Words by Kerry Potter
Dinner at an outdoor swimming pool on a bleak, sub-zero winter evening, anyone? On paper it was a terrible idea. In reality, we had a wonderful time. Unless you live in a certain patch of South London, you probably won’t be familiar with The Lido Café at Brockwell Lido. It’s a locals’ secret kind of place – as a longtime North Londoner, I hadn’t heard of it, but my two SE-dwelling dining companions are regulars.
The lido itself is a Grade 2-listed Art Deco beauty, built in 1937, while the café has only been open for three years. Initially it served breakfasts and lunches to hungry sporty types, post-swim; now it’s also open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday, and you don’t have to swim to eat there. In the summer, you can sit poolside on the terrace as dusk encroaches, sipping a Brockwell Sunset, (like a tequila sunrise, but involving home-made rhubarb cordial), taking photos of the sunset and pretending you’re in Ibiza. As we chose to visit during the coldest March since 1962, this option was not open to us. However, the pool did at least <look> nice, the floor-to-ceiling windows making for a great view of the water, twinkling frostily in the moonlight.
The café is no grand dining room: the chairs are plastic, there’s only one (unisex) toilet, there’s nowhere to put your coats and bags. But these are minor quibbles. The food is good, the service is great and the atmosphere is warm, buzzy and relaxed, with small groups of friends and cool couples chatting contentedly at candle-lit tables.
The three of us shared a charcuterie and cheese plate and sourdough bread to start, which illustrated the café’s emphasis on local products, with the inclusion of Kent salami and Bermondsey cheese (cows in BERMONDSEY?!); the latter so deliciously ripe and runny it could have legged it out the door. Two of us followed this with roasted free-range chicken leg with pancetta, sautéed potatoes and char-grilled Little Gem – surprisingly delicious and not something you’d ever think to try at home.
My other friend had a decent pan-fried trout with artichoke puree and purple sprouting broccoli. We eschewed dessert for yet another carafe of house white (don’t judge us), but the salted caramel ice cream and ginger chocolate pot were both tempting. The food here is solidly good - simple, well-cooked fare, using high quality, seasonal ingredients. It’s not going to blow your culinary mind, but then who wants bacon and egg sorbet à la ponce on a lovely evening when catching up with the girls?
Apparently, the Lido Café is very busy of a weekend brunch (I can’t think of anywhere more scenic in London for homemade blueberry panics and a cheeky mimosa), but dinner has been kept somewhat on the down-low, a treat for in-the-know locals. So now you know too, go, before everyone else does.
The ELLEuk Score
Style of food: Modern British
Good for: Couples looking for a quirky date venue; groups of friends; hungry swimmers.
Address: Dulwich Road , Brockwell Lido, London SE24 0PA, 0207 7378183, thelidocafe.co.uk
Opening times: Weekdays: breakfast 9am-11:30am; lunch: 12pm-3:00pm. Weekends: breakfast 9am-12:45pm; lunch 1:30pm-4:30pm. Dinner: 6pm-9:30pm Weds-Sat, but should open for 2 further nights per week in the summer (call for details)
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £21
Price per bottle of house white: (UCB Vinho de Mesa Branco): They sell it by carafe (500ml): £11
Price per bottle of house red: (UCB Vinho de Mesa Tinto) They sell it by carafe (500ml): £11
Price of glass of house wine: £4.25
Price of bottle of house champagne: (Champagne du Mont-Hauban Monthélon Selection Brut) £45
PROSECCO: Prosecco Silvola Frizzante £29.95
Price of glass of house champagne: They don’t do it by the bottle but a glass of Prosecco is £5.50
Private dining: No, but you can book the whole venue for weddings and parties
Garden/ al fresco dining? Oh yes
Best table? If the sun is shining, you want one of the five poolside tables.
Who goes? Locals including singers La Roux and Jessie Ware, swimmers and sun-worshippers, families, couples and groups of friends.
Nearest tube: Herne Hill overground (5 mins walk) or Brixton tube (15 minute walk).