Vegetarians do tend to get a bad press. In the eyes of many meat equals protein and the person who abstains from eating it, whatever their reasons, must by nature be scrawny, undernourished and underpowered.
The vegetarian (although not the vegan) could credibly mount the defence that, being more dependent than most on dairy products of the non-meat variety (egg, milk, cheese etc.), he or she is likely to consume as much if not more high-quality protein that their carnivorous counterpart. Egg white in particular offers the most digestible protein form commonly available.
There was a time when it was very difficult to be a vegetarian. The veggie was considered by most of society to be a trifle “strange”, and in most restaurants and eating houses a vegetarian meal was considered along the lines of a Sunday roast without the meat, or a ham sandwich without the ham.
More than this, the word itself evoked an image in the mind’s eye of a thin, bespectacled, slightly sickly looking chap (usually with a beard and sandals) tucking excitedly into a plate full of leaves, with perhaps just a squirt of vinaigrette to fend off its otherwise total blandness.
Nowadays of course vegetarianism is a whole industry, with soya being used to replace meats and milks, and the emergence of mycoproteins that impersonate, sometimes quite successfully, more or less every meat product on the market.
Restaurants now routinely cater for vegetarians, not by simply omitting a major component of the meal but by providing a range of stand-alone veggie options, nourishing, tasty and delicious meals in their own right.
At the Eco Restaurant Clapham several of the most popular pizzas are in fact vegetarian and are enjoyed by veggies and meat eaters alike.
Which tells you that whether you are herbivore, pescatarian or carnivore you will always find something delicious and exciting to satisfy your appetite.
Clapham may be a modest South London district, dominated as it is by its vast common, its vibrant high street and the “traditional” aura of its Old Town, but if it were instead a boastful kind of place it would have much to shout about, not least because through the years it has been the birthplace, or in some cases the residence, of a proud list of well known persons from all across the arts, as well as fashion designers, TV chefs, sports personalities, diarists, radical politicians, philanthropists and even a touch of royalty.
The Harry Potter epics were penned at a flat in Clapham, following the distinguished writing tradition of Sir Kingsley Amis, who was born there, Graham Greene, who lived there, and Samuel Pepys, who died there.
Residents from the world of comedy and acting have included Lesley Ash, Jo Brand, Paul Kaye, Dennis Waterman, and Vanessa and Corin Redgrave.
Revolutionary Gerry Healy and journalist Polly Toynbee have both been residents of Clapham, as was the late punk fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Damon Hill provides the fast and Ainsley Harriott the food. Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, had a flat in Lavender Gardens. And of course the Clapham Sect, led by William Wilberforce, famously campaigned for the abolition of slavery from the Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common.
There is another man who continues to put Clapham on the map, as much a wizard in his own field as Harry Potter and a man who has written his own chapter in the story of this wonderful and vibrant South London community.
Hi name is Sami, you may or may not have heard of him, but he is the creator of the delicious and nutritious Eco sourdough pizza of great renown.
His famous team performs seven nights a week at a top of the bill Clapham pizza restaurant called Eco Restaurant Clapham High Street.
Book now, to avoid disappointment.
The pizza is a major chapter in the rich history of world cuisine that is still being written.
With its roots in Italy but with derivatives and distant cousins to be found amongst the Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians and a host of other peoples, and with wholly new variants reporting present throughout the last century or so on the other side of the Atlantic, the pizza manages to be simultaneously both proud Italian creation and cosmopolitan international phenomenon.
Which leads us to ask what fascinates us most about the pizza, whether it is its versatility that allows it to manifest itself in so many forms and guises, not only with so many diverse toppings and flavourings but also its different shapes, sizes and forms. Or whether it is its uniformity that reassures us that thick or thin, round or square, meaty, fishy or vegetarian it remains nonetheless a pizza.
Pizza can be enjoyed in thin crust or deep pan format, or stuffed with cheese around the outer edges or not as the case may be. It can be round, square or oblong – even elongated. It can be folded or unfolded, served whole or in individual slices. Some establishments now even offer pizzas that are half one topping, half another. The Americans serve it up as a pie put one can also find microwave pizzas, mini pizzas that can be consumed whole and even pizza flavoured crisps!
Rumours that pizza is soon to be marketed as a beverage remain as yet unconfirmed.
