In Barnes, on the corner of the High Street and Lonsdale Road, sits a prime piece of river fronted real estate. It’s an attractively refurbished, gracious period property with big arched windows and a full width cast iron balcony offering one of the best views in London right across the Thames and on to the copses and meadows of Chiswick beyond.
For quite a few years, this stunning building housed Italian chain restaurant Strada. When it slowly went downhill and then closed, it lay sadly vacant for some time, it’s darkened windows staring out forlornly at the water. Imagine the locals’ excitement when a rumour surfaced that a renowned property developer had bought the site, a big name in the restaurant business with such strings as Zuma, Roka and Zafferano to his bow, and was working with one of London’s top chefs to open a smart but relaxed French restaurant there called Edith’s. With Rick Stein’s just down the road, the famous Riva close by and a host of other lovely restaurants dotted in between, Barnes was set to feature big time on London’s culinary map. Alas, it never happened and nobody seems to know why not.
Still, the light at the end of the tunnel came this October in the form of the Barnes Eatery and its chef Boni Odhiambo, a former head chef at Hix Restaurants, which, after all, promised quite something!
The Barnes Eatery is spread over ground and first floor, the upper floor being the one with the spectacular river view. Outside sports a jaunty mint green and pale lavender colour scheme, but inside it is almost uniformly brown, brown wooden floor, brown wooden tables and chairs, brown leather armchairs, even some brown walls, with just a little pale lavender wood panelling here and there and the odd more funky than good colourful artwork to break it up. To my taste, it’s not particularly attractive but it’s certainly not offensive either, overall more ale house looking than anything else. It reminds me just a little bit of the railway station diners of my childhood but as the place fills up, the atmosphere improves, and that sense of anonymity and farewells gradually segues into one of jollity and cosiness.
Our table for two, by a large window, overlooks not the river but the mini roundabout and the funeral parlour opposite, but once our bottle of wine arrives alongside a bowl of savoury popcorn, we settle in nicely for the duration.
With a name like Barnes Eatery, you could be forgiven for thinking that this establishment is all about eating and food, so it seems strange that the menu lists just 12 different choices, the first five, we’re told, are smaller portions to graze on, the seven remaining, more substantial. Almost half the choices on offer are cold, which doesn’t really ring my bell tremendously on a chilly November night. Five options feature cheese, mostly of the melted kind. Several would look quite at home on a childrens’ menu. Or, for that matter, in a railway diner. Whoever put this menu together doesn’t seem to have thought it through very well. It lacks all imagination. The discerning and, yes, dare I say it, gastronomically spoilt people of Barnes can get more adventurous fare at the bar of most of the local pubs.
I have, what is commonly known as, one hell of a stinker of a cold. The horrors of Halloween seem to be playing havoc in my sinuses and my nose won’t stop commemorating Guy Fawkes with its very own version of explosions, so I had intended to stay off the dairy products to not aggravate things further but, fact is, if I want to eat here in that grazing, sharing kind of way, I’m going to have to loosen up (forgive the pun) at bit. As a starter, the Root Vegetable Salad with Capers seems nigh perfect for me. Hopefully it will be winter spiced, warming and comforting. It’s not. Barely warm, it is undercooked, boasts three capers and zero flavour. And it’s brown.
Perhaps my Smoked Quinoa with Baby Spinach, Wild Mushroom and Confit Shallots will be more palatable? It’s not. The extremely oily spinach is more teenage than baby and it covers a completely tasteless, grainy pile of quinoa, which could be endlessly improved with just a squirt of lemon, perhaps, or anything really, to give it some oomph. Two mouthfuls and I’ve had enough. This too, is greeny brown.
The Lovely Husband chooses the Crispy Cornish Brie with Cranberry Sauce. I’m thinking this will be a lovely runny cheese baked in its box with some delectable bread to dip into it. Silly me. Instead it comes as three breaded deep fried triangles of rubbery flavourless cheese sitting in a somewhat watery cranberry coulis. The breadcrumbs aren’t even crunchy. Another brown dish with just a hint of red for cheer.
Surely the Spicy Chicken Bites with Paprika Mayo will give some joy? We’re expecting something along the lines of chicken satay, something marinated, tender and interesting. They turn out to be the type of processed chicken nuggets my children rejected from the age of seven, again deep fried in breadcrumbs, which, like the brie, have no crunch at all. The mayo is just mayo but vaguely pink. Guess what? The nuggets are brown.
Our extra order of chips with ketchup is nice, so it is. By now we are almost surprised by that.
Our pretty, super friendly, super smiley waitress bounds up to us and asks how we’re enjoying our meal. We tell her politely. She looks perturbed and promises to pass our comments on to the management. Then her face lights up and she enthusiastically recommends the Barnes Eatery desserts which are, so she says, amazing. I almost get the feeling that they may be ‘on the house’ to make up for our less than thrilling dinner.
Christine’s Warm Carrot Cake is delicious, brown it may be, but it’s also moist and spongey with lots of finely shredded carrot on top . Shame there’s not a dollop of crème fraîche or ice cream to smoothly ease its way into our gullets. The Fried Custard with Lemon Curd and Berries is very yummy indeed, with the tart berries and coulis offering a scrumptious counterbalance to the lemony deep fried (again!) blobs of vanillary custard. Without a shadow of a doubt, this last dish has been the highlight of our experience at the Barnes Eatery. And, lo and behold, it’s not brown!
All the food is served on vintage blue rimmed white enamel dishes. I’m normally very fond of them, except that in this context they rather bring to mind prison fodder. Not that I would know, you understand!
After our shared Americano coffee from a very thick rimmed cup, we ask for the bill, which comes to £65, including our bottle of wine. Pricewise that’s not bad if only the food had been more enjoyable. There’s certainly nothing ‘on the house’ as a conciliatory gesture and two of our choices are listed wrongly, but as they’re the same price, it doesn’t make a difference.
I am never happy to give a bad review, and especially not to a business which has newly opened. After all, someone has poured all their heart and every waking minute into their brave new venture and that’s deserving of respect, whatever the outcome. Let’s put this experience down to early teething problems and hope the management reconsider the menu to offer more balance and variety, that they improve the quality and taste of the food, and that they update the general look of their eatery to reflect their glorious location. Out there it’s all about eat or be eaten.
Barnes Eatery, 375 Lonsdale Road, London SW13 9PY. Tel.: 020 8876 8877, www.barneseatery.com
What I wore
Pale grey Club Monaco tunic jumper with ribboned sleeves, pale cream Paige skinny jeans, pink suede Manolo Blahnik lace up ankle boots, Etoupe Hermes Birkin bag, custom painted by artist Boyarde Messenger, pale pink Zara coat.
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