La Buvette (literally “the bar”) is not somewhere you are likely to stumble across by accident: it is reached down a narrow alleyway, and is set next to the St Mary Magdelene church in between the Richmond bridge and the tube station. The ground floor dining room is cosy, with a quite low ceiling and small tables that are tightly packed, so you may get to know your fellow diners quite well by the end of the evening. To get to the bathrooms you actually have to walk outside the building, though it is at least under cover. The head chef was Buck Carter, though he had a night off when we visited.
The menu is firmly in French bistro territory, with things like fish soup and pot au chocolat on offer. Three courses are priced at a reasonable £19.75 (£15 at lunch) though there are supplements in some dishes, and vegetables are extra. The wine list was all French and mostly under £30. Examples were Chateau de la Presle Sauvignon de Touraine 2009 at £22.75 for a wine that costs around £7 to buy retail, Girardin Pouilly Fuisse 2007 at £39.75 compared to a shop price of around £13, and Chateau Clos Fourtet Grand Cru 2004 at £69 for a wine that will set you back around £27 to buy.
Cream of garlic soup with croutons and truffle oil was capably made, the soup tasting distinctly but not overwhelmingly of garlic and being properly seasoned (3/10). Devon crab meat was served in a circular shape beneath a layer of avocado puree, surrounded by gazpacho dressing. This was a successful dish, the crab tasting quite fresh, the avocado having pleasant consistency and the gazpacho dressing the star element of the dish, having a pleasing bite; a fairly classic set of flavours, nicely put together (4/10).
Tarte fine of red onion and goat cheese was capable enough if not particularly exciting, the pastry reasonable., the onion and goat cheese in balance (2/10). Better was duck, cooked nicely pink and served with some cooking juices and a little liver pate, together with peas a la Francaise (i.e. peas and a few other vegetables in a meat stock) served on the side. The duck was cooked very well, and the vegetables on the side had a particularly well made and boldly seasoned stock (4/10).
Side vegetables of new potatoes were properly cooked, though served with unannounced mint; mint is a very strong taste that not everyone likes, though luckily I do (3/10). Chips did not appear to be hand-cut to me, though were tolerably crisp (2/10). French beans had good texture (3/10).
For dessert, chocolat pot was a good example of the breed, with a rich dark chocolate taste, having smooth texture without graininess, with a little almond biscuit and competent small compote of red fruit (3/10). Double espresso was a generous measure but tasted a bit rough to me.
Service was friendly although there were a few slips; our vegetables appeared mostly some time after the main course was delivered, and one appeared almost as I was finishing. However there was no trouble getting attention and this is, after all, a bistro rather than fine dining. Overall this was a very pleasant experience, and one that seems to me fairly priced for the level of food that is being delivered.