Down by the Riverside
My family history is inextricably bound to Old Father Thames. My maiden name is firmly linked to not just the famous university but just as much to the rough boatmen and river gypsies of 16th century Oxford. Only later as the Bossoms (yes, I know! You try making a hairdressing appointment with that name!!) made their way down the river via Twickenham, Richmond and eventually right into Westminster, did they acquire more and more respectability. For the last thirty years and after a childhood and adolescence of moving around the world, I have found my way back to my family roots, so to speak, and settled in the area of Mortlake and Barnes, far enough from Oxford to have acquired literacy and far enough from Westminster to have maintained truth. I’m only joking, of course, in fact, they call this area ‘Little Hollywood’ these days, on account of the TV and film persons who have homes here, although aside from a few impressive mansions, it is mainly an area of Victorian Railway cottages, mews type houses and picture-book dinkyness. Here, we still have the butcher, the baker and yes, even the candlestick maker, as well as the grocer, the cobbler, the fishmonger, the artisan cheese shop, the Saturday farmers’ market, a gazillion cute cafes, countless estate agents and nail salons and, the highlight of it all, a village pond with ducks and geese and a sweet little pub beside it. All this on the shores of the mighty Thames between Hammersmith Bridge and Chiswick Bridge.
At one time, I lived in a penthouse apartment on top of an old industrial warehouse type building directly on the river not far from the Stag brewery. The apartment had 16 windows overlooking the water and no matter where you were inside it, whether in the kitchen or in the bath tub, in bed or on the sitting room sofa, you saw the expanse of the river and the meadows beyond, with the city lights twinkling in the distance to the East. I saw nothing but beauty in this vista. My little daughter, then a chubby, dimply kneed kindergartner saw nothing but pollution, plastic bags and mess in the water and on the pebbly beach outside the house, and was moved to organise a small clear up troupe of likeminded little girls and their mothers. My son, barely a year older, a phenomenally lively elfin child with huge innocent blue eyes and already a mildly eccentric streak, saw dead bodies in every piece of flotsam and jetsam floating down the river and took it upon himself to telephone the police rather too frequently, so that I was soon on first name terms with the local bobby. Only years later did I learn that, in fact, rather gruesomely, a dead body floats somewhere down the Thames on average once a week…..
The old building we lived in back then has an interesting history. A pub from the early 19th century until the 1940s called ‘The Queen’s Head Hotel’, it is built on the site of the astrologer, ambassador and possibly spy of Elizabeth I, John Dee, also a famed alchemist, right next to where the old Mortlake Tapestry Works used to be in the early 17th century. Rumour has it that a secret passage leads from there to the church opposite. You can believe me when I tell you that my children left no stone unturned to find this secret passage but alas, without any success whatsoever!
Mortlake in the 1980s was the sleepy step-sister of smart Barnes. It was only just becoming mildly yuppified, house prices were very much lower than in SW13 and nothing much went on there, apart from once a year, when it was, as it still is, the finishing post for the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. All this changed when in 1986 The Depot Restaurant and Bar opened in the then new all cobbled Tideway Yard development just about 200 steps from where we lived, and also right on the river. West End sophistication had hit Mortlake.
I remember well going there in the very early days. Almost half the size it is now, it already had those big lightfilled windows on to the Thames, parquet flooring and scrubbed pine tables, a vaguely rowing club theme and classical music in the background. The serving crew were mostly young attractive and fresh faced Aussies, girls and boys, wearing turquoise polo shirts and injecting a sense of antipodean fun into procedings. Best of all, for many many years it had one of those old fashioned amusement arcade type of machines which, after you’ve thrown a coin into its slot, might or might not grab a toy or sweetie and deliver it to you. Endless cheap fun for my little anklebiters while I could drink a welcome cappuccino or a nice glass of wine and enjoy a bite of something delicious!
Much time has passed since then. The anklebiters are now well and truly grown and working on having some of their own and The Depot has expanded to twice its former size, no longer has the ‘grabber’ machine and has changed hands several times. Mortlake has smartened up and, in the process, has become much more upmarket and somewhere along the line, I moved to a house even closer to The Depot.
Having moved back to this area after a two year stint abroad with the lovely husband, we relished the idea of escaping our current daily chore of tea chest unpacking and seized the opportunity to invite our newlyweds, my daughter and her husband, to supper at The Depot. When I booked, I’d begged for a window table. These are not normally bookable but the efficient young lady who takes the bookings kindly ‘made a note’, so we found ourselves at a table for four with a glorious view across a sunset tinged pink Thames or,as The Depot likes to call it, the Barnes Riviera.
First things first, a nicely chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc and the always dangerously fabulous Depot bread basket set the evening off in just the right tone. Normally, it’s the walnut and raisin bread that has me on my knees but this time we had to make do with the almost equally scrumptious olive bread. Ah and then the menu, ever changing with the seasons but always retaining those special favourites. The choice, the choice! There are always so many different things I lust after on it but having recently indulged in rather too many welcome home dinners, I was hoping to keep my conscience clear and my waistline trim on this occasion….
So, feeling saintly, I ordered a Baby Spinach Salad to share with the lovely husband, and vaguely boring as it may sound, it was wonderfully tasty and fresh with avocado, roast aubergine pieces, sundried tomatoes, spiced breadcrumbs and Dolcelatte crumbles. Our young ones, equally health and calorie conscious, similarly both chose a Greek Salad from the set menu, which, apart from the usual, also had water melon in the mix accompanied by pitta bread, hummus and tzatziki and which they liked. The slow roast pulled Clwydian Vale lamb shoulder burgers with French fries, tomato, cumin & chilli jam, also from the set menu, went down a storm with the men and I can certainly vouch for the chips I pinched! My daughter, a great lover of old fashioned nursery food, hugely enjoyed her fish cake with poached egg and hollandaise on the side and it certainly looked most enticing. After my generous approach to the initial bread offering, I thought I’d go slow on the carbs and ordered Carpaccio of Yellow Fin Tuna with ginger and soy dressing which was fresh and fabulous. Then our good intentions went somewhat to pot and between the four of us, we shared a crème Catalan and a pain de Genes, a French almond tart, with vanilla ice cream and cherries, both from the three course set menu, as pudding. Both were nice, if not overwhelmingly memorable. All in all, it was a most enjoyable light meal and at just under £120 including an optional gratuity, a bottle of wine and two Americanos, not bank breaking either.
The ambiance at The Depot is pretty unbeatable on a warm summer’s evening, always buzzy and the service tip top. But to me, summer or winter, breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, The Depot Brasserie has always offered up a relaxed and attractive environment with very palatable food of interesting flavour combinations, fresh and well prepared. To my family and me, it speaks of home and life, watching the eternal river flow towards the East, the life blood of London.