June’s restaurant reviews
We check out foodie hotspots in south west London and Surrey, including Rick Stein, The French Table and the Dining Room in Beaverbrook Hotel
Rick Stein, Barnes
While the riverside setting may not quite be Padstow, Rick Stein’s south west London outpost offers us city folk a tranquil spot to try the famous chef’s philosophy of amazingly fresh fish and seafood.
With his two sons at the helm – Jack as chef director, and Charlie as wine buyer, and the appropriately named Ian Salmon as head chef, the premise is informal yet elegant dining with the emphasis on fish and seafood classics, as well as dishes inspired by Rick’s travels.
With a coveted window table, we enjoyed the sun set over the Thames while we perused the menu. It took a while – there were just so many things that we really wanted to eat. We opted for the sashimi – a pretty and spankingly fresh plate of sea bass, sea trout, scallops and tuna; and deep fried coconut prawns with a papaya dipping sauce. The prawns were the stuff of dreams – my weird food-obsessed dreams anyway – and even now I am still thinking about this dish – so simple but so moreish… and wondering if I can get it via Deliveroo.
For mains, we tried fillet of hake in a broth of clams with asparagus and peas – it was super-fresh and simple but we did find ourselves reaching for the salt cellar. Roast troncon of wild turbot, meanwhile, was an incredible dish – again simple, but with the hollandaise adding that extra dimension.
I don’t have a sweet tooth – unless there happens to be tarte tatin on the menu. And I was glad we decided to squeeze in afters too, with the tarte an absolutely perfect example of the classic dessert.
Rick always swore he would never open a London restaurant – but given he spends a fair amount of the year at his house just over the river in Chiswick, he clearly couldn’t resist the chance to turn what was The Depot into his latest outpost. We are just extremely glad he did. This is a great addition to the neighbourhood, and one to which we’ll return…
The French Table, Surbiton
The French Table has been around for aeons – 18 years this year, in fact. And it has won plaudit after plaudit, including several of our Food & Culture awards, for its modern French-inspired food, excellent service and terrific wine list. It is a smart place, and a special occasion destination. I have been several times before, but always in the evening and always thought of it as somewhere for a celebration. It was not a place I had really considered for a weekday lunch. Clearly, others had, and when we went to try it out on a drizzly Thursday lunchtime, we were surprised by how pleasantly busy it was – people lured perhaps by the promise of three courses for £28.50 (£25.50 for two). It is a lovely light filled room, even on such a grey day, and we were happy to be cocooned inside.
For starters we tried a smoked heirloom tomato tartelette with burrata and wild garlic pesto – a perfect combination of the creamy cheese cut with the sweet acidity of the tomato and pesto. For mains, Cornish lamb with smoked spätzle, roasted apricot, goats cheese curd, and white asparagus was a beautiful and clever combination, with the lamb presented as both a fat medium-rare saddle and parcel of slow-cooked leg. We also tried roast hake with a delightfully light lemon and herb crust.
For dessert, we went for a stunningly presented rhubarb and custard tarte with lychee ice cream, and an apple tarte with cinnamon ice cream. Great finales to the meal, and one that had lasted well over two hours. We hadn’t realised the time slipping by in this tranquil place – you can, of course, request a quick business lunch – but that really would be a pity.
The Dining Room, Beaverbrook Hotel
Heading up the long driveway to the main house at Beaverbrook Hotel in Leatherhead, you’re overcome with an enormous sense of grandeur – my name had already been radioed ahead via the guard at the gate. So after pulling up outside the late-Victorian mansion, we were escorted from the car to the restaurant in a seamless transition. Before I knew it, my coat had been whisked away, and we were sat a cosy corner for two overlooking Beaverbrook’s vast grounds, which has seen the likes of Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling wander some of its 470 acres.
Finding it hard to peel my eyes away from the glorious view, glowing a magnificent orange from the setting sun, I take a minute to observe the surroundings of The Dining Room – Beaverbrook’s Japanese Grill. I’m taken by surprise as instead of bold reds and dark hues, the interiors are elegant, muted and much more in-keeping with a luxury country-house chic. And while, it seems rather yin and yang to have modern Japanese cuisine served in a traditional British setting – as we all know, opposites attract, and the menu soon grabbed my attention.
I love Japanese food, my only bugbear is that it’s impossible to try everything. After perusing for some time, while munching on a bowl of moreish chilli Edamame, we opted for the Beaverbrook Tasting Menu – consisting of nine different courses. Highlights for me were the Popcorn Shrimp, covered in the lightest tempura; the Yellowtail Sashimi which, accompanied by wasabi and aubergine, was divine and the Cornfed Baby Chicken with Teriyaki and truffles – the skin so crispy and meat so tender, I could have licked the plate clean.
In fact, the most outstanding dish wasn’t even on the tasting menu. Our sommelier happened to mention that the Black Cod Den Miso and Yuzu Miso was his favourite dish, so we went with the flow and ordered that too. The cod was cooked to perfection, falling apart in huge chunks and flavoured with the right balance of sweet and saltiness.
And while you may feel you’re sitting down to afternoon tea when you first arrive, appearances are deceptive. Head chef Taiji Maruyama has successfully married local, seasonal ingredients, some of which is grown in Beaverbrook’s own gardens, with excellent Japanese fare – enough to rival any of the revered Japanese restaurants in the city. The great thing is, I don’t have to go into London now to get my sushi fix, I can just head to Surrey Hills instead.