Rick Stein opened this London outpost of his fishy empire in the summer of 2017. Appropriately it is by the river, in what used to be “the Depot” in Mortlake, which is the area between Barnes and Kew. Presumably Mr Stein ran out of buildings in Padstow to buy. The head chef here is the appropriately named Ian Salmon, who had previously worked with Rick Stein in Padstow.
The setting is pretty, the dining room stretched out along the river, many tables having at least a partial view over the water. The effect was diminished by the use of what appeared to be plastic plants rather than real ones, which seemed out of plaice, but the location is certainly nice enough. Without wanting to carp, tables are quite small and crammed together, the room accommodating about a hundred diners at any one time.
There was a quite lengthy a la carte menu, as well as a set lunch at £25 a head. Starters were from £7.95 to £25, but mostly in the £9-12 range. Mains ranged in price from £11.95 to £45, and averaged £24.79, with side dishes at £3.75. Desserts were £6.95. The wine list was quite extensive, understandably having more choice of white wines than red, given the nature of the menu. Sample labels were Boyyer Lunate Fiano 2015 from Sicliy at £23 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £10, Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 2015 at £38 compared to its retail price of £17, and Domaine Saumaize-Michelin Pouilly Fuisse Les Ronchevats 2014 at £65 for a label that will set you back £22 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list, Didier Dagenau Silex Pouilly Fume 2012 was £130 compared to its retail price of £110, and Chateau Grand Puy Lacosts 2000 was £150 for a wine that has a current market value of £108. As can be seen, the mark-ups, especially at the high end, are quite kind by London standards.
There were no nibbles, just a couple of slices of bread from the Jill Stein bakery. The walnut bread was quite good, the white much less so, having little flavour and its texture being a bit firm to my taste. A starter of crisp mackerel salad had an Asian slant, with Thai basil, bird’s eye chilli, apple, shallots, shredded carrot and peanuts. It resembled a sort of som tam without the papaya along with little chunks of crisp mackerel. The salad was fine but the hard chunks of fish barely tasted of mackerel and were grotesquely salty, even for a salt-loving diner like me. This dish would be much better off if they just served the salad without the salt-bombs of mackerel (10/20). Better was classic fish soup with rouille, Parmesan and croutons. It was a little unfortunate that the last fish soup I ate was the stunning version at three Michelin star Auberge de vieux Puits just three days earlier, but nonetheless this was a competent version of the dish, with reasonably good fish and shellfish flavour coming through (13/20).
Turbot was offered with Hollandaise sauce and supposedly some potatoes according to the waiter, though none appeared. Unfortunately the main attraction, served on the bone, was overcooked and had hardly any flavour at all. This was partly due to the slice of fish coming from a tiddly 1.4 kg specimen; with turbot, the bigger the fish the better the taste in general. This is not just a matter of flavour – small sub 2 kg turbot cost less than half the price per kg of large (say 4kg plus) specimens, yet this dish was priced at a chunky £36 for a portion despite using a tiny fish. It came only with some distinctly ordinary sauce, which had not split but nonetheless was not the velvet ideal of this classic. The turbot was so disappointing that I tried two bites and sent it back (8/20).
In its place I tried Indonesian seafood curry with prawns and fish in a mild curry sauce, served with rather crispy pilau rice and undercooked green beans with coconut, fried shallots, garlic and chilli. This dish was a major improvement, the prawns correctly cooked and the curry sauce a little grainy but having a pleasant blend of spices; the only real issue were the almost raw beans (12/20). Fishcakes of hake and salmon came with watercress leaves and salsa verde. This was fine, though hardly superior to any number of fishcakes that you may encounter in any number of pubs (11/20). For dessert, passion fruit pavlova was fine, the meringue having decent texture and the passion fruit flavour coming through quite well (12/20).
The service operation was a shambles. There were plenty of waiters, but they glided past the bar with nary a glance into the dining area. My main course arrived with no cutlery, and a glass of wine that we ordered just sat on the bar until I finally got the attention of the waiter I had ordered it from, even though he had walked past it twice. They say that the epitaph of a waiter should be “God finally caught his eye” and certainly the ones here fit well into that category. When my dining companion mentioned that the mackerel salad was extremely salty the waitress smiled and said indeed it was and that it was supposed to be like that - OK then; presumably the turbot was supposed to be overcooked too. The bill came to £49 a head with the main course removed. A typical cost per person for three courses and coffee with a modest bottle of wine to share might be around £70 or so. For this money you could eat in a real restaurant, but the power of television meant that the room was still busy, despite the evident shortcomings.