At Eco Restaurant, the premier pizza restaurant in Clapham Common, we have our own concept of this world famous dish. We serve something we like to call nice pizza. Or healthy pizza if you prefer, or nutritious pizza or appetising pizza. Too us it matters not too much what shape, nor which name by which it goes. We know it is how a pizza tastes that distinguishes quality fare from the ordinary.
It’s the oldest gag in the book. The “seafood diet” – see food and eat it.
Real “seafood” is in fact, quite simply, anything edible by humans that comes from the sea. It can refer to fish, or shellfish, or indeed any form of plant life that has its origins in the oceans, such as seaweed or kelp.
Research has shown that there are considerable health benefits to be gained from eating seafood on a regular basis. Meat from the sea is both low in calories and high in protein. What fats it does contain are of the oily variety that protect the heart from the adverse effects of saturated fats.
Scientists are also widely of the view that a regular intake of seafood boosts the functionality of the brain, and in particular can help children suffering from ADHD to concentrate more effectively.
As a source of highly digestible protein seafood can assist in muscle development, and it is also a valuable source of minerals such as iodine and selenium. Shellfish in particular is a good source of zinc, an important element for growth.
Of course none of this would be of much use to the connoisseur of fine foods unless it was actually pleasant to the taste. Fortunately seafood is extremely pleasant to taste, and the different and distinct flavours that one obtains from mussels, cockles and whelks to name but a few, not to mention prawns and squid, do actually blend together very well to create a number of exciting dishes such as the Spanish delicacy paella.
When brought together as a topping for pizza it is collectively known as Marinara, and it is one of the most popular pizza options available.
At the renowned Clapham pizza restaurant Eco cuttlefish, octopus, squid, mussels and king prawns are combined to create one of the restaurant’s most sought after offerings. Served as it is upon a light, healthy base Eco’s Marinara really is truly exquisite.
Which goes to prove the point that there is some food one really cannot see without eating.
There is a large and well respected venue in Clapham called The Grand, a place for dancing, listening to good music and having an all round enjoyable time. The visitor can make a party booking or, if particularly flush, can reserve a VIP box.
Saturday nights are comedy nights, and visitors have been entertained by such prestigious personages as Russell Brand and Michael McIntyre.
For the peckish there is a special deal, a pizza from a local fast food restaurant followed by entry to the Saturday night show at a special discounted price.
At the Eco Restaurant Clapham we don’t disparage our competitors. That is not our way. If fast food is your thing then it doesn’t sound like a bad offer.
But at our restaurant we don’t cook fast food. We cook good food, and serve it as fast as we are able. We are proud of the healthy emphasis of our menu, serving pizza on a light, nutritious base so as to best bring out the delicious taste of our fresh ingredients. Our dough is made from our own unique blend of flours that has been perfected over two decades (the blend that is, not your pizza), and is allowed to ferment naturally for a minimum of eighteen hours.
Discerning diners prefer to make a night of it. They will reserve a table, have a drink or two and savour the ambience of our popular Clapham pizza restaurant whilst enjoying a good tasting, nourishing meal.
Then, in no particular hurry, they may move on to the Grand and enjoy an evening of first class entertainment from some of the best up and coming young acts on the national comedy circuit.
There’s no need to rush when you’re having fun. Make a night of it, enjoy yourself, give yourself an eating experience to remember as well as a good time at the cabaret.
Because a quick package deal may saving you a couple of pounds, but when all is said and done if it’s not up to scratch then that’s really no joke.
“Cakes is cakes” was once a saying in certain parts of London. The message was that no matter how ornate, extrovert and creative was the morsel in question it was, when all was said and done, still a cake. There was a place at the table for cakes, but they were always eaten in the same way, in similar quantities and on the same kinds of occasions.
It would be difficult to look at the range of cakes that are available for special occasions at Eco, the increasingly popular Clapham pizza restaurant, and dismiss them all as being in any way similar, or routine and mundane.
The fact is that for an establishment that specialises in producing some of the finest, tastiest and most nutritious pizzas in the whole of London Eco is surprisingly good at making cakes as the Celebration Cake Menu clearly reflects.
When you arrive at the Clapham restaurant having asked for a speciality celebration cake to be serve alongside your meal it will be here waiting for you. It can even be accompanied by a message of your own choice.
