In the summer heat, in desperate need of cool air but not wanting to be shut out completely from what was a balmy evening, the riversides of fringe London seemed an obvious place to seek respite.
Rick Stein Barnes, the chosen eatery, occupies the site of the former Depot Brasserie, right on the riverfront between Barnes and Mortlake. Taken over by Stein in late 2016, the venue has had a fair refurb, with greenery draping the walls, chic furniture and an impressive conservatory-like seating area with stunning views of the Thames.
After the sweltering train journey, being greeted by a wave of the restaurant’s air con was more than a relief. I was led to a sought-after, river-view table. Beautiful though the vista was, the sun beaming through the window transcended any feeling of coolness and created a greenhouse effect. (Later, by the time I’d finished my main course, I had turned a deep shade of pink and wished I’d listened to my inner self who had counselled against the charming, but sizzling, table location.)
The modest discomfort could not detract from the food, however. The starter arrived: a plate of six large langoustines; meaty, sweet and perfectly cooked. A simple dish yet highly satisfying. Wine-wise, I’d ordered a 2013 Meurseult – duly served ice-cold. It was in lieu of the Saint-Veran I attempted to order but which wasn’t available. At £80, the Meurseult spend was more than I wanted to part with, but the wine itself was excellent owing to its typically crisp, minerally body – a classy, elegant wine to enjoy with fish. It was only my determination to drink white Burgundy that caused me to lay out that kind of money. Most other wines on the list are very fairly priced. Indeed, the wine list at Rick Stein Barnes is truly worthy of praise. Not only is it varied in an unusual sense – offering a number of offbeat whites, such as Albariño and Garganega – the mark-up has been suppressed. You can buy a good bottle of Viura, Alvarinho or Muscadet for under £35. If you dine out regularly, you will appreciate that this scenario is mould-breaking. It is the only occasion since the Palate pilgrimage to the Inn at Whitewell on which I’ve seen a list that engages the wine enthusiast while simultaneously keeping prices at a sensible level.
To follow was the much-anticipated Indonesian fish curry in its golden, saffron-heavy sauce, topped with two generous portions of sea bass and jewelled with prawns. I had never thought to put sea bass in a curry, but this was truly a triumph. Coupled with a Cornish Pilsner, Rick may have nailed the ultimate curry and pint experience.
Owing to the restaurant’s “two hour turnaround” policy (make of that what you will), I self-relocated to the outdoor seating – in Tideway Yard – for coffee and dessert. It felt much like being on a piazza of some kind, though without the ability to people watch, such is the nature of the off-street courtyard.
Additional theatre lay in two waiters immersed in a disagreement that unravelled in the courtyard for about 20 minutes
I whiled away the majority of the evening in that outside space, having the odd waiter check on me but generally being left undisturbed. So as to acquire the full 360 experience, I ended the night at the small bar area, back inside. The lighting was perfectly low and watching a sous chef assemble a large plate of sashimi lent some theatre to the evening. Additional theatre lay in two waiters immersed in a disagreement that unravelled in the courtyard for about 20 minutes. I couldn’t hold in a smile when I saw the more senior waiter conclude the disagreement with the faux-collegiate patting of his co-worker’s back – reminiscent of the unduly vigorous Trump handshake. Their exchange proves that passive aggression is not unique to office environments.
In all, south London’s dining scene has been given a boon by the presence of the inherent quality of the Rick Stein brand. I tried booking again for a subsequent Saturday night and there was no hope – a symbol of Stein’s stolen march. I wanted to hurry back because of the restaurant’s greatest asset: its wine list. Coupled with a warranted reputation for fine seafood, there is every reason to see what the fuss is about.
Tideway Yard, 125 Mortlake High Street
by C Ley