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.

 

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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.

 

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.