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Sam's Brasserie & Bar, London W4

When we arrived at Sam's Brasserie & Bar at 8.30pm on Friday night, this neighbourhood newcomer was already heaving.  Word must have got out that the co-owner and manager Sam Harrison had worked for Rick Stein in Padstow, and that Cornwall's adopted food hero was backing this development. The chef, Rufus Wickham has come from Kensington Place via the Crown Hotel in Southwold. Clearly the good people of Chiswick have been yearning for another good eaterie in their district. Looking around our table, the other diners looked pretty much like regular eaters out, so I began to wonder which local establishments had been left with empty tables. For it's all very well going off with a bang, it's keeping the punters coming back that's the serious trick.

The other night we went with a  friend to a promising little bistrot in St Margaret's, the up-and-trendy area between Richmond and Twickenham. Almost as soon as I saw the menu, written, as it were in tablets of stone I knew what we were in for. By contrast, at Sam's, where the daily printed menu doubles as a place mat, hiding the rather attractive butcher's block tables, I could find only two or three dishes in each category of starters or mains that were the same as they were back in late August when Sam's opened. I wondered whether they were changing things a little too rapidly - but time will tell as they discover which dishes might become favourites and which to change or update.

One dish that will probably pass into Chiswick's history is Omelette Arnold Bennett. Bennett (a writer, not a chef) invented this cholesterol packed concoction and it became one of the great signature first course dishes at the Savoy Grill long before the term signature dish was coined. Simon Hopkinson describes it as a "sublime combination of creamy eggs, smoked haddock and parmesan".  According to the Savoy, the classic version is made with a mixture of both béchamel and hollandaise sauces as well as cream!  Getting the balance right, so that the golden burnished exterior of the omelette cradles the eggy creamy interior gently but firmly, calls for an exquisite sense of timing on the part of the chef. This example was pallidly unburnished, and I don't think it really works as a main course dish. I felt that the kitchen had perhaps bottled out on some of the ingredients, probably with the best interests of its clientele at heart, literally. So much for Arnold and his omelette.

Starters (£4.75 £9.00) were rather good; the mozzarella salad with roast beetroot was "fresh and bright", and the plate of Spanish charcuterie was generous and had been well sourced. My friend particularly liked a plate of deep fried fresh Dorset anchovies, "better and plumper than whitebait", he opined. I splashed out on the seared foie gras, served on crisply toasted brioche with caramelised figs and a hint of apple to cut through the richness of the pan juices. Beautifully timed - impressive.  Incidentally, the wine list is interesting and eclectic, and starts at £12.50 for the house wines. We kicked off with an aromatic Picpoul de Pinet, which is nine wines into the list of whites and was a very good deal for £16.50.

Given the connections with Padstow we tried three main course fish dishes (if one includes the omelette which certainly included the smoked haddock). Grilled white tiger prawns (£14.50) looked most impressive, split in halves and served in the shell. My wife found getting the meat out a bit fiddly, and would have preferred them "dealt with" (and she has a degree in marine biology!). The crisp sea bass (£14.50) looked good, and came served skin side up (of course!) with a rich red wine sauce which prompted a bottle of merlot/grenache. This happened to be the house red, a drinkable quaff at £12.50 a bottle. which neatly partnered my roast partridge (£14.00) - good and gamey, moist and tender, with some very nice creamy polenta (I hate the kind that's like grilled chewing gum).

Imagination seemed to have left the pudding section somewhat bereft of originality. Having said that, the apple crumble (£5.50)  was very good, with hints of toffee around the topping. We passed  on the tarte tatin, the poached pears and the crème brûlée. Chocolate pithivier sounded more interesting but takes 20 minutes, so we went for the cheese which was a pretty stingy selection for the £7 charged. It was plonked down without so much as a word of explanation, and certainly no palpable pride. I mention this only because it is those touches of enthusiasm and sheer hospitality that contribute to one's wanting to go back as soon as possible. 

Clifford Mould November 2005

Sam's Brasserie & Bar, 11 Barley Mow Passage, Chiswick London W4 4PH

T: 020 8987 7389

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