Source has taken over from Martin and Vanessa Lam’s Ransome’s Dock in Battersea, which closed in August 2013. New owners Johan and Elsa De Jager have worked together in several restaurants, including one that they owned in Perth, Australia. Johan is South African and his wife Elsa French/American. The man behind the stoves is James Adams, who previously cooked at Kensington Place and River Café, and was a sous chef at Fifteen. He did not grace us with his presence in the restaurant this evening.
The wine list had 50 bottles ranging in price from £20 to £320, with a median price of £38 and an average mark-up of 2.8 times retail, which is not excessive by London standards, though not a bargain either for somewhere that is out of the centre. 44% of the list was French, but there were wines from as far afield as Bulgaria and Chile as well. Example wines were Laurent Miquel Rose 2012 Cinsault at £28 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £8, Ward Valley Estate 2012 Sauvignon Blanc at £40.50 for a wine that retails at £14, and Sancerre 2008 'Le Chene Marchand' Blanc at £60 for a wine that will set you back £19 in a shop. Mark-ups moderate somewhat for the fine wines, with Clos du Chateau des Ducs Michel Lafarge 1997 Volnay at £180 compared to a retail price of £96. Corkage was a very stiff £40, just a touch cheaper than The Ritz, and much higher than Hibiscus, for example.
The dining room was determinedly casual, with no tablecloths and mismatched chairs. A little nibble of fried polenta with blue cheese appeared as we studied the menus. This was very pleasant, fried properly with the cheese adding some much needed flavour to the polenta (13/20). No bread appeared, nor did there appear to be any on the menu, other than toast in one dish.
Crab (£12) on toast with lemon aioli was enjoyable, the bread freshly toasted, the crab shell-free and sweet, the aioli nicely balanced and the seasoning good (easily 13/20). Papardelle (£16) with lamb ragu had pleasant pasta but the lamb ragu lacked flavour and was under-seasoned (11/20). Having asked for a half portion as a starter, it was rather irritating to see a full portion appear on the bill.
Potato rosti (£12) with egg and spinach was cooked properly, though the rosti did not have much flavour; however, the spinach was quite tender and the eggs were properly made (13/20). Venison (£19) with sprouts, bacon and chestnuts had properly cooked vegetables, but the venison was cooked a bit too long. Some pieces were pink in the centre, others simply grey, which was a shame (barely 11/20).
For dessert, chocolate cake (£6.50) with crème fraiche was overly gooey (11/20) and could usefully have been paired with the blood orange sorbet (£5), which was actually very good, the sugar syrup nicely balanced with plenty of orange flavour (comfortably 13/20). Coffee was from Caravan and was fine, though the double espresso was not exactly generous in measure, and a top-up was charged at the full price.
Service was friendly but, not to put too fine a point on it, brisk. From sitting down at the restaurant, our dessert was served to us in just under 40 minutes. The starter appeared just as the wine arrived. I was actually impressed that they had enough time to overcook the venison. The bill, with a fairly modest wine, came to £61 a head, which felt like quite a lot for the level of food that appeared. The cooking was rather erratic, with the nice crab and decent rosti, yet the bland ragu and slightly grey venison. It was a decent enough experience, though for me it seemed quite expensive for a neighbourhood restaurant. At least they didn’t make us hang about: certainly if you are in a rush for your dinner then this is the place for you.