The Bingham, Richmond

I recently saw a guide to finding niche hotels, where the final tip was ‘Don’t book five, six or seven star hotels. The establishment itself may be lovely, but what of your fellow guests?’ While critiquing this wisdom (Are not the establishments also worth avoiding? – the service and prices at the bars of Park Lane lodge-houses pucker mouth and anus respectively) it occurred that this could be a metaphor for restaurants awarded Michelin stars. Good food and service, undermined by the baggage that comes with an accreditation, and high price tag.

Do the Michelin listings homogenize the experience, the prestige attracting more trade than the unique qualities of the cooking, service and ambiance? Many chefs have been known to write to Paris, expressly asking that they are not included in the red book. They fear car parks rammed with Audi Q7s (BMW X5/RR Sport). They fear their crafted dining experience  will be reduced to a notch on the Amex of the star chasers. Two tips for experiencing Michelin-endorsed food whilst reducing contact with these people are thus: stay out of Zone 1, and don’t do dinner.

So we went for lunch at The Bingham. This large townhouse sits below another larger old favorite, The Petersham, on the road of the same name running into Richmond south along the Thames. There are few more picturesque locations in London, and The Bingham has its fair share of river action, albeit shrouded in Victorian sash windows and curtains if you are not on the back terrace. Sitting in the slightly ‘80s retro-luxury’ dining room so beloved of this calibre of restaurant, the quality of the clientele did prick my perception, but they were completely outweighed by The Door To The Kitchen.

For reasons which must have some logical background, a sliding door the girth and robustness of which you might find on a container ship has been installed between the kitchen and dining room. It’s automatic mechanism is far from Star Trek-smooth, punctuating subdued dining room conversation like a rusty iron girder to the temple. Not that this was a problem for our fellow guests, so engaging were their iPhone and Blackberry screens that only the occasional grunts to waiting staff (finally concluded with 5 chirps of an Amex being processed) signaled their appreciation of Head Chef Shay Cooper’s efforts. Do affluent middle-aged couples really have that little to say to each other?

I am being unfair. On one table a strident woman from South London must have been told that each course at the Bingham is ideally paired with two double gin and tonics, so could easily give The Door a run for its money, dessert having been concluded. Inversely to the clientele, the quality of the food emerged quickly as extremely high, and certainly a step above Alex Bentley’s excellent dishes at the Petersham in terms of delicacy and presentation. A brill fillet with shrimp and pork dumpling was bathing in a salty roast pork consommé,  perfect with a glass of Rully 1er Cru. Mains were moist poisson ballantyne (from the set menu) and rack of lamb with shoulder on the side. Both faultless, especially give the chicken was priced as part of the set menu.

I felt the toasted marshmallow desert a gimmick, however the Bingham’s deconstructed version of Tiramisu should be on every connoisseur’s hit list (the more traditional Valentina version is certainly up there). As I couldn’t turn down a well-aged Oregon Pinot, our bill was well over average. Service was a professional mix of friendly and formal and with the kind of food Greg Wallace is constant bleating about on Masterchef, the Bingham is never going to be cheap.  At £26, the set lunch is good value if you keep things simple (i.e no gin). We cannot comment on the rooms available or indeed the dinner service, but would recommend lunch as long as you take ear plugs for the Door. Or just take your iPhone and earphones.

The Bingham

Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey

TW10 6UT

Telephone: 0208 9400902

A la Carte Price: £80 per head including (some) wine, Set lunch, £26

Perfect for: Avoiding the Michelin hoards down by the river

In an epilogue to this review, the 2012 Michelin UK guide has been published, and guess what, The Bingham no longer has a star. As above, the food is world class so let’s not worry much about that, and focus on two positives: we can now book for lunch or dinner with more confidence – hopefully Mr iphone will no longer rate the place. Secondly, the excellent Hand and Flowers (gastropub)in Marlow has been awarded a second star, so get there before the bargain set lunch price goes up, and car park fills up with urban 4x4s.

 

Hare and Hounds

It’s our (very) local and we like it. Since the refurbishment, it’s been a much better place to be and let’s face it, that garden in the summer is a winner (especially since the landlord and lady set rules that prevent kids having fun). For those that haven’t seen the garden, where have you been??

It’s a local pub and I like that. I like the space, I like the buzz, I like the separate dining area, I like the fact that I can sit there all afternoon and treat it like my office (free and fast wi-fi) and I like the Sunday Jazz.

I don’t like the mother and baby groups, I dont like the Wiselys and very occasionally I don’t like the food. I once fell out with the landlady over a not up to scratch burger (she didn’t actually know I’d fallen out with her – but I found her response to my complaint unsatisfactory and so conducted a silent boycott for a while. But at the end of the day, I wanted to go back…).

Look, you have to take it for what it is: a brewery (Young’s) pub serving pub food but actually the chef here has actually pushed the boat out in some cases. Home-made burger buns, great hand cut fresh chips, good meat. For a local pub, it’s a totally pleasant place to while away an afternoon or evening with a few drinks and pub grub.

