What's the best thing about skiing? Winter sports fans might say the majesty of the mountains, the clarity of the air, the rush of careening down a tricky piste, swishing from side to side.
But deep down, we all know that the best thing about skiing is the après-ski. More specifically: the dairy-based dishes. Skiing justifies the excessive consumption of cheese and if you're anything like me, you could probably just ditch the sporting activity altogether and skip straight to the food.
Maybe I'm an unusual case, but Jimmy Garcia has provided the perfect compromise by recreating an Alpine lodge in rooms above a pub in Clapham.
"If you come here, we want to evoke your memories of skiing and holiday and fun and what you were doing. All those ingredients are part and parcel of having a great night, so it helps people to relive a winter holiday night," Garcia explains.
Say farewell to the need for pricey clothing, ski passes, and flights, I think, but I'm quickly corrected.
"This isn't meant to replace a ski holiday," Garcia chides. "But it's got that vibe. You can come and get some hot cocktails, like you would if you came in off the mountain. You've got fondue, you've got all your mates. Maybe do a few 'shotskis,' get a bit drunk, and then go home. What a great night! The only difference is you haven't got any slopes to go skiing on the next morning."
To me, this sounds like the ideal situation. Skiing makes my knees hurt and the effort of trying to snowplough to a stop, coupled with the sheer terror of going downhill a little too fast makes me cry.
Garcia, on the other hand, as well as being a keen pop-up host, is something of a ski enthusiast. He and some friends set up their own chalet company a few years ago, which makes The Lodge the overlap in the Venn diagram of his life. It's also a culmination of his five-year love affair with chalet food.
Garcia takes me back to the beginning.
"When I was at uni, I spent my summers working as a chef on yachts, which sounds glamorous but was actually bloody hard work. I got a job as a broker when I graduated but I hated it," he says. "After about three months, I set up a pop-up restaurant in my front room. I borrowed the tables and chairs from a local church, signed the email off 'God bless,' put a hundred scrolls through all my neighbours' doors, and Jimmy's Pop-Up was born. It was all very much old chalet-style food."
Garcia's first ever supper club was a sell-out success that led to him run a monthly event in his front room—until his flatmates called time on his antics. He then moved to wherever he could find a space to host his dinners: empty shops, wine merchants, and even hairdressers' salons.
"It was ace," he says simply.
People started commissioning Garcia to do the food for their weddings, and last year, his team catered for the crew at Glastonbury. He continued running pop-ups, including one that ran for the duration of the London Olympics in a warehouse next to the Olympic Park, as well as a couple in Courchevel.
It was while Garica was in the Alps one Christmas that he got chatting to an architect friend about the idea to bring the mountains to London by recreating a ski lodge.
The Lodge is the result. Bottles of Swiss wine and Morand liqueurs are stacked behind the bar and the menu has that "chalet food" vibe. The wooden-clad walls feature photographs of Verbier, the Swiss ski resort lending their kudos and support to Garcia's South London re-creation. There are faux furs thrown here and there, and old wooden skis hanging on the walls. When you're inside, it's easy to forget the buses and kebab shops of Clapham High Street outside and to imagine that beyond these walls are only mountains, covered in the most perfect snowy powder.
The Lodge menu had to match up to the atmosphere he'd created, but Garcia had only one stipulation.
"We had to have fondue," he says. "Everything I've ever done has been about sharing. I just find that everyone has a better time when they're all talking and if there's food to talk about, that's one way of helping that along. Fondue is ideal sharing food."
I might not share Garcia's passion for skiing but cheese is definitely a common ground between he and I. The dairy-loaded goodness of ski holiday food is one of my favourite things.
"Fondue's having a bit of a revival too, isn't it?" Garcia observes. "I think because there are always people who just bloody love cheese and who'll never get tired of it. I sometimes think I need to stop eating cheese because it's killing me from the inside out. I could eat cheese for dinner for several nights straight!"
He is basically describing me.
All the cheese for The Lodge's Swiss fondue is imported from Verbier, but Garcia also does a West Country version of his fondue.
"Swiss fondue has to use equal amounts of Gruyère, which is a hard cheese, Emmental, and Vacherin, which is a really strong soft cheese that's absolutely sensational," he explains. "That's the blend that we use and it's perfect. You put white wine in the fondue pan, heat it up, add the cheeses, and stir it. Add a shot of kirsch at the end, a bit of nutmeg and paprika and that's it. Easy peasy. It's something that makes people feel really nostalgic when they eat it."
For the West Country version, Garcia uses Cornish Gouda, Ogleshield, and cider instead of white wine to keep the cheese lubricated.
"It's banging," he comments.
When it comes to what to dip, this fondue fan is a traditionalist.
"Bread and salad," Garcia says quickly, but then his imagination takes him away. "But also potatoes. I love those. And cured meats, chorizo … We've just put wild boar and apple sausages on the menu which are good with cheese. And we have a cauliflower starter. I could put cauliflower in there all day."
It sounds like Garcia would put anything in a fondue.
"But not fish. Fishy cheese. Ugh," he pulls a face. I entirely agree. However much you love cheese, some things are a bridge too far.
So, happily for all of us non-skiers, and thanks to Garcia, you don't have to fake a love for the slopes to feel wintry and Swiss. An affection for cheese, however, is almost definitely mandatory.