Like the Haussmannisation of Paris, the introduction of flagstones in a town centre is the authority's attempt to subdue the riotous elements of society through the manipulation of physical geography. You will never see a riot where flagstones exist. And how could you? The calming influence of light-toned stone, surrounded by an array of agreeable coffee shops, florists, and bars where the beer is measured in metric, would have even James Dean picking up other people's litter, enunciating, and doffing his cap to passing ladies. If only certain North African governments had run out a lorry-load of Cotswold's finest, rather than a water-cannon, then their situation may have ended very differently indeed.
Venn Street in Clapham is one such flagstone-strewn street impervious to social unrest. Sitting outside in the afternoon sun, underneath the olive trees infront of Gastro, you could imagine yourself in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux or any other utopian gallic city. Gastro itself only adds to this image. Waiters with thick French accents, paint flaking off the walls, toilets next to the kitchen, and the smell of burning cheese.
The food here was excellent, the service slow. A sharing platter to start with foie gras, king prawns, smoked salmon, mackerel, and salad, albeit with the minimal provision of bread. Perfectly cooked steak (medium-rare) followed with sweet brown chips and the classic one-leaf-drenched-in-dressing salad. The pudding was disappointing - tarte tatin overflowing with apples to the point of distress - but this was countered by very un-French choice of beers on offer (Camden Pale Ale (4.0%)).
I'll be back I'm sure, although I might pick another off-peak time rather than run the risk of eating three courses interspersed with hour long waits.