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BAR M, Putney Bridge

Richard D. Carreño revisited this Riverside haunt

This review dates from April 1998

It's not surprising that we were eager to return to Bar M, the hip watering hole cum hot eatery in the old Star and Garter public house in Putney Bridge. Dine Online was much pleased with the dining delights of this place on our first go-round about a year ago, and since then Bar M has continued to be a top fav hit on the restaurant buzz-line.

Bar M, like other of its neighbouring restaurant mates has seen and benefited from the recent growth of Putney High Street as a developing dining destination. Local restaurateurs are quick to note that the eating-out crowd is increasingly targetting South-Bank restaurants as an alternative to old West End standbys. This just as true of wide-eyed tourists, over-stuffed overseas businessmen, or true-blue Londoners trolling for the latest gourmet haven. In other words, it's no longer just the venturesome who are hitting the trail for south-of-the-border dining.

Diners are also finding. as one industry insider observed, that the overall 'south-side' dining experience is a wee more mellow.

No doubt hundreds of hungry new visitors to the area learned this lesson well when hordes descended on Putney recently for the 144th outing of The Boat Race, that annual rowing bash between Cambridge and Oxford universities. Cambridge won. But so did Bar M and its riverside colleagues all strategically located just a stone's throw of the race's starting point. Those who hung out at Bar M for the race, and who were also wise enough to hang around later for after-race feeding and watering surely weren't disappointed.

OK, so the place, as the name implies is 'primarly a bar,' as the general manager Victoria Cochrane emphasises. But Bar M certainly doesn't neglect its customers' appetites. Though offerings are limited (only a dozen or so choices excluding sandwiches), the Bar M menu is still one to be taken seriously. But first "pardner", let's dispel any misunderstanding about what this place is really all about. Despite its Wild-West ranch-like name, the Bar M theme has nothing to do with Cowboys and Indians. Rather, as Belfast-bred Cochrane, an attentive back and front-of-the-house pro notes, the moniker refers to other motifs: M for Mediterrean (as in menu concept as well as the rich, bright colours of bowls and dishes); Minimalistic (as in decor); and Mosiac (as in a decorative feature highlighted in the bar itself and some table tops). As might be expected, we particularly enjoyed the setting. Our visit was during a quiet afternoon (we skipped the busy boat race weekend), and a companion and I lingered over our meals as we soaked up the view and the languid late-lunch hours. And we did of course try for a river-view window.

For the most part, the food measured up to this terrific setting and to the fine service we received. An odd exception was my starter, a mussel plate at £4.95. The mussels were great, but the sauce described on the menu as consisting of white wine, shallots, and fresh herbs we found to be a bit off- putting. It tasted too much of raw cream, which perhaps had been applied right at the end rather than being combined by cooking with the other ingredients.

That, fortunately, was our only detour from palate pleasure. We were overjoyed with an overflowing bowl of gnocchi with prawns (£6.20). To our delight, the gnocchi were light (not like lead brick-ettes as so often is the case), whilst the plentiful array of garlicky prawns dispersed in the bowl were pleasingly crunchy munchy.

We also went for a plate of chicken and chargrilled vegetables. At £6.35, this is amongst the top menu favourites, we were told, and it is completely understandable why. We particularly enjoyed the moistness of the chicken, the plentiful helping of pesto sauce and the grilled red peppers that accompanied this dish.

Bar M's Mediterrean theme was also wonderfully captured in another starter we sampled. This was a bruschetta (£3.50) topped with plum tomatoes, bathed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and accented with garlic, herbs, and basil.

Once again we found that Bar M is a bar first that offers good quality food and wines, at very reasonable prices.

PS: many dishes mentioned in Clifford Mould's earlier review of Bar M are still available and the good news is that prices haven't changed much.

Bar M, The Star and Garter, 4 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, London SW15
Telephone: 020 8788 0345

Opening Hours: 11 am to 11pm, Monday through Saturday; and from noon to 10:30 pm on Sunday.

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