Down on the bor­der­line, it’s a bit of a grey area

The leg­endary restau­ra­teur has fi­nally come to Barnes – or is it Mort­lake? Kathryn Flett re­ports

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Eating & Drinking -

For 30-odd years, The De­pot in Tide­way Yard, Barnes (well, tech­ni­cally Mort­lake), was a muchloved lo­cal river­side brasserie. Other than the fact that it’s be­side the wa­ter, this might seem a slightly be­low-the-radar site for the first Lon­don restau­rant with Rick Stein’s name at­tached, un­til a) you re­call that Stein used to claim he’d never open in Lon­don (i.e. Mort­lake is pre­sum­ably suf­fi­ciently off the radar in deep­est SW to qual­ify), and, b) you find out that when not in Aus­tralia (where he runs a restau­rant with his sec­ond wife, Sarah), Stein lives in Chiswick, just across the river. Then there’s the fact that one of his sons is boss of the wine list while another is ex­ec­u­tive chef, so it’s more than merely a re­fit and a Steinover-ed menu for an ex­ist­ing venue. On a sunny Mon­day lunchtime in April, just a few weeks af­ter open­ing, Me and my Chap ex­ited Barnes Bridge sta­tion, am­bled a few hun­dred yards (I checked: it’s still “yards” on the Barnes/ Mort­lake Bor­ders) and en­tered Stein’s be­hind two chic el­derly ladies. We were all roundly ig­nored by the young woman work­ing front-of-house, who was star­ing in­tently at her book­ings, with a sole cus­tomer peer­ing over her shoul­der. A long minute tick-tick-ticked by. The pair in front of us were look­ing antsy; I was antsy. We moved in­ex­orably into Minute Two, still en­tirely un­ac­knowl­edged. At which point one of the Ladies said some­thing rather like: “We’re leav­ing. We’ll come back later, when you’re less busy.” Then: “Who is your man­ager?” “I’m the man­ager,” said the young woman, smil­ing, be­fore turn­ing back to her screen. Even­tu­ally, de­spite feel­ing as though my one pre­cious life­time might end right here in the marshy wastes of the Barnes/ Mort­lake Bor- ders, I let her lead us to a ta­ble for two with­out a view of the river ( be­cause all the 1pms and 1.30s got there first). Chap said he re­mem­bered he’d been here “for work” in its De­pot guise, and ad­mired “the wait­ing staff ’s aprons” (which may just be Chap-speak for “ad­mir­ing the wait­ing staff ” – I’ll source an apron to as­cer­tain his en­thu­si­asm lev­els). We were im­pressed by how busy it was. The many sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans and teenagers aside, I couldn’t re­call see­ing quite so many adults of bread­win­ning age si­mul­ta­ne­ously off-duty on a school day. Per­haps Mon­day is the new Fri­day on the Barnes/ Mort­lake Bor­ders? In which case, it was a good call, Mr Stein. I es­chewed the set menu for à la carte be­cause I wanted as­para­gus. Which gave me the op­por­tu­nity to tell Chap of a first date many years ago in which my then-suitor pro­ceeded to very care­fully con­sume his stalks, leav­ing the as­para­gus spears stacked tidily on the side of his plate (reader, I nearly mar­ried him). Given that we’d al­ready made the pis­ca­to­rial faux­pas of com­ing to a fish restau­rant on a Mon­day, I only went and chose hake alla car­lina (pan-fried with a tomato and ca­per sauce) – which was on the set menu, too. As the hake is now in its breed­ing sea­son, I was not tick­ing any sus­tain­abil­ity boxes, ei­ther. And then it ap­peared the only dif­fer­ence to the Hake on the Set was the ad­di­tion of – ex­ot­ica alert! – po­ta­toes, which didn’t ar­rive un­til I asked for them. (‘Oh, are you hav­ing the à la carte hake?’. To which the only sen­si­ble re­sponse was “Yes, I am. Like an id­iot”). The as­para­gus was fine, al­beit largely anec­do­tally. As for the hake — well, I some­times like to or­der “slightly bor­ing fish” in fish restau­rants in case they sud­denly be­come the new “sexy fish”. Ex­cept this re­ally was just bor­ing: pan-fried – a quick slap-slap on ei­ther side – with some not very ca­pery, onenote tomato driz­zle around the perime­ter. By the time the late po­ta­toes ar­rived they were grey, so I sought so­lace in a large glass of sau­vi­gnon blanc. Chap fared much bet­ter, pro­nounc­ing his Provençal fish and shell­fish soup with rouille and crou­tons de­li­cious. I had a spoon­ful and, if I were be­ing picky ( which, hov­er­ing on the Barnes/ Mort­lake Bor­ders at the time, I nec­es­sar­ily was) the flavour was not suf­fi­ciently “dirty fish” to give it a truly Provençal kick, but it was nice. Chap also liked the Stein-sta­ple In­done­sian seafood curry, re­plete with sea bass, squid and prawns, pi­lau rice and a green bean and co­conut salad with gar­lic, chilli and shal­lots. I could see he was en­joy­ing this be­cause he’d bro­ken out in a curry sweat. And then ( just be­cause) we both chose the mashed liquorice meringue with berries and choco­late mousse, which ar­rived look­ing like a Chap­man Broth­ers ver­sion of a Ve­su­vian mud­slide and was, yes, well… you guessed it. I don’t per­son­ally think “grey food” is a goer, trends-wise; and I should have stuck to my hunch that liquorice and choco­late not only don’t need each other, they don’t much like each other. We had cof­fee to erase the taste­mem­ory; then I paid up wish­ing we’d or­dered the set menu, and we left, un­ac­knowl­edged. (Chap had a view of the door through­out our meal and as­sured me the El­derly Ladies didn’t re­turn). Next day I re­ceived an email: “Thank you for vis­it­ing Rick Stein Barnes. We hope you en­joyed your meal. We would love to hear about your ex­pe­ri­ence, your feed­back helps us con­tin­u­ously im­prove our ser­vice.” Gah! If there’s one thing I hate more than bad ser­vice, Rick, it’s restau­rant (all to­gether now) spam, spam, spam, egg and spam. How­ever, since you asked…

Tide­way Yard, 125 Mort­lake High Street, Lon­don SW14 8SN 020 8878 9462; rick­stein.com

See food: Rick Stein earns plau­dits for the shell­fish soup, but not for the spam

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