West London favourites

Saturday, May 17th , 2008

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Glasshouse (pictured) is a sister to the Ledbury, La Trompette and Chez Bruce, and has a Michelin star. It certainly is the best restaurant in the Kew area by a mile, yet always seems to me a little overshadowed by its siblings. I have been a few times now and always seem to have a very enjoyable meal. The Glasshouse has a particularly crowd-pleasing menu, a very good wine list and friendly service. Yet for some reason I never feel like rushing back, despite it being just two tube stops away. This is probably because I can just stumble out of my front door and reach La Trompette in a couple of minutes (less if I am hungry enough), which is from the same stable and always seems to have a slight edge in the cooking. This is hardly the Glasshouse’s fault and there is little to criticise about the cooking there (such as the nice tuna pictured), but I guess I am just spoilt by my proximity to its sister restaurant.
No danger of stumbling around the corner to a Michelin starred Italian restaurant, and although the River Cafe is not far I have always preferred Zafferano, partly due to the silly prices the River Cafe has always charged. These days prices are edging up at Zaffs as well, with the new owners (A-Z restaurants were bought out some time ago) seeming to want to milk as much as they can from it. Three courses now are £44.50, wine prices have edged up, and although the food standard has mercifully stayed consistently high it is a little less of a bargain than it once was. There is always a danger that new owners see a full restaurant and jack the prices up, forgetting that the reason that it is so full is that people come back regularly and tell their friends what a great deal it is. Eventually there is less customer goodwill and people come a bit less regularly, and a virtuous circle can turn into a vicious one.  I saw an empty table tonight next to us, and that is not something I can recall for a long time. Of course the investment banking types won’t worry about a few extra pounds on their expense claims, but for those of us paying our own way such price increases niggle.
Value for money has never been a worry at the Brilliant, where for less than £30 a head you get the kind of meal that would feed a small village. By Southall standards the Brilliant’s decor and prices are up-market, but then so is the food. A dozen tandoori prawns were superbly cooked, as was succulent chicken tikka and a couple of vegetable curries with a rich, complex, spicy sauce. Throw in the wonderful romali roti and a much improved naan, and enough food to take away for another complete meal.  The contrast was an entirely non-foody excursion I had two days earlier to the Thames Tandoori, a bog standard Indian restaurant in Waterloo. Even the large quantities of lager could not disguise the stringy chicken and couple of overcooked prawns hiding under a pile of overcooked onions. The contrast between this slop and the food at the Brilliant was extraordinary, and makes me realise how far my expectations of Indian food have increased in recent years.
The Brackenbury produced another very good meal, as it virtually always does.  It is the quintessential neighbourhood restaurant, with relaxed atmosphere and prices lower than many gastropubs these days. Yet the food is solid 4/10 territory, and sometimes creeps above this. Ingredient quality is good, as in tasty smoked eel with carefully balanced horseradish cream and cucumber salad.  The same can be said for ballotine of rabbit wrapped in bacon, moist when rabbit so easily can dry out, served with an earth mix of nicely cooked choucroute with carrots and turnips. A real bonus is the new manager, Joe. Previously the person in charge of service was a capable but dour French guy, who never seemed to smile and shows no signs of doing so now that he appears to be just a waiter. As the Brackenbury is pretty local to me and at one time had a very basic wine list (now improved) I enquired ages ago about bringing my own wine in return for corkage. Even quite posh places will usually let you do this if you are a regular and ask nicely. You pay them the price of a bottle of house wine or a bit more, and so it is a win-win: you get the wine you want and they make a margin without actually giving away any wine. This French gentleman always refused to contemplate the very idea, and I once tried to reason this out saying “what if I offered you a £50 corkage, or £100? At what point would the problem be overcome”. “Never” was the terse reply. Anyway, I am pleased to say that the new manager has a far more logical and flexible policy in this regard, and I will be going back there more often as result. Surely that is the real point?
Cambio de Tercio is, as I have remarked, a vastly improved restaurant. We had another excellent meal there this week, with superb pata negra, wonderful patatas bravas and excellent garlic prawns, amongst a flurry of other fine tapas dishes. The wine list is superb, with some serious Spanish wines on the list at only around twice retail price. Waiters have genuine warmth and it is really hard to find anything to dislike about the place.
Next weekend I am off to Tokyo, so the blog may be a little disrupted from its usual schedule. I should, however, have a great deal to write about when I get back.