I’d really welcome comments on this, as always.

Address:
216 Upper Richmond Road
East Sheen
http://www.theharesheen.com/

Price: Lunch specials: £5.95, main course dinner dishes: £8-£15 (steak). Look out for Dine with Wine (£20 for 2 mains and a bottle of house wine). Good selection of bar snacks also available.

Perfect for: Casual afternoon in the boozer

Pickle and Rye (Part 2)

I’m coming back to this as I always intended I would. There was a mixed response to Pickle and Rye (Part 1). Most believe the product is great: serious ingredients and friendly, passionate service. Still much comment on the price though.

I have been back 3 times to see if I can firm up my view – yes, the sandwiches are really good but is it always worth the money in this location? (and therefore can it last?) I have to now say, yes, for sure.

We had a “breakfast bagel and coffee for a fiver” deal – Maino really liked the bagel, I thought it was fine (funny egg). Crucially, it felt like good value. I have also tried a couple of other sandwiches but the stand-out was the turkey club (which was actually constructed classically rather than in the advertised wrap because this was road food for us and therefore recommended as less messy to eat). Seriously good. additionally, these visits illustrated that the place is busy and clearly has a loyal following.

I still maintain you can’t charge a fiver for a sandwich on normal cheap white bread. So, fine, I won’t order that one again

Address:

Sheen Lane (opposite the junction with Vernon Road)

Cost:

£5 give or take

Good for:

Quality ingredients, passionate preparation – you get what you pay for.

 

Pickle and Rye (Part 1)

There is no question that Pickle and Rye make a good sandwich. The BBQ pork with home made coleslaw in a (large) soft sub roll with separate pickle is sublime and frankly well worth paying a fiver for.

However, assuming the above to reflect the standard (size) the next I went I ordered the Toronto: beef, horseradish mayo, melted cheese, hot peppers, salad. I could barely contain my horror when I saw that it came on straight pre-sliced granary bread. In my opinion, you can’t charge a fiver for a sandwich with that amount of bread, regardless of the quality of the filling (which was fine). It’s a perception thing. A straw poll of local friends confirms this view. As @NathanThompson says, you want the type of bread to end with a vowel at that price.

@emmaatheparty has always rejected Pickle and Rye on the basis that most sandwiches there cost at least a fiver and this is, after all, East Sheen. After the horror of the Toronto, I’m afraid I was almost with her. This is a sandwich bar that would do very well in the City but like all the other sandwich and food places that have occupied that shop, I couldn’t see that Pickle and Rye can have enough passing trade or committed Sheenites to sell enough grub at those prices given the other local options.

HOWEVER, I walked past twice today and both times it was packed. I’d welcome views on this from local people – have Emma, Nathan and I got it all wrong? To be fair, I’ve only eaten two sandwich types and maybe the Toronto is the only one on cop-out bread. The staff are lovely and the owner (assumed by me to be the American dude) is clearly very passionate about what he does. It really does have some great creative sandwich combos. Perhaps it does have legs after all.

Address:

Sheen Lane (opposite the junction with Vernon Road)

Cost:

£5 give or take

Good for:

Fabulous gourmet (shit word) combinations but the jury is still out for me because of the cost in this location.

New Japanese restaurant in Sheen? UPDATE

We spotted it when out and about – on Upper Richmond Road near Portman Avenue. Also confirmed by @MySheenVillage. Will confirm opening date and details soon.

Excellent news!

So my lovely neighbour, Keith, tells me that there is to be a Japanese restaurant opening in East Sheen. I’m going to try and grab him today to find out more but any further insight from other readers would be much appreciated.

Pizza at Valentina

We live near Valentina, and use it like a waypoint for giving directions, because moreso even then the Post Office next door, everyone in Sheen knows where, and what Valentina is, don’t they? We’ve not the time here to discuss the history of the deli, it’s extension into the current restaurant, or the world class pasta which keeps them busy seven nights a week- this is already on the blog. Now the pasta has competition: traditional pizzas made with thin floury bases as you would expect, and allowed the full run of deli ingredients, from simple tasty olives to luscious San Daniele prosciutto.

Having been recently over-indulging in Dominos, the pizza ‘Valentina’, made with no tomato sauce, but just cheese, rocket and ham was like sampling an all-together different food group. The richer Calabrese and Fiorentina were equally brilliant, and are of the right size to be followed by Tiramisu without any guilt or bloating. And you can take away: As an introductory offer all pizza are £5 until the 16th October, which is a bargain. They don’t deliver, so you’ll have to collect, but you know where Valentina is.

Address:

210 Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen, SW14 8AH

Cost:

Pizza, £5 until 16th October, £8-12 thereafter. Well worth it.

