The Bingham is a boutique 15 room hotel near the bottom of Richmond Hill, and has been open since 1984. It is spread across two Georgian town houses that had been built in around 1740, and has an attractive garden that is popular for wedding receptions. Its restaurant has a lovely riverside view, and a few outside tables on the terrace overlooking the Thames for use in good weather. The dining room was refurbished in January 2019 and is an appealing space. The restaurant briefly held a Michelin star in 2010 and 2011 under head chef Shay Cooper. In charge of the kitchen now is Andy Cole, who had worked at the Bingham since 2010 and has been head chef since 2015, having trained at the Andaz hotel in Liverpool Street before that. The dining room can seat 70 diners in total, and the kitchen also has to cope with lunch, breakfast and afternoon tea, yet just three chefs work alongside Mr Cole, which suggests to me a very tightly stretched brigade.
Three courses were priced at £45 or there was a six course tasting menu at £60. The wine list was structured by style rather than country, with categories like “aromatic” and “full bodied”. There were around two hundred labels, ranging in price from £25 to £700 with a median price of £55. There were one or two labelling oddities, such as a mysterious “Aligote Burgundy 2016” at £38. This does not narrow things down much since Aligote is just the name of a grape in Burgundy; the identity of the grower would come in handy. For example, Pierre Maury Aligote 2016 costs £23 in a shop whereas Coche-Dury 2016 Aligote weighs in at around £184, so the grower makes a huge difference to the price. Similarly the label “Saint Veran Wine 2017” identifies just the name of the commune “Saint Veran”, which has seven different vineyards and numerous growers. Such descriptions are sloppy.
The average mark-up was 3.1 times retail price, which is relatively normal for a restaurant on the outskirts of London these days. Sample labels included Da Luca Terra Siciliane 2017 at £25 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Trimbach Pinot Gris 2015 at £58 compared to its retail price of £20, and Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2015 at £75 for a label that will set you back £29 in a shop. At the grander end of the list, those with the means could indulge in a bottle of Chateau de la Maltroye Chassagne Montrachet 2015 at £140 compared to its retail price of £66, or Domaine Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux 2016 at £320 for a wine whose current market value is £110. The list was 59% French, but whoever put the list together clearly liked Portugal, as there were 14 wines from that country, more than from the USA, Germany, Hungary, Austria and Australia combined. The Portuguese choices included the prestigious Barca Velha 2008, at £600 compared to its current shop price of £538.
Back to the food. White sourdough bread was made from scratch in the kitchen but for me lacked enough of the characteristic acidity of sourdough, and was a touch dry (13/20). The best dish of the meal was a watercress risotto (15/20). This came with broad beans, Thai pickled shallots and horseradish cream. The risotto was made with Arborio rice rather than really high-end risotto rice like Acquarello’s aged carnaroli, but nonetheless had very good texture, and the stock had plenty of flavour, which is not easy to deliver when using a vegetable stock like this rather than a chicken stock. For me the horseradish flavour was a bit tentative, but the watercress came through well in a very nicely made risotto (15/20).
Chicken terrine came with baby leek, pickled shimeji mushrooms and a black truffle emulsion. The chicken itself had reasonable flavour, and the vinegar of the pickling juices of the mushrooms nicely cut through the emulsion. However the truffles (from Wiltshire) had very little flavour, and indeed if the menu hadn’t actually said this was a truffle emulsion you might well have never have guessed that black truffle was involved. Still, the terrine itself worked nicely with the leeks and mushrooms (14/20).
Fillet of beef was cooked medium rare and came with Roscoff onions, white onion puree, anchovy, salsify and bonito sauce. The beef, aged for 20 days, had nice flavour and was carefully cooked, and the white onion puree was an effective foil for the meat. Using bonito, which is a predatory fish related to tuna and often seen as sushi in Japan, in the sauce was an unusual idea, but the flavour was quite subtle and didn’t distract. Roscoff onions from Brittany are an excellent ingredient and went nicely with the beef. The salsify garnish, however, was almost raw and consequently too firm in texture (14/20).
Gloucester Old Spot pork belly came with pig head croquette and chicory marmalade, carrot, pork fat ash and sherry jus. This was a nice dish, the pork belly not overly fatty, the chicory going well with the pork and the croquette having plenty of flavour. The only problem was that the dish was sorely lacking seasoning, especially salt (14/20).
On the side, what were notionally triple cooked chips were a sorry affair, brown rather than golden, and soggy rather than crisp, as well as lacking any obvious salt. Something had clearly gone badly wrong here but the kitchen sent them out anyway, which was not a good idea. If a dish has gone awry then surely better to just admit that and offer something else rather than sending out to the customer something that is clearly problematic (8/20).
A pre dessert of strawberry sorbet and granita with Marscapone mousse and mint oil was a refreshing and enjoyable transition to dessert. The best of the desserts was rhubarb trifle with Marscapone mousse, rhubarb sorbet and a touch of ginger. The sponge had good texture and the rhubarb was excellent, not too tart, the ginger a classic and pleasing combination (15/20). Less successful was olive and orange polenta cake with burnt orange and lemon thyme sorbet. Polenta is a tricky ingredient at the best of times, and here the cake was too dry. I am not a fan of shrubbery in my desserts, but even those who are fine with such things would have struggled with the intense herbal flavour of the lemon thyme sorbet (11/20).
Service was excellent, the staff being friendly and attentive. The bill came to £112 each, albeit with wine and a couple of cocktails before the meal. If you had three courses and coffee and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might come to around £75. The Bingham has the potential to be the complete package, with its lovely riverside view, nice room and appealing menu. However the cooking tonight was troublingly inconsistent. The risotto and the rhubarb trifle were genuinely good, but other dishes were less capable, and those chips simply should never have left the kitchen. Although the prices here are not excessive by the standards of central London, they are certainly higher than the excellent Dysart nearby, and at this price point consistency should be a given. I have the impression that the kitchen may simply be understaffed, and this may account at least in part for the problem. However when a customer is paying a fairly sizeable bill then they should not have to be concerned with whatever is causing the ups and downs in the food.