourced from local farms. All of the restaurant’s dishes are prepared on “the famous” Big Green Egg, the heart of the kitchen and a talking point among diners. Prices range from £2.50 for a side dish (sourdought bread, seasonal veggies and triple cooked chips), to £16 for a main plate of BBQ surf and turf with pork belly, octopus, potato, wild garlic and hazelnut pesto – an intriguing, and untested, combo. Also from the grill comes the BBQ flat iron beef rib with mushroom croquette and cavelo nero (£15) – which I can report was a delight. Smaller plates include whitebait with alioli (£5), and Cornish mussels (£8).

Signature dishes: The soft shell tempura crab was immense (£11). Served simply with kharobi, coriander, carrot, spiced mayo and a squeeze of lime in a soft brioche bun, it was gloriously decadent, virtuous and gluttonous all at the same time. Don’t miss the beef dripping triple cooked chips and battered fish (one of the best I have tasted, which includes restaurants on the coast) dusted with powdered vinegar. Don’t ask how it’s made, just marvel at its deliciousness. From the garden came the surprising Textures of Jerusalem, featuring charred artichoke, pickled mushrooms and vegetable crisps, beautifully presented on a stoneware plate.

Textures of Jerusalem

The drinks: Cocktails are the speciality here, largely made using British spirits (Whitely Neill and Tarquins gin) and homemade infusions. Try a Shooting Bulleit (£9) – an old-fashioned made with Bulleit Bourbon with a mint ice ball and served with a shard of mint chocolate. Dark, deep and dangerously drinkable. Beer lovers will find refuge in a small, but interesting selection of brews, including Kent’s Curious Brew and Whitstable Bay Blonde alongside a Cornish Gold Orchard, bottled only (£4).

The wine list is easily navigated with some solid options to delight those looking for a more interesting bottle than your average market stall offer, with by-the-glass prices reasonable at around £5-7 across the board. Highlights include a bottle of Quinta do Crasto from the Douro, a no nonsense Vermentino from Sardinia a Provence rosé. Sparkling wines include the likes of Champagne Palmer and Co. Hambledon represents English sparkling wine while Raventos i Blanc rounds off the fizz list, flying the flag for Spanish Cava. Prosecco is a notable omission, and I do wonder if this was a deliberate statement. Two curveballs, on what is generally an unsurprising but well put together list is a Hungarian sweet wine, Tokaji Oremus 2014 late harvest (£6 for 50ml), and an NV Lustau Sherry at £5 a glass. Anywhere that makes a point of including a Sherry on its list has my attention. It’s a hugely underrated drink that I love, but has struggled to capture the hearts of consumers at large.

Battered fish with powdered vinegar and tartare sauce

Who to know: Jimmy Luttman, the former antique fireplace restorer turned restauranteur is the co-owner of this intriguing venture, who took the plunge and handed in his notice to open the Sea Garden with the help of a chef friend. A hard worker by nature, (“we are just working our socks off”) Luttman’s down to earth nature runs through the entire operation, from its laid back tableware and unassuming setting, to its friendly staff and approachable menu – with culinary flourishes raising simple dishes to a statement serve. Luttman acknowledged the risk of opening in such a location but reported, with some relief, that people have been overwhelmingly surprised by the quality of his food (“They don’t expect it from a market”) – which is true enough. This isn’t ordinary market stall fare.

Last word: The setting won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and the lack of an attached loo (the market has its own shared facilities a few steps from the restaurant) should be noted, but it is exactly the juxtaposition of a bustling ‘rough-around-the edges’ marketplace with perfectly turned out plates presented in a fine dining fashion that makes the Sea Garden so charming, and endearing. This is market dining with what could have been a fanciful fine dining twist – fortunately, its food lives up to its high flying ambitions.

The Sea Garden, Unit 99-101, Broadway Market, Tooting High Street, London SW17 0RJ, +44 (0)20 8682 2995

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