Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Sonny’s is an institution in Barnes, so much so that locals use it as a landmark. Everywhere in the village, people refer to other places as being ‘ on the same side as Sonny’s’ or ‘around the corner from Sonny’s’. Opposite the famous Olympic Studios, where so many of the greats, such as the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who and Queen have recorded their music, it’s been there for years and years in various different guises. In fact, some years ago I saw Mick Jagger having Sunday Lunch there with all of his children. Another time, we bumped into ex Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his beautiful wife Miriam eating dinner. It’s that sort of place, calm, discreet and popular with the local clientele who don’t make a fuss about well-known faces. Back then, it was a fine dining restaurant called just Sonny’s, but a few years ago, with culinary competition rising in the area, it was re-branded into a slightly more casual brasserie style establishment with a shorter menu, now called Sonny’s Kitchen.
To be honest, I’m not really quite persuaded that the re-branding effort was all that successful or necessary; the financial director of the company may well feel differently about this. To me it looks as busy as ever but, sadly, a smidgen less attractive. The pièce de résistance in this restaurant is it’s elegant fireplace, so, to my eye, the addition of grey and yellow kitchen type chairs, the plain wooden tables with their frenchiefied tea towel napkins and the white urinal tiles are incongruous. Instead, the money would have been better spent, in my opinion, to replace the rather 70s style glass bricks either side of the fireplace with more modern opaque windows, and the fluted milky window into the kitchen, with an open view onto the activities of the chef. And I’d have definitely have kept the pristine white tablecloths and napkins in the back part of the restaurant, while allowing for the front bar/café/ brasserie area to be more casual but what do I know? I am not, after all, a seasoned restaurateur, unlike Rebecca Mascarenhas, the owner of Sonny’s Kitchen, and her business partner, double Michelin starred chef Phil Howard.
I do welcome the cleverly conceived shorter menu. There are several dishes on it which seriously tickle my fancy. Once again, my partner in crime, my all time favourite dinner companion, is the Lovely Husband, himself a pretty amazing cook, so it’s always good to get his view on the food we eat. It’s a Friday evening and the place is packed with couples, mainly the typical local Pringle cashmere sweater and mustard cord brigade and their kitten-heeled wives, enjoying the start of their weekend. There’s a definite pre Christmassy vibe going down.
As usual, the Lovely Husband and I share a starter. This method allows for pudding space. After all, we need a little bit of sweetness in our lives, don’t we? And it’s nearly Christmas! I’m a little miffed that the sourdough bread and whipped Glastonbury butter, to be munching while we think about what we want to order, are listed at a separate cost. I’m well aware that there’s no such thing as a free piece of bread, but listing it alongside olives and salted almonds at £2.50 seems a bit mean. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound. The Cured Trout, Marinated Beetroot, Horseradish Cream and Dill Oil sounds good and looks nice but, pleasant as it is, fails to impress. The fattiness of the cured fish cries out for the zing of lemon juice, especially as the marinated beetroot has little flavour to counteract it and there’s only a little drizzle of horseradish cream.
As a main course the Lovely Husband choses Roast Haunch of Venison, Creamed Cabbage, Parsley Root and Scorched Pear, a nice wintery dish if you like creamed cabbage. I don’t, because it will always remind me of soggy school dinners, but then I’m not ordering it. His verdict is that its all a bit bland. Nice enough but not very interesting. Allowed a forkful, I agree. The meat is very good quality but the cabbage and scorched pair are nothing to write home about. Here too, contrast is missing. His side of Mixed Beans with Garlic and Shallots is one third lovely crunchy green beans but, disappointingly, two thirds floppy mangetouts, which, strictly speaking, are a pea and not a bean anyway. Oh well….
I have the Blackened Fillet of Bream, Black Rice, Winter Leaves, Crushed Butternut Squash and Pickled Walnuts. This dish is supposed to include Squid, but as this, too, is something I’m not mad about, unless it’s bread-crumbed and deep fried beyond slimey recognition (I know, I know, I’m a Luddite), I ask to have that excluded. The fish is indeed very good and cooked well, but the large mount of gloopy, inky black rice is not my thing. I expected it to be a touch more kernelly and the winter leaves are so few that they are not really worth mentioning. The crushed butternut quash with it, which I normally like very much, tastes too mushy and sweet with the fish. It would have been great with the venison, though. My accompanying spinach is a bit on the salty side. Hey ho, again. Maybe it’s just us and our likes and dislikes. Both of us like crisp tastes and lush textures and our food this evening is just a bit of a non-event, tastewise. It’s certainly not bad but it’s not particularly fabulous either.
Never mind, there’s still pud! All’s good that ends well, isn’t that so?! But here I go again….I’m just not a massive fan of icecream and with the menu listing three out of five desserts as icecream based and one other a parfait which is similar, that really just leaves a Crème Fraiche Tart with Clementine to tempt us. The Lovely Husband has just concocted a very similar delicious dessert for tomorrow’s family lunch at home, one of his specialities, so in the end we choose the unusual sounding Apple and Lovage Parfait, Blackberry and Compressed Sour Apple after all. It’s very well presented and looks very appetising but…. dare I say it….it’s kind of a bit boringly creamy….the tart and fruity blackberries are nice though.
What can I say? I loved the company, the atmosphere was both cosy and fun, the service faultless, so many of the important components were completely in place. The food, well, on this occasion and for us, that was so so. The bill at £100.68 including a bottle of wine, an Americano coffee and service charge seemed somewhat hefty, considering our level of satisfaction.
Here’s the thing: Sonny’s Kitchen can’t seem to make up its mind whether its fine dining or mid market brasserie, retro or modern, funky or middle of the road. Still, despite all this, I will probably come back again, simply because I just like the place, glass bricks, gloopy rice and all, and I’ve often eaten well here in the past. I’m hoping that this particular experience was a one off disappointment.
Sonny’s Kitchen, 94 Church Road, London SW13 0DQ, Tel.: 020 8748 0303, www.sonnyskitchen.co.uk
What I wore
Red, white and blue….:A blue and white dress of unknown pedigree, red patent Prada belt, red patent Manolo Blahnick Mary Janes, red Kurt Geiger bag.
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