Clapham's very own late night Opium den inspired restaurant, cocktail bar and nightclub
Fu Manchu, Clapham Review
Under a Clapham railway arch, entering Fu Manchu feels a lot like entering a typical London nightclub, and – despite their Dim Sum offering – that’s kind of what it is.
We got to experience a bit of each aspect of Fu Manchu – it identifies itself as a ‘social experience’, which sounds like an unnecessary buzz-phrase but it’s certainly part bar, part restaurant and part nightclub (it’s open ‘til 3am on Fridays and Saturdays). Its namesake – in case you were about to Google it as I did – is a fictional early-20th century Chinese master criminal who also lent his name to the long moustache he sported.
The set up inside is cool and atmospheric – the exposed brick arches, dark wooden tables and low light are accessorised with big cheerful Buddha statues, and ornate Chinese-style screens. Before the sun had set there was a DJ mixing deep house, which blazed out of decent speakers located all over the room. As the night went on the light installation illuminating the bricks shifted colours, which only added to the effect of the many cocktails I’m about to describe.
Our first drinks were a Mai Chai (£9.50)and a Ling Tang’s Szechuan Sling (£9). I’m quick to order anything claiming to be chai flavoured so the Mai Chai’s blend of Ron Zaccapa, Kracken spiced rum, orange Curaçao, lime juice and chai tea syrup sounded like a no brainer. In the event though the flavours weren’t very easy to pick out and it tasted mostly like cola bottles. In the cut-throat arena of chai-based cocktails I’d say Dishoom’s Chaijito wins hands down.
Fortunately the Mai Chai was the only underwhelming cocktail we tried (I specify cocktail just because I quite liked the sound of the specially-brewed pale ale, but while its label spoke of hints of lemongrass and kaffir lime the overwhelming flavour for me was rose petals – weird).
I think the first sip of the Szechuan Sling was when we knew we were right to be on the cocktails. The distinctive pepperiness came from a base of a homemade Szechuan pepper shrub – I’ve had to subsequently Google what a shrub is, but Fu Manchu managed to create a drink that had all the unmistakable flavour of the pepper with none of the heat. For people who like their drinks spicy this might not seem like a good thing but it made for a very unusual flavour and – balanced, among other things, with mango Finlandia and mango juice – it was a drink that should almost have been too sweet but actually balanced perfectly on the edge. It was served long but didn’t go on long enough with two of us happily guzzling away.
Some of the cocktails we had at Fu Manchu are a bit of a blur now but others stood out. There was the Kiss of Death (£9.50) – a bourbon and elderflower/blackberry concoction spiked with star anise and topped with an incredibly creamy ‘kiss of death’ foam that was satisfyingly balanced on top of the martini glass. Mark braved the aptly named Green Dragon (£9): Eristoff vodka shaken with Green Chartreuse, lychee, lemon and a homemade green chilli syrup – if the Sling was (luckily for me) lacking in heat this more than made up for it and while I could appreciate the flavours I couldn’t manage more than a sip before my mouth burned.
Another favourite of mine at Fu Manchu was the frozen Lotus Juice Cup (£8.50), served in a frosty metal tankard it was a delicious slushy mix of vodka, white wine, grapes, mint and lemon – slightly lethal sounding and all too easy to drink.
All the cocktails were pleasing to the eye – a wonderful array of different glassware for what seemed like every drink and then those drinks come in every sort of colour and garnish combination you might think of – a bright pink cocktail adorned with a chunk of dragon fruit (that was the Dragon Fruit Paloma (£9), another good one) is a lovely thing to have sitting in front of you. The staff mixing the drinks were speedy, friendly and seemed to really know what they were doing.
All of that is to go without mentioning the food. To really do it justice I think we’ll need another visit that’s more dim sum than cocktail-orientated. The few pieces we did try make me think that wouldn’t be a bad idea – dumplings were served piping hot from their steamers with translucent skin and juicy, fresh fillings. The green-tinged Gow Choi Gau (£5.50) prawn & chive dumpling was particularly good, as was a fluffy honey barbecue pork puff. Chao You Sai Laan Fa (£4) were tender but crunchy stalks of salt, pepper & chili broccoli, not only tasty but surely enough vitamins to make up for our numerous drinks.
Of course, you could forget about the cocktails and the food and just go for dancing. That would be a mistake though.
I dined as a guest of Fu Manchu but as always, the words and thoughts are my own.