Perched on Lavender Hill is the Battersea Arts Centre, a Grade II listed building and hub of cultural activity. Comprised of multiple rooms, it’s primarily used for theatre shows and private parties in their beautiful event spaces. It is also home to the Scratch Bar, an independent bar where pre/post show drinks and intermission tipples are had in abundance. More than just a theatre bar, we headed there on a Wednesday to check it out.
The Venue and Atmosphere
Walking through the booming wooden doors of the centre, we looked around the grand marble and mosaic lobby and decided to follow the buzz of chatter and laughter - which led us to our destination. The bar was busy, but as we walked through, some of the crowd were heading out to their 8 o’clock shows, leaving us a few cosy tables to choose from.
The venue had a nice orange glow to it, with its hanging lights, wooden furniture, pine flooring and huge windows; you could tell there was some history to the space. After a few more customers headed out to their performances with gin and tonics in hand, the crowd left was a mixed one. There were a couple of date nights going on, with a few tables of people perched in front of their laptops enjoying a large red or bottle of beer on a hump-day wind down.
The Food and Drink
Battersea Arts Centre is focused on helping and supporting the community, and you could see this influence on the drinks menu for the bar. Alongside the staple beers, there was a huge list of locally produced, independent, craft beers to choose from. There was too much good stuff so I asked them to surprise me; I love fruity beers so ‘Beyond the Pale’ from the guys behind The London Beer Factory was perfect. The other beer ordered was the ‘Balham Black’, a malty, American style lager from The Belleville Brewing Co. – which was set up by a group of dads who loved beer and whose children went to the local primary, just 10 minutes down the road from the Arts Centre. If craft beer isn’t your tipple, they have a good wine and cocktail list too, with classics like Negronis and Cosmopolitans, and some alternative ones like the Old Sage at a promising £6.50 with Prosecco, ginger and sage, or the Apple Pie (£8.50) with goldschlager, Thunder Toffee Vodka, and apple juice.
The food at Scratch Bar is homemade, satisfying and definitely affordable. If you’re looking for a big fat steak, then this isn’t your place, however, what they do offer isn’t something you’ll find anywhere else in Clapham. The menu is perfectly labelled for anyone with food intolerances, and if you’re a vegetarian or vegan than you need to pop Scratch Bar at the top of your to-go list as there’s plenty of fun and interesting dishes. We were given the option of having a showcase of our own, trying a handful of the small plates and getting some tasters of the main dishes on the menu. Our first act was some ciabatta which came with some fresh hummus and olives – perfect to warm our appetite with. This was followed by some mini mac and cheese, and a plate of forest mushrooms on a bed of polenta with a balsamic glaze. This dish was the starring act for us, - the polenta was smooth, and the tangy glaze perfectly complimented the earthy mushrooms.
Frankie – the head chef of Scratch Bar and the guy who caters any private events in the building, is from South Africa, so we got the chance to try ‘Bunny Chow’, a traditional street food dish of hollowed out bread filled with curried, spicy meat and vegetables. Frankie explained that just like the British kebab, Bunny is “pur-fickt after a night out on the piss”. It was super tasty and nicely seasoned – a bit like a spicy shepherd’s pie filling in a roll.
After a brief intermission, and ordering two more beers, again ‘surprise us from the beer fridge please’, we started on the second act with Frankie’s take on an Irish Stew – big meaty beef and thick cut veg with a side of pearl barley, some lentil and brown rice kedgeree with flaky smoked mackerel and a soft-boiled egg, and a butternut salad bowl filled with harissa spiced lentils, chickpeas and bulgur wheat. The hearty, healthy dishes ranged from £8 - £10, making Scratch one of the most affordable destinations in the area.
When reading about Scratch Bar, all I really thought was that it was a great theatre bar within the BAC. It really surprised me with its friendly staff, laid back atmosphere and great food and drink offerings; this really is a hidden gem within the Clapham bar scene and a total destination in my eyes. Don’t wait to find it on a theatre trip, if you’re looking for something a little different, and a new set of small plates to try then Scratch Bar will certainly sort that itch for you.