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Monday, March 16, 2009

LA BUVETTE: REFRESHING RICHMOND










I last visited Richmond about ten years ago. I’d had a couple of drinks and a meal with friends and then went back to the station to get a taxi home. It was a Saturday night and to say the centre of Richmond was a bit of a war zone was an understatement. It was like one of those reality programs about Boozy Britain. Only worse.

The main drag became an impromptu football pitch, blokes were involved in random skirmishes, girls were either crying or barfing. All great fun, especially if you were a twenty-something larger lout but for someone as urbane as myself somewhat unedifying. Naturally, I came through the maelstrom unscathed – when you hit forty you become invisible to the youth.

If anything Richmond has become even more chav central during the intervening years with a dreary selection of chains and populated by dull-eyed, mouth-breathers, presumably just in from neighbouring Feltham or Hounslow on the shoplifter special. And if you’ve got a car you’ll feel right at home here, there’s hundreds of them, all tail-backed in a ring around the centre.

Slap-bang in the middle of all this ugliness, a little like Stott Hall Farm between the lanes of the M62, is a little island of calm and loveliness. Like L’Absinthe which I visited a few weeks ago, La Buvette is a small but perfectly formed French-style Bistrot.

I say French-style because I have no idea what real French Bistrots are like these days, but the menu was written in a sort Franglais and the attractive, blond waitresses sounded French, which was good enough for me (especially, the French waitresses bit).

When dining out you can encounter two types of menu. There’s the menu where your choices become an exercise in damage limitation i.e. what’s the least grim-sounding dish. Then there’s the menu where one is tempted to order extra dishes just because everything sounds so good.

Happily, La Buvette’s menu fell into the latter camp. Having said that, I had to resist the urge to over-order. Maintaining a body like mine in peak condition sometimes requires sacrifices. However, half a bottle of Champagne and some baguette to nibble on provided some compensation.

They operate a Prix Fixe at all mealtimes which seems quite cheap but you do have to factor in the 12.5% service, the odd supplement and the fact you’ll probably want a glass of wine or two which can push the bill up a bit. Mind you, with cooking this good I think it’s still good value.

A salad of Frisée with Lardons and a Poached Egg was indicative of the style of cooking here: simple but very well executed. If I was making this at home I would be tempted to pile on extra ingredients like, say Black Pudding or Croutons, but they got it absolutely spot-on here and the combination of good bacon, accurately dressed leaves (I can never get my dressings to taste like this) and a perfectly cooked egg was a killer.

Onglet could have done with a tad more of a char but was nevertheless cooked properly rare and was dense and very meaty. A Mache and Shallot salad had, yet another well-judged dressing. Chips tasted brought-in but were nicely cooked. As classic a French bistrot dish as you’re going to get, I’d wager.

The Almond Ice Cream had a taste which reminded me of a solid version of Amaretto with Ice. If you’re a fan of the liqueur then you’d love this. The texture was pretty much perfect.

A double Espresso wasn’t much cop and the PFs were a little sugary (aren’t they always ?) but these were minor quibbles considering all the good stuff that had gone before.

The restaurant has apparently been open for about five years so it’s not much of a secret and on my visit was full of locals, mostly an older bunch, and a few families, all thoroughly enjoying themselves – as did I. Like L’Absinthe, it’s probably not worth crossing London to get to but I suspect its existence means there’s probably a similar little joint very near to you. If it’s anything like La Buvette go there now. Places like this deserve to survive.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steak again! What a surprise.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:56:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

I know. Great isn't it ?

HP

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 8:43:00 am  
Anonymous K.Lewis said...

What did you have to do to that waitress to get the steak...it's not on the menu!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 8:58:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Just one of the many benefits of being an Hermano...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:55:00 am  
Anonymous B.Granger said...

K.Lewis...I am sure H1 just showed her the size of his blog!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 1:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Harters said...

Good to see you out in the sticks, HP.

I visit the Richmond area once or twice a year (research at the nearby National Archives) and have this place on my list of places to try. I had "gone off" the idea of French though after a very disappointing meal at Chez Lindsay which is pretty much round the corner on Hill Rise. I'll move it up the list now for next time. Thanks.

John

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 1:55:00 pm  
Blogger Gill the Painter said...

that place looks so familiar.
either it used to be a den of innicutie, den of inoc ........... seedy dive

or it was the Refectory
where you could get milky tea and cakes.

Good review.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 3:58:00 pm  
Blogger Anne said...

A pretty accurate description of Richmond!

Food sounds good there, is not far from me so will try it some time :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 5:33:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Richmond in common with many town centres has taken the corporate shilling and the result is somewhere indistinguishable from any other high street in the country.

The next phase is where when things get a bit tough: rates go up, custom goes down. The chains will move out and the independents won't be able to afford to move back in.

Mind you, you'll probably have a good range of mobile phone shops to choose from.

HP

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:04:00 pm  
Anonymous J.Grant said...

Isn't Richmond run by the loony left?I think their council tax is based on how much meat you eat,and car parking fees on what type of car you drive,and so on...
while missing the boat entirely on the the chav,sholifting,etc elements that permeate the town centre.

Thursday, March 19, 2009 9:31:00 am  
Blogger Gill the Painter said...

It used to be run by bed wetting liberals when I was there J Grant.

If the high street chains are out, Richmond might get the fish market back!
Whoop whoop.

Thursday, March 19, 2009 5:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Harters said...

Finally got there this week. Fish soup; the onglet as HP and a slice of Brie. A none too shabby dinner.

Owner gets some of his meat from Donald Russell - always a good sign. I was very tempted by a cote de boeuf but that was going to be twenty seven quid inc. a starter.

Nice to this place Good Food Guide listed.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 6:18:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've just booked to go here on saturday night for my wedding anniversary, fingers crossed for a lovely evening. thanks for your review, sounds v promising. it also got a 9/10 from matthew norman in the guardian which goes a long way in my book!! cheers. jon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 1:31:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Hello Jon,

I'm sure you'll have a great time but I did write this post almost 18 months ago. A lot can change in that time!

Cheers

Robin

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 8:53:00 pm  

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