french table, surbiton
than many a table in France, says
Regular readers are no doubt tired of
my diatribes about the dumbing down of
standards of some restaurants in France.
Of course there are notable exceptions,
but we have been disappointed on too
many occasions during the past couple
of years. A bowl of gritty soupe de mer
in Collioure was the prelude to some
very ordinary cooking; duck confit
that needed a decent burial was only
one disastrous course of many in a pretty
riverside hotel on the Seine at Coudebec.
Nothing could have been more embarrassing
than a recent visit to Mollard in Paris
with my American culinary arts students.
It's still a museum piece of Art Nouveau,
but the cooking is at
an all time low. I could go on - and on, but I'll just mention the lovely
lunch we had at the newly refurbished Le Channel the other day in Calais.
We were there for the usual: a quick rush round Dave West's emporium Eastenders,
where we got some Guigal Rhone Valley wines at bargain prices. Then next door
to Wine and Beer World (owned by Majestic Wine) to pick up a case of Argento
Malbec for only £1.99 a bottle. Finally to Perardel, the wine warehouse owned
by the Champagne house of the same name, where the selection of good Burgundy
is very tempting.
visit to The French Table was
yet more proof, as if
it needed it,
this team's attention to quality
Outstanding starter dishes we enjoyed
included a lively smoked duck mousse,
(£6.80), served with a croustillante of confit duck and what looked
like some girolles to add even more flavour. The roast wood pigeon (£7.80)
was a game fancier's delight, and the mussel timbale (£6.20) was delicately
flavoured with saffron and coriander and came with cauliflower cous cous
and mild curry spices.
main course pork belly has
become a Trilogy of Pork
Belly (£14.50) and went down
well with young Jeff, now
a year older and even more
the meat dishes came with
reductions and their own carefully
chosen vegetable garnishes.
treat of the evening was
the hot Pear William soufflé (£4.95),
the flavour and texture was
a heavenly marriage.
After that we need restoration,
and where better than Le Channel, where Madame Crespo always has a kiss on
each cheek for her favourite customers (that's almost everyone as far as
I can judge). Her husband is the chef, and her son the bright and bushy tailed
sommelier. The seafood is wonderful - but I'm straying from the point, we're
supposed to be considering The French Table in Surbiton, Queen of
the Suburbs and erstwhile home of the Good Life.
The French Table is on the
site of a once famous restaurant, called Chez Max, whose chef patron
was the formidable Max Makarian. After he retired it went sadly down hill
until a bright young chef called Anne O'Carroll gave it a new incarnation
as Luca. She'd been sous chef at Peter Gordon's Sugar Club, and although
we loved it, her wilder fusion ideas were just a bit too far out for Surbiton.
The restaurant was then taken
over by Eric and Sarah Guignard in 2001, who reopened it as the French
Table. Their menus, (and their prices) seemed to hit the spot with Surbitonians.
I've been several times, and on my last visit I was a guest of some friends,
so I had to be rather discreet about reviewing it. The style is modern French,
the presentations are unfussy but very attractively laid out on a variety
of interesting ceramics. The cooking is thoughtful and creative and reflects
the experience that Eric must have gained in the five Michelin starred establishments
he has worked in, in France, Italy and here in England.
The Ballotine of Foie Gras
with figs and toasted brioche was classic - I've not eaten better since Bourdin
left The Connaught. Very fishy, in the nicest possible way, was the red mullet
soup with deep fried oysters like mines lying in wait to surprise you. Seared
marinated salmon was fresh and tangy and came with avocado ice cream, an
ingenious touch that actually worked: (I'm sorry Luca, but Surbiton seems
ready for this at last)! Starters ranged from £5.50 for the soup to £9.20
for the foie gras.
Three out of the four of us
had the Caramelised Pork Belly (£13.80) for our main course. It came wrapped
in parma ham having been squashed into a tight circle in a ring mould. The
accompanying layers of black pudding, gruyere cheese and apple were hardly a
millefeuille, but they added a lot to this very yummy and rich dish. My host
was tucking in to his rump of lamb (£14.50), deliciously pink slices
on a bed of raisin, almond and mint enhanced cous cous, finished off
with a kick of rose scented harissa sauce. Other main dishes I would go back
for included roast monkfish wrapped in parma ham (was ham on offer that day
at the market?) with a ragout of monkfish cheeks (sounds wilder than Luca!),
or what about roast veal
with fresh tagliatelle, broad beans, ventreche, girolle mushrooms and truffle
emulsion. Talk about blinding us
with culinary science! I bet you don't know what ventreche is? Answers on
a postcard please to email@example.com Sorry
Eric, I'm only pulling your leg - your cooking was truly excellent, and I
haven't even got to the puds yet... But I should mention, en passant, that
the wine list is also excellent and well priced. Try the Picpoul Pinet if
you like an individual, aromatic white.
The puds were fabulous - looked
beautiful, tasted wonderful - can't exactly remember what they all were,
except that mine was a lovely light mousse made from lightly caramelised
passion fruit and a coconut sorbet on the side. Our waitress oozed Gallic
charm, and the wine list had some excellent wines at sensible prices. If
this place doesn't get recognised by the Michelin Men pretty soon, I'll eat
my hat, on a bed of saffron infused ratte potato and haddock gibriche - sorry,
that goes with the cod, not the hat.
By the way, I hear that people
are driving out from Fulham, no kidding!
Clifford Mould, September
table - 85 Maple Road Surbiton KT6 4AW, tel: 020 8399 2365
Open for lunch Weds-Fri noon 'til 2.30pm £15.50 three courses, Sunday lunch £16.50
Dinner Tuesday -Saturday 7pm to 10.30pm
PS we were celebrating my
godson Jeff Wilkinson, who got about 2 million A's and A stars in his GCSE's
PPS Lynn Truss says it's OK to put apostrophes after initials. Have you tried
eating shoots and leaves?