Sonny’s had a makeover in May 2012, and reopened as Sonny’s Kitchen. The chef is now Alex Marks, who used to work at Maze and at Foliage before it became Dinner. The dining room is a bit brighter than previously, at least until part way through the evening when the light levels were lowered suddenly to the “gloom” setting beloved of so many London restaurant managers. The dining room, at least when I could still make it out, had a wooden floor and closely packed tables without tablecloths. The menu is modern British, and is priced in a way designed to disguise how large the final tally will be, with main course prices held down a little but other things pushed up higher than usual. A basket of bread was charged for at £2.50, and “still water” was not a bottle of Evian but some recycled “filtered” tap water at £2.75, a particularly egregious way of padding the bill. Starters were £6.50 to £10, main courses £13 to £21, vegetables £3.50 extra per serving and £6 to £8.50, with a cappuccino weighing in at £3.
The wine list had 60 or so wines in all, ranging in price from £15.50 to £150. Examples included Fairview Pinotage 2010 at £21.95 for a wine that you can encounter in the high street for £8, Marion’s Vineyard Schubert Pinot Noir 2010 at £45.50 for a wine that a shop will charge you £23 for, and Pintia Toro 2004 at £70 for a wine that will set you back £30 to purchase retail. The high end of the list had a relative bargain in the form of Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande 1996 at £150 for a wine that actually costs £149 retail. We drank the very pleasant Giaconda Nantua 2009 £78.50 for a wine that cost £37 in a shop.
Bread was a mix of some made from scratch (good focaccia but chewy breadstick) and bought-in, which again was variable – decent walnut and raisin bread, rather tasteless seeded white bread (13/20 on average). Salad Nicoise varied things by having grilled mackerel rather than the usual (costlier) tuna, and the salad elements were all pleasant enough: nicely cooked beans, potato, anchovy, boiled egg and decent tomato, let down by soggy croutons (13/20). Orecchiette pasta (“small ear” pasta from Puglia) was made fresh and was nicely cooked, served with peas, broad beans, ricotta and mint: the vegetables were cooked carefully and the potentially over-strong mint flavour was kept in check – a nice dish (easily 14/20).
Sea bream was glazed with pesto (for no obvious reason) but was cooked very well and had excellent flavour, served with piperade, tender borlotti beans and semi-dried tomatoes that had quite good flavour (15/20). Pata negra pork chop was carefully timed and had nice flavour, served with peas and grain mustard (14/20). Carrots had quite a lot of flavour and were cooked nicely but were dripping in butter (13/20) and chips were thin and crisp (14/20).
Desserts were not quite to the standard of the savoury courses. Cherry and almond tart had decent pastry though limited cherry flavour (good 13/20), served with capable cherry ripple ice cream. Lemon posset was topped with a layer of strawberry mousse and served with elderflower beignets on the side. I am not sure that lemon posset, such a simple but enjoyable British dessert, needs much adornment, and here it was carefully balanced, so I am not sure that the strawberries added much (13/20). They definitely did not need over-large, rather soggy beignets that at least lacked much in the way of elderflower flavour that they threatened to have.
Service was pleasant; wine is left at the table, so there is no need for the waiters to top up, and to be honest I prefer this, given how few places manage to top up wine successfully. The bill came to £87, albeit with one of the better wines on ths list. If you ordered a more modest wine then a bill of £65 per head would be likely. Overall the food was certainly much better than my previous meal here, though the bill still seems a bit high for what is being delivered.
Below are notes from previous meals.
The two page wine list is good, featuring selections such as Mas de Daumas Gassac 2006 at £43 for a wine that costs around £22 retail. But there is yet another chef change at Sonny’s. The previous chef has given way to his sous chef, Owen Kenworthy. It was not an improvement. Leek and potato soup was distinctly watery and lacked seasoning (11/20). A salad of girolles, broad beans and artichokes was much better, the rocket leaves properly dressed, the ingredients decent (13/20). Yellowfin tuna was lightly seared, served with green beans, a few roast cherry tomatoes and salsa verde (13/20). Corn fed chicken was nicely cooked, with a truffled beans and a fairly well reduced jus Parisenne (14/20).
