23 June 2012
Set upon the banks of the Thames in very well to do Richmond The Bingham is a classic old style British Hotel, I was expecting a grumpy major reading the Daily Telegraph by the fire, posh ladies in hats preparing for a favourite niece’s wedding and mature gents in Jags on ‘business trips’ with younger ladies going under the name of Mr and Mrs Smith. What I actually got was a well designed, but not too modern space, formal but friendly staff in smart green uniforms and a classy but very understated restaurant.
It was a Saturday lunch for four old friends meeting up after travels abroad, a sober lunch, not a massive celebratory blow out. Two of the party are, ahem, pescatarians, yes, ‘meat is murder and fish is justifiable homicide’ (thank you Jeremy Hardy), but The Bingham’s menu was easily capable of dealing with these two.
Before the mains came a little amuse bouche of parmesan custard sitting under a white tomato foam - I’m not sure if you can get white tomatoes, so heaven knows how they made it. Cheese and tomato, savoury custard, savoury fruit. There were a lot of these intriguing combinations in this meal.
The deal is a set three course lunch for £19.50 - total bargain, but we went for the three course a la carte at £45 and between the four of us we more or less had everything on the menu. Starters consisted of smoked butter risotto with lobster, poached quail with asparagus and quail ravioli, confit of sea trout with cucumber and scallops and I had braised turbot with a shrimp and pork dumpling swimming in a little sea of pork and seaweed consommé. If I was to pick holes there was no need for the addition of raw mushroom which served no purpose and brought nothing to the party. The presentation of all the dishes was immaculate, clean, pretty and springlike. The flavours were magnificent, light, subtle and well balanced.
Mains for the pesky pescatarians were Cornish Stone Bass with clams and artichoke and roast Scottish halibut with samphire, garlic and a razor clam both again so very well presented and extremely well received. My Mrs. had English rose veal with ox cheek, the latter being intense and tender, the former being a bit too big and, for me, a bit too pink. I had to have confit suckling pig, I see the pig, I have to have it. It came with a turnip fondants, the crisp bite of which set off the fatty pork and there was the most delicate layer of crispy crackling, showing real skill in the kitchen.
Puddings were honeycomb rice pudding with pears and cinnamon custard squeezed into a chocolate, a bit much for me but very stylish nonetheless. I had a hazelnut sponge which came with a caramel mousse and a blackberry and hibiscus sorbet, acidity and sweetness well balanced. The dark chocolate marquis was not nearly dark enough. The Mrs had - get this, a lemon cheesecake, with port jelly, candied walnuts, poached apple and celery sorbet. See what they did there? Yes, no need for the cheeseboard, it’s all in this pud. The celery sorbet was a thing of beauty.
With a bottle of wine, a drink each to start and service it came to just over £270 and at about £70 a head for this kind of grub I am extremely happy. I have eaten at many a one star place which has failed to deliver this standard of cooking and service, this is top notch and top value eating. Chef Shay Cooper should be proud of his team and perhaps stop being quite so understated.