Oh là là! C’est si bon!
Little La Buvette has been tucked beside St. Mary Magdalene church in Richmond since 2004. I have passed it countless times and been charmed by its promising exterior but in all those years, have never managed to set foot inside. Richmond, just ten minutes down the road from me, is a lovely little place. Pregnant with history, of course, with its connotations of the Tudor court of Henry VIII, it’s bustling with pubs, cafes and every high street shop imaginable and right on the River Thames, but it’s also hellish to park there and, let’s face it, being in a different county, Surrey, it’s out of London. While I can happily kid myself that Barnes where I live, is in the leafy ‘outskirts’ of the metropolis, Richmond really is the burbs, isn’t it? Come on, why ever would you eat in some little French restaurant in the suburbs when there are such fabulously buzzy places right here in the big city? Seriously, je ne crois pas!
But then my irrepressable noseyness got the better of me and besides, where do you go on a gloomy early Autumn date night with your husband? Somewhere that’s not a major excursion and doesn’t involve heavy duty planning? Somewhere, where you can grab a quick but pleasant bite and be back home in time for a crash out in front of the ten o’clock news? So we tried it, that little secret hideaway right there in the centre of Richmond.
True enough, it sure is cute in that 70s French country auberge sort of way. Low ceilings, tables for two with red gingham table cloths, candlelit and intimate, it’s a throwback to those early dating days in your teens and twenties, when a dinner at a French restaurant seemed the height of sophistication and romance.
The menu is refreshingly short. Gordon Ramsay would approve! Thankfully, it doesn’t conform to the predictable. No escargots and frogs’ legs, no Croque Monsieur and no Chateaubriand to pretentiously drive home its Gallic heritage, just plain and rather well thought out French country food.
The Lovely Husband and I like to share a starter to moderate our inherent greed and on this occasion we chose a cream of garlic soup with two spoons. It was unexpectedly delicious, properly garlicky and very flavoursome, with a separate small bowl of very crispy thin deep fried spring onion rings to spinkle over the top, adding a great contrast to taste and texture. As for the copious amounts of French bread on the table, well, what can I say? Sacre bleu, it was heavenly! Crispy on the outside, spongey and perfectly chewy on the inside, the real McCoy, and just far far too good to resist! We dunked, we nibbled, we slurped to our hearts’ content. Just as well that we’ve been married for over a decade, let’s just say that the garlic whiff on our breaths was persistent for a good 24 hours afterwards but who’s complaining? The soup was so worth it and anyway, garlic is good for you!
The Lovely Husband’s main course was a wonderfully moist seabass fillet with girolles and spinach, a tasty combo, and done to perfection. My twice baked cheese soufflé, always a great tester, was light, fluffy, cheesy and just lovely with its successful pairing of autumnal wild mushrooms, the portion very generous. We could easily have stopped here, we were happy, we were sated and blissfully rubbing our tums, but you know what, a French dinner isn’t a French dinner without le fromage and le dessert now, is it?
A nice slice of creamy ripe Meaux brie with well more than just a garnish of red grapes and the most perfect little Tarte Tartin, super light on the base but marvelously caramely and appley on top, completed our culinary picture of the evening. Suffice it to say, that after paying our bill of £82.06 which included a bottle of Domaine La Bastide and an Americano coffee, and was charmingly offered with two cellophane wrapped biscuits to take home, we rolled rather than walked out of the restaurant.
At La Buvette, service is polite and efficient, the ambience casual but civilized, there’s a sweet little garden for meals al fresco and the food is glorious. What’s more, had we chosen from the Prix Fixe menu at £17.50 per head for three courses, the final bill would have been very good value indeed. What’s not to love about the burbs?! I’m on a diet now, a diet of Humble Pie!
(Apologies for the dark photos. Candle light and photography do not go well together!)