Dramatic news in Barnes. BONG! A new restaurant has opened. BONG! It’s called Church Road. BONG! It is, continues the press blurb, ‘the brainchild of seasoned restaurateurs Rebecca Mascarenhas and Phil Howard’. BONG! The place is on the old site of neighbourhood gem Sonny’s. BONG! Which closed in July of this year. BONG! Whose owners were seasoned restaurateurs Rebecca Mascarenhas and Phil Howard. BONG!
Hang on, hang on. Is there an issue of veracity with the announcement (made, I should tell you, by a PR person of great renown and respect)? It seems to me to be a bit like asking friends to celebrate your new home and issuing invitations to the housewarming party.
They are a little surprised to see that the address on the invitation looks remarkably like your old address. Indeed, the satnav brings them precisely to your old home. But, opening the door, you welcome them in warmly, proud to show them a new kitchen, new curtains in the drawing room and, oh, there’s also a new nanny.
I suppose as long as the nibbles and drinks are exemplary, and a good time is had by all, who cares. But I mention it just in case Barnes locals are confused. Perhaps Ms Mascarenhas and Mr Howard should put a big sign across the window that heralds, ‘UNDER OLD MANAGEMENT.’
So in we went. It was lunchtime and it was quiet. The main part of the restaurant, which was empty, is down some steps – but we got a nice big table in the area past the bar, so we felt in a nice, cosy, midweek lunch huddle.
There are some eight starters and main courses to choose from. They are beautifully described and evocative. Menu writing is an underrated art. It must tantalise, be succinct, it mustn’t turn into a recipe and it must hint at a chef’s skill without boring you about their technical prowess. The Church Road menu is a masterclass.
Joe picked ‘Sweetcorn and clam chowder with a clam and chorizo crumpet’, and I: ‘Hand cut strozzapretti with crumbled sausage, butternut, chilli and Parmesan.’ Aside from the missing hyphen, this was promising.
But, of course, having captured one’s imagination, the food must then deliver and add a sprinkle of the unexpected. Joe’s soup was all sweetcorn noise, above which the clam was struggling to be heard. It reminded him of New Covent Garden Soup. But the crumpet was a tidy little bit part; the clams were in evidence, grouped on top of chopped chives and other things amid melted butter.
My starter was a gorgeous and warming pile of thick pasta among sausage meat, with loads of Parmesan and a tiny hint of chilli. A mouthful took me to some rural Italian idyll: a steaming plate of food plonked joyfully on a thick wooden farmhouse table, amid lashings of wine, loud voices, laughter and singing.
Back in Barnes, it was just me and Joe and a cacophony-inducing bottle of Château Laforge 2010.
Next up was Joe’s grouse, a beautiful plate of a whole bird drenched in gravy, berries and lardons with a sliced pear and fancy Hasselback potatoes. My main course had been the promise of ‘Charcoal-roasted prawns, masala sauce, aubergine, cucumber, yogurt and relish’.
I had imagined big crustaceans, charred from the grill, with a large aubergine and pools of cooling yogurt. Instead came five un-charred, wretched little numbers, a tiny aubergine covered with chopped cucumber and radish, a dollop of yogurt and a charred slice of lemon. For £25, this was a (wealthy) 12-year-old girl’s portion. As Joe tore apart his bird like Sid James playing Henry VIII, I felt rather left out.
They did bring me a little birthday cake, and we had cheese – but I do think that this now-50-year-old big boy needs a proper main course. Especially if it has a very grown-up and brand-spanking-new Church Road price tag.
Read William Sitwell's latest restaurant review on telegraph.co.uk every Friday from 6am