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Sam's Brasserie

11 Barley Mow Passage, London , England, W4 4PH, United Kingdom

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This bistro is in an unpromising location down a narrow alley parallel to the Chiswick High Road, but it is at least within yards of the post office, so locals will be aware it is there. In this alley are mostly seedy offices e.g. a minicab booking office, and a poster design firm that has seen better days, so I presume the space was cheap. Sam’s dining room still has some exposed steel girders, yet also has some 1970s domestic lampshades and has a generally rather eclectic décor.; the high ceiling helps. The bar was quite busy and on some nights has live jazz. The dining room is quite large, with a further mezzanine area facing the alley. 

At a September 2012 meal a salad (£8) of prawns with lime and chillies had small, cheap prawns, a pleasantly acidic lime dressing but the promised chilli was hard to detect (11/20). Fishcakes (£6.75) were made from coley, and had a crisp outside, but were fairly tasteless (11/20). Hummus with flatbread was harmless. The burger (£12) was cooked to order and had fresh lettuce with tomato chutney, the bun bought-in but the meat acceptable; however this was not in the class of the better burgers that can be had in London these days (11/20). A simple mixed salad (£3.50) was decent (11/20).

Service was, not to put too fine a point on it, poor. We ordered our food and a bottle of wine. We waited, waited some more, and then inquired about the wine. Nothing happened, and I asked another waiter, who scurried away without any obvious intent to find the wine. I asked again, and then the starters arrived. I tried again, and eventually a waiter bothered to look into the missing wine (this was a far from busy Sunday evening, incidentally, so the staff were not stretched). After a further interval a waiter finally came back to say that the wine was on its way, and it indeed eventually hoved into view, but we were grateful that we had ordered cold food. Our food was delivered with no clue as to who had ordered what at either course, a skill that basic high street chains manage to instil in their waiting staff. The bill, admittedly with one of the best wines (the excellent Rioja Alta 904 at £64) came to £58 a head for two courses. I don’t expect fancy service from a neighbourhood bistro, but surely any establishment should be able to bring the wine before the food, and remember who ordered what dish in a party of two?

On an August 2008 visit a Caesar salad was adequate yet unexciting. The lettuce was acceptable but not quite as crisp as I would like, the dressing lacked flavour, there were no anchovies but a slice of bacon in its place (11/20). Breast of chicken was nicely cooked, served with a pleasant if slightly thin mushroom sauce (12/20). My wife’s sea bass was farmed but was properly cooked, but with a horseradish sauce that was too strong in patches, even to my taste (maybe (12/20). Service was efficient, though our Polish waitress seemed a little reminiscent of a Soviet era waitress at times in her manner. This was a decent meal, but no more than that, and cost £40 a head for two courses and a wine from the cheaper end of their list. Sam’s Brasserie is within walking distance of my house, and once a year I pop along, give it another go and have a respectable yet just marginally disappointing meal, just like tonight. At a separate visit I popped in for some fish and chips at lunch, which was better. This had decent haddock in a pleasant batter,on top of an excellent pea puree, with tartare sauce and thin, reasonably crisp chips (13/20).

What follows are notes from October 2007.

The menu is standard bistro fare, though not as appealing as it could be – there are some quite cheap ingredients on display e.g. a main course of sardines, red mullet and “sausages and bubble and squeak”, so the profit margins are probably quite high. Starters are £4.75 - £10, main courses £9 – £16.50, with vegetables extra, and desserts £5 - £7. Still, portions were fairly generous. A leek and potato soup was pleasant but no more than that, rather thin and watery and generally the sort of thing you could cook better at home (11/20 really). Much better was tagliatelle with some grated gorgonzola giving some flavour, with walnuts and a little baby spinach – the pasta itself was well made with good texture (14/20). Monkfish avoided the chewiness that tends to afflict it, lightly seared with a blob of rather ordinary mash flavoured with parsley, resting in a butter sauce flavoured with a few capers (13/20).  

Sardines were correctly cooked and served on the bone, which certainly adds to the challenge of dining, served with rocket and a dish of chips. The rocket was served without dressing, which I find lazy, though the chips were thin and nicely made, seasoned with enough salt even for me (13/20). Steamed ginger pudding tasted properly of ginger, though the custard with it was too watery (13/20). Apple crumble was classically prepared and had good taste (14/20), served with the same watery custard. Coffee was pleasant (13/20), though served without any petit fours. 

Bread was slices of either white, brown or rosemary flavoured white (13/20). Service was pleasant, and the dishes came along at a steady pace. Wine was left on the table to pour, which was fine. The menu was pleasant, ingredients were pretty cheap but technically the dishes were cooked pretty well. The wine list, like the menu, is printed daily on the paper place mats, and had about 30 whites and a similar number of reds. Prices ranged from £12.50 - £165, with plenty in the £20-£30 range. A pick was the Rioja Alta 904 1995 at £62, a great wine at about three times its retail price.  

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