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Drake's on the Pond

Clifford Mould trekked out to Abinger Hammer in Surrey
Update 2004: Stephen Drake is now at Drake's Restaurant in Ripley

Choosing a name for a new restaurant is always a headache. In town, you can always call it by a street number, hence those really imaginative names like 192 and 179. If imagination fails completely, then there's always the floor to fall back on: Top Floor, Fifth Floor, The Basement. Or there's the trend for chefs to use their own names: did Stephen Drake unconsciously have Rhodes in the Square in mind when he coined the moniker Drake's on the Pond? I was expecting a pretty waterside view, with ducks - but I could see no pond visible from any angle. There's a trout farm at the back, so perhaps that was it. There wasn't any trout on the menu though,  probably because Stephen Drake is serious enough about where he gets his raw materials. I'd bet (and hope) that if trout were on the menu they would be fly caught  wild from a trout stream.

The dining room isn't too large but it's comfortable enough, the decor neat and untrammelled either by the fussy country cottage school of design, or by the trendier minimalist metropolitans.   The menu is simplicity itself. A choice of four starters and five main courses is offered in the evening for £29.50, with puddings or cheese for a reasonable extra fiver. When we tried to book a table for four on a Friday night, we were offered either 9pm or 7pm. After being assured that the table would be ours for the evening, we chose 7pm. 

The service looked at first sight as though it would be disarmingly amateur. We were the first to arrive and were greeted by a man in shirtsleeves whom I assumed was holding the fort until the head waiter arrived. He turned out to be the proprietor, John Morris, assisted on equal terms by his partner Tracey Honeysett. Having been recently surprised and not a little overwhelmed by the award of  Michelin Star, it looked as though they were trying almost too hard to keep both feet firmly on the ground. When it came down to it, the two of them managed a full dining room very efficiently, and the welcome detail of Mr Morris's enthusiastic descriptions of the food were less surprising when it turned out that he and the friendly Tracey were both chefs who had given up the city smoke. Tracey is responsible for the excellent wine list.

We were brought a coffee cup of chicken consommé, which was perfectly nice. It's my view that if you are going to offer an amuse, it has to be like a Rossini overture - quickening the pulse, arousing the taste buds in anticipation. This was merely an adequate time filler. The starters were mostly good, washed down with a nice Viognier from the Domaine du Campuget at £17.50 the bottle. I thought the Selection of Brixham seafood on a chicory base looked most attractive. It came on a big plate with several little pieces of fish integrated by a bisque-type sauce. The marinated potato wrapped in spinach with cep casserole was disappointingly dull, the ceps struggling to rescue it from blandness. My pan fried foie gras was excellent - a decent sized lobe  really well caramelised on the outside, with a delicious carrot puree lifted with hints of cardamom. All these dishes were finely presented. 

The four of us tried all the mains except the cheese and vegetable dish. The roasted sea bass had a nicely crisp skin, the majority of the flavour deriving from roast red pepper and a well prepared fishy stock. The Gressingham duck breast was pink inside but not caramelised enough on the outside. The creamed leeks and shallots were a good base, but insufficient in themselves as a side vegetable. The roast saddle of venison was very good, full of flavour with a robust confit of red cabbage. My braised rib-eye steak had been really slow-cooked and turned out very dark and rich, but again, the carrots, although nicely done would be a serious inadequacy to a young person with appetite. The garnishes were all well enough executed and properly unique to each dish, but with no option of any side vegetables, the overall impression was a bit mean. 

The puds were nice, the chocolate  pyramid quite spectacular even, but only a week later I can't recall any details. My test of really great cooking is that which either makes you want to rush home to try it yourself, or more likely, reminds you that there's no way you could even begin to emulate such perfection. Come to think of it, I'd have struggled to have made that chocolate pyramid!. But Drake's is certainly a welcome addition to the otherwise culinary desert that is Surrey. I suspect that John and Tracey have very cleverly got a handle on the preferences of their not too adventurous Surrey clientele - whatever you do, don't frighten the horses!

The cost of our meal
Four dinners @ 29.50 plus three desserts, 2 G & Ts, two bottles of house wine and 4 coffees came to £196.10
Service is not automatically added to your bill, a charming and welcome lack of presumption, I thought.

Drake's on the Pond   Dorking Road, Abinger Hammer, Surrey RH5 6SA 
Reservations Tel: 01306 731174, and don't forget to ask for a waterside view!
Open Tues-Sat dinner; Tues-Fri lunch

Clifford Mould, March 2003

A couple of other good restaurants in the area: 
The Running Horses, Mickleham Tel: 01372 372279 - posh and pricey pub grub

The Stephan Langton - still our Surrey favourite - Jon Coomb's cooking is robust and assured, so don't be put off by bare tables and a slight lack of comfort.

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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