But it is the menu itself that fires the imagination and arouses interest. The various options could not be more diverse, and their content and composition is outlined in such scrumptious detail that anybody reading it whilst hungry would find themselves in serious jeopardy of wanting to devour it rather than waiting for the cake itself.
Pride of place on the menu goes to Eco’s gorgeous Victoria Sponge, with three layers of delicious sponge each interspersed with vanilla butter cream and preserve. Unlike many restaurants and cake shops Eco offers the option of raspberry or mixed berry fillings as well as the more conventional strawberry.
Then there is the glorious Banoffe, again with three layers of sponge and between them two levels of delicious toffee and banana.
Eco also offers a Carrot Cake with a walnut sponge and tasty cheese frosting, or a mouthwatering Black Forest Gateau with cherry liqueur, whipped cream, chocolate mousse and maraschino cherries, as well as an alluring Profiterole Pyramid.
All of these succulent offerings come in various sizes, from six servings per cake to an incredible seventy.
If this sounds unusual fare for a pizza restaurant to be offering, please remember that Eco is no usual pizza restaurant. The staff here go out of their way to make your visit a special and memorable one, whether you are just passing by and feeling peckish or whether you are celebrating and important birthday with friends and the ones you love.
Supporters of the South London football team like to taunt their fierce East End rivals with the admonition: “If you’re South of the Border, you’re well out of order”.
The message has menace as it spells out to Hammers fans that they should refrain from following their team across the “Border”, that is the River Thames, when playing a match against Millwall.
South London is not generally so unwelcoming of visitors, but the Thames certainly represents a clear delineation between it and those communities to the North of the water, which comprise not only North London per se but also the traditional East End, the affluent City and the charismatic West.
Because it represents one clearly definable “quarter” of our capital as opposed to the larger, more diverse conglomeration that lies to the north, many consider South London to be the poor relation. The City and its surrounds in particular boast an explosion of culture – with its nightlife, pubs, clubs and restaurants – of which those on the opposite side of the bridge can only dream. The South Bank may stand as a monument to tasteful modern (and sometimes not so modern) architecture, but the cosmopolitan glory or Soho, Piccadilly and Leicester Square is still a very cold swim away.
Perhaps because there is so much to see and do in such a small area the tube network exists overwhelmingly on the North side. As a counter, most of the capital’s overground trains and all of its tram network serve the comparatively uncongested, though still vibrant South side.
The Time Out writer Alan Rutter rather uncharitably observed: “South London is a place that is not too London – a waiting room for people who aren’t quite ready for the real thing yet! London lite, if you will”.
But when all is said and done there is only so much hustle, and so much bustle, that one can take at any given time. And when one tires of standing on a crowded tube train, strategically sandwiched between the midriff of the most obese man in Christendom and the underarm of the most conscientious objector in the land of deodorant, one can always escape across the Border for a few stops before partaking of the spacious, wide-open delights of Clapham Common, taking in some real air whilst reflecting upon how wonderful it is to be alive.
And when hunger strikes one can take a relaxed stroll along to one of the many good restaurants in Clapham, like the popular Eco Restaurant, purveyor of delicious pizzas and pastas as well as some very fine wine.
It is the eternal conundrum – you love Mediterranean cuisine but you can’t decide which sates your palette the best – pizza or pasta.
Trawl the Internet and you will find websites, blogs, community forums and chatrooms dedicated to the cause of resolving this thorny issue, with conflicting opinions aplenty. Meat and vegetables on a doughy base or pieces of wheat cut into shapes and smothered with succulent sauces?
In the case of pasta it is very cheap – supermarkets almost give the stuff away in economy sized packets, and it costs little more even if it is wholewheat or in multiple colours. Boil it in water for a few minutes with a pinch of salt to stop it sticking to the saucepan (unless you use non-stick) and then simply pour on the sauce of your own choice or else top it with something soft, mushy and spicy.
This, of course, is the point often missed during this most essential debate. A pizza, by definition, is what sits upon the base. Is it a Margherita or a Napoletana? A Marinara or a Fiorentina? A pizza is, of course, defined entirely by its ingredients.
Pasta on the other hand is in itself rather bland. It is what one pours over pasta that lends it its character. With a Bolognese it is tomato and mince, on other occasions it can be creamy bacon, mushrooms in sauce or almost anything else one can think of. But the pasta itself is just that.
