A Chinese restaurateur friend of mine once commented that restaurants have to try that much harder outside of central London to attract customers. 'Standards have to be a whole level higher,' he lamented. 'Can you qualify that?' I retorted. And that experience was that his sister restaurant perched in a rather pungent part of Soho didn't have to move past auto pilot because of the heavy footfall of tourists. The same tourists would be flicking through their holiday memories on wide screen back in Osaka or Oregon a week later. Just being open for business, rather than making an impression (for repeat business) was the point.
What irked my friend was the amount of full throttle effort he had to put into his 'zone 3' restaurant just to keep things afloat. I think others would say, if you're outside the action you have to chose your location and price point carefully. This dovetails with my experience at Charlotte's Bistro in Chiswick (sister restaurant of Charlotte's in Ealing).
Located on Turnham Green Terrace in a row of understated shop fronts where west London filters into Surrey, the Bistro's narrow facade belies a deep, engaging and expansive interior. A lower level bar area has an ordered row of seating for those wishing to snack and the upper level takes you to the main action - a multi sensory, experience of conservatory skylight flooding in by day and creating a lowlight dusky softness in the evening. The restaurant is deep yet narrow. In order for service to be mobile and efficient and customers to be relaxed and unconfined there are no white table cloths or embellishments. It's thoughtfully designed. Surfaces are a mix of wood and an undulating ceramic wave formation on the wall. The environment feels modern, yet natural, ordered yet easy. I can see the extra mile has been walked here.
Lively, informal lower level bar area
'All very well' I can hear you say 'but do these standards translate to the food?' In a word, yes. And it's quite an emphatic yes. Talented Head Chef Wesley Smalley has enjoyed an international life. His impressive cv takes in the Far East, Europe and Australia. There is certainly a Pan Asian feel to his cuisine.
Head Chef Wesley Smalley. Restaurant interior
Charlotte's Bistro have their reality hat on and have grounded prices at a very reasonable average of £7 starters and £16 main courses.
Wesley also knows how far to go with his menu. There's something here for everyone. Take the starter menu, from which we selected the decidedly left field Pollock Carpaccio, Gooseberry & Ginger Dressing, White Asparagus and Black Aubergine Oil. A delicate combination of white and slight cuts almost invicible on the plate. No, not everyone's cup of tea but a brave and exciting addition. We also went mainstream and opted for a solid favourite in the chunkily delicious, lightly Smoked Salmon “Mi-Cuit”, Beetroot, Pickled Cucumber, Lemon and Caviar. If only beetroot had tasted like this at school! Great meaty flavours in the salmon too.
For the main course the Lamb Rump & Sweetbreads, Garlic Purée, Fève Beans, Tomato, Apple Mint was a treat and extremely popular, the waiter informed me. Again the carefully selected and beautifully presented combinations made sense on the tongue, confirming the tantalising promise of the menu print.
We finished with Nougat Praline Parfait. Pistachio Crumble. Brandy Soaked Warm Chocolate Madeleine. Quite an audacious combination but one which delivered on sweetness, texture, presentation and expectation. Added to that the icy freshness of a raspberry sorbet that sat on a crackling caramelised lid which we penetrated to reveal a smooth, creamy brulee was a journey I'd like to repeat.
Clean, uncluttered interior styling
It would be wrong not to mention the service. It was speedy and visible at the right times. The impressive French manageress had things working seamlessly in a calm and assured way.
The locals are lucky. For the rest of us we just have to make the journey, but it's well worth the inconvenience. Recommended.
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