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.