Wheat, of course, is not a product that is exclusive to Italy or to the Mediterranean. Indeed a friend from the North East swears that it originated in “Durum”.
Nonetheless the huge array of sauces – tomato-based, creamy, chilli and so many others – lend pasta an unmistakable Italian “feel”.
Interestingly, despite being more difficult to make and more expensive to source pizza invariably comes out on top whenever a poll is conducted. Where Italian food is concerned pizza continues to be the standard bearer.
But at Eco Restaurant, one of the more popular Italian restaurants in Clapham, they play it safe. An impressive and diverse array of pizza options is supplemented by an extensive range of pasta choices, from ravioli dishes to spaghetti, with sauces from wild mushroom, through seafood to spicy chicken and zucchini.
There is one other advantage that pizza has over pasta that we omitted to mention. It can be eaten on the move, or whilst standing up. At Eco, with our generous seating plan and well-organised booking system, that is unlikely ever to be an issue.
…so the song goes.
The man who made it famous, the late Dean Martin, was so conspicuously Italian that one wonders just what he felt he was doing when he anglicised his name (from Dino Martini, although he was born Dino Crocetti in Ohio in 1917).
But Martin or Crocetti, the essence of the song remains the same – that’s love, and love and romance are emotions that one instinctively associates with the Latin way – to the dreamy cultural allure of the Eternal City to the intangible beauty of the spoken language itself.
Dean Martin of course was far from being a lone ambassador of Italian amore. The old crooner Frank Sinatra sang about it, da Vinci painted it, Michelangelo sculpted it, Verdi composed it, Rossini wrote it, Zeffirelli directed it and sex symbol actresses Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren exuded it on the silver screen.
Even the modern convertible couch was the creation of an Italian, one Bernard Castro back in the earlier days of the last century.
Indeed when Italy was born as a nation united under the House of Savoy in the late nineteenth century it was shaped in the romantic vision of the Risorgimento by the great patriots Garibaldi and Mazzini.
Perhaps this is the reason why the Italians put so much love and affection into their food. At Eco, the Clapham pizza restaurant, one can sense the passion that goes into every pizza and every item of food that is brought to the table.
Few people are neutral about pizza. For those who enjoy it it is an experience to savour, a taste to enjoy to the full. All the ingredients that comprise the delightful topping fuse seamlessly into a finished product that is a masterpiece well worthy of consigning to canvas, carving in marble or even of composing an opera about.
The Italians may be a fun-loving people but there are two things that they do take very seriously indeed, and one of them is sport.
The is no greater sporting event than the Football World Cup, and the Italian nation has won it on no fewer than four occasions – 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 – more than any other country apart from the legendary Brazil. Names such as Baggio, Baresi, Maldini, Cannavaro, Totti, Zoff, Rossi and Zola are familiar to anyone anywhere in the world who follows the Beautiful Game.
But Italian sporting achievement does not begin and end with soccer. Italy is famed for its cycling prowess and has won more World Cycling Championships than any nation other than Belgium. The Giro d’Italia is a world famous event well known to all cycling enthusiasts.
Italy’s basketball league is one of the very strongest in Europe, and the national team was triumphant in the prestigious Eurobasket competition in both 1983 and 1989. The country holds a similarly respected position in the world of volleyball.
It was not terribly long ago that the Italian Rugby Union side was regarded as, well, one of the softer touches in the sport, but since joining the Five Nations (thereby transforming it by definition into the Six Nations) the team has learned and grown, and each year that passes sees it present a more potent challenge than the last. In this year’s competition Italy defeated France, once the world champions and still a respected force in world rugby.
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the Italian cricket team is ranked 25th in the world. It may only be a matter of time before the men in white are doing battle on the world stage with the likes of India, Australia and the West Indies.
But the “local” sport beloved on so many Italians of a certain age is bocce, a variant of the French pastime of boules and widely enjoyed by retired men in the parks of the big cities.
The reader will recall there were two things that Italians were said to take seriously. The other, of course, is food, and wherever in the world Italian people go, and settle, the cuisine travels with them and is received with gratitude by the incumbent population.
Here in London we are no exception, and we are proud to play host to such wonderful and enticing culinary venues as Eco Restaurant Clapham.
Eco provides the finest gastric experience imaginable for the connoisseur of Italian cuisine. When it comes to cooking, the people at Eco are mindful of the fact that it really isn’t a game.