Good for:

Feeling better about yourself than you would with the alternatives…

Don’t Tell Fred

Who knows why Don’t tell Fred is called Don’t tell Fred? Other than stills of a model with finger to lips (Shhhh!) on several walls, no other details give a clue as to this imperative, or the man in question. Perhaps Fred is a well-connected but sadly bed-ridden neighbor on Sheen Lane, who doesn’t know that ‘Sheen’s Dining and Entertainment Venue’ has opened on the corner. He’s not noticed the late night noise occurring cyclically, (caused by comedians in the week, bands at weekend) but would pull strings at the Planning committee and threaten our licence if he twigged, so don’t tell the f*cker!

Perhaps not. Those of us on the daily shuffle along Sheen Lane cannot have missed the open room on the corner. The live venue is in the basement, restaurant upstairs with bar where occasional men drink the draft Asahi self consciously, the Pig and Whistle presumably being too rough for them.

Our first July visit involved late-Friday-night thirst but no food; it would have been rude to remain in Fanoos much longer, and options were limited to the downstairs bar at DTF or the equally unknown ‘Turtles’. DTF being at the right end of Sheen for us, the vague black door gave way to stairs and the Entertainment Venue: three-dozen sexagenarians violently oscillating to ‘Baker Street’, chewed up live by what seemed to be one of their offspring’s sixth-form jazz band, in a basement furnished with Habitat insolvency surplus. And a bar, luckily, where we were well received, given pleasingly cold well-priced drinks, and could sit soft on bean bags, fluffy squares or a leather corner-sofa. Soon after the music stopped, the clientele retreated to Parkside and with the lights up a sobering reminder that we remain in the ‘burbs of Sheen.

Another Friday night for dinner some weeks later; we booked, but approached with (luckily misplaced) anxiety at the thought of being the only punters. The menu has been honed down from a longer early version, with beef now firmly at the centre. A fresh scotch egg starter to share arrived slightly undercooked, the external meat a bit like salmon mousse in places. Second time around this was perfect in both runny yolk and crisp herbed pork. Having recently been treated to ‘the best ever’ steak and chips at the Pollen Street Social (£30), the memory of DTF’s version has been glossed over. However, you will not be disappointed by high quality meat cooked as you want it, with sides in proportion, at less than £20, with Fred’s burger similarly tooled up. The wine list could be brought up to the standard and choice of the steaks, but there is enough choice to go around.

A final Saturday brunch, where four of us ate a selection of ‘Fred’s Eggs Benedict, Fred’s Healthy choice etc etc’ confirmed DTF’s ‘niceness’. The place is ‘nice’, the food appropriate for Sheen, but the establishment lacks a soul – I can’t get that emotional about the place, as there is nothing to hang on to. We have never seen anyone looking like the owner, let alone been shown to our table by them (or remembered by the other staff). The website also gives no clue. DTF will need to connect with locals on a deeper level if it ever is to be more than half full. Explaining the origins of the name would be a start.

Don’t tell Fred
40 Sheen Lane,
East Sheen,
London
SW14 8LW

Telephone: 0208 878 8266
Dinner Price: around £35 per head, with wine
Brunch Price: max. £15 per head
Perfect for: suburban anonymity

Valentina

Ours is the original Valentina. It started here in East Sheen in the 80s and the success of what used to be simply a small deli (the restaurant bit has been added in the last 2/3 years) has spawned new branches in Putney (uggh) and Sevenoaks (odd). Incidentally, we miss Marco, he’s now the manager at Sevenoaks. He once sold me an emergency item for a forgotten (how clumsy) non-pork eating Sheen Suppers guest. It had ham in it. Ham in his part of Italy is not pork, apparantly.

The deli in itself is great – both for the usual cheese, meat, olives etc and the made on site pasta dishes, sauces, salads, puddings and panini. Try the boned stuffed chicken in breadcrumbs – brilliant.

The restaurant is also wonderful. Friendly staff, daily specials and a good (but Maino thinks a tad expensive) wine  list. The Capella Romana is Maino’s favourite and rumour has it that Antonio Carluccio himself came to our humble little Valentina, ordered it and loved it. It’s a seriously meaty dish in every way. Meatballs, tagliatelle and sauce encased in a roomy Parma ham dome with more pasta and Bolognese sauce. I’ve never finished one and I am seriously greedy.

The menu changes regularly but the pasta dishes are always excellent value.  The seafood pasta and risotto dishes are particulary good. The beef never disappoints; steak with rosemary potatoes or medallions with Gorgonzola sauce both fabulous. For pudding, have the Tiramisu. I’ll leave it at that.

This is a proper local, neighbourhood restaurant. Casual Italian cafe during the day, and that suits the clientale, smarter but still informal restaurant by night. All round good vibe – it’s a family business and feels like it.

Address:

210 Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen, SW14 8AH

Cost:

Dinner, £25-30/head. (Large) stuffed chicken breast to take away, £6.

Good for:

Informal atmosphere, great value pasta, big portions, friendly service and of course, the Capella Romana.