Sadly a passion fruit tart was a shambles, with pastry that I could literally fold, and a congealed filling (10/20). Greengage fool was smothered in absurd amounts of cream (11/20). Service was pleasant enough, but this meal showed a discernable drop in cooking standards, and the locals have noticed. Last time I came here they were turning tables. Tonight, a Saturday, saw just seven tables occupied at 8:30 p.m. They are about to close for some minor refurbishment, but I’d suggest some major refurbishment of the kitchen staff based on this evening’s experience.
Below are notes from a much better meal in May 2007, by way of comparison.
Sonnys chefs appear to have the lonegvity of mayflies, but after Helena Pudokka (ex head chef at Tante Claire) left things went downhill. New chef Ed Parkin (ex Galvins) joined in 2006 and has raised the game. The bread here has always been good, from the Exeter Street Bakery in this case a choice of slices of excellent green olive bread, walnut and raisin and ciabatta (16/20). There are no fripperies here like amuse-bouche or petit fours. Service tonight was friendly though they should fix the basic issue of waiters knowing who ordered what when delivering the dishes; this is easy enough. Starters are £5 to £9.50, mostly around £7 or so, and main courses range from £10.25 to £18.50 (vegetables £3 extra), with desserts at £5.50 - £6.50, with cheese at £7.50.
Eel salad had fresh, baby gem lettuce dressed with a pleasant lemon vinaigrette; the eel itself did not have as much flavor as it might, but otherwise this was fine (13/20). Asparagus were cooked simply and served hot with a classic Hollandaise, which was very well executed; the asparagus themselves were cooked very nicely (15/20). Pot roasted monkfish was not at all chewy, and had tender borlotti beans garnished with small cubes of butternut squash (15/20). My Bresse pigeon was very tender and had the excellent flavor that this high quality ingredient should have, served with a ring of pea puree, peas and tarragon garnish, with a pleasing sauce made from the cooking juices (16/20). Desserts were not to the same level tonight, a simple slab of passion fruit parfait that had reasonable texture but limited passion fruit taste (12/20) and pannacotta with orange that again lacked any depth of vanilla flavor (12/20).
Here is a meal from October 2006, by way of comparison.
Tonight I started with saffron risotto with ricotta and gremolata (a mix of capers, olives, lemon zest and parsley). The rice had soft texture and had absorbed the stock, which in itself lacked depth of flavour but was saved by the strong flavours of the saffron and the gremolata (15/20). Salad of endive, Roquefort and walnut was an interesting blend of components but the leaves needed a dressing (14/20). Pork belly was served as two slabs, nicely crispy on top, served with a cassoulet of Tarbais beans but the stock strangely lacked any real depth of flavour (15/20).
Better was poached halibut, nicely cooked with a creamy celeriac puree, trompette mushrooms and a red wine sauce thickened with butter (16/20). A side order of chips were extremely good, thin, crisp and pretty much exactly what you would hope for from a bowl of chips, which is something that rarely happens (17/20). Chocolate marquise was simple but had honest chocolate taste, served with a passion fruit sorbet that I requested instead of the crème fraiche sorbet advertised (15/20). Pain perdu ("forgotten bread" but essentially French toast) had good texture, served with a well made vanilla ice cream with a rich dark chocolate sauce (14/20). Coffee was pleasant (15/20).
Overall the new chef heralds a return to form for Sonnys. The waitress we had was fairly grumpy, but dishes were served correctly and at quite a pace, though there was no table turning The wine list is on two pages and has a good range oif new world wines in particular, with Bonny Doon Big House Red and Guigal Cotes du Rhone as pleasing mid-range choices. Mas de Daumas Gassac was the pick of the whites.