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Restaurant Review: The Bingham, Surrey

The Bingham Restaurant with Rooms
61-63 Petersham Road, Richmond Upon Thames, Surrey, TW10 6UT
020 8940 0902
Cuisine: European
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Helen Hokin: There’s nothing hushed or altar-like about the The Bingham restaurant today. It has the feel of the friendly, family-run place I discovered all those years ago.
 
It is 30 years since the Bingham Hotel in Richmond opened its doors. I discovered it some fifteen later when a career move landed me in the same town and a house, on the Petersham Road, directly opposite what was then a family-run B&B.  
 
My earliest memory of The Bingham has nothing to do with food, the secluded garden, the stunning river views, or the well-stocked bar. It’s that the owners, the Trinder family, let my visiting friends park on their hotel driveway. For free.
 
My pals and I returned the favour, whiling away weekends imbibing cold white wine on the summery balcony. From our eagle’s nest we’d watch the world pass obliviously by along the tow-path below. It might have been a budget hotel at the time, but to me it was the best-kept secret on the Thames.
 
The rest is well-told: Samantha Trinder daughter of the original owners took the helm in 2004 master-minding a metamorphosis that would take a tired Georgian townhouse from B&B to award-winning boutique ‘restaurant with rooms’ in a few short years.
 
And even though that balcony is always going to be a crowd-puller, today it’s all about the food.
 
Head Chef Mark Jarvis arrived mid-2013 with a C.V. as golden as the dining-room interiors: Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Texture and the Blueprint Cafe. He’s joined by Restaurant Manager Davide Durante (Lanesborough, BVLGARI).  A veritable dream team. On paper, at least.
 
A visit on a recent Friday confirms that the word is out. Power-lunching ladies in chic dresses fill every table in the dining-room. The Market Lunch Menu at £15 a go might have something to do with it. That and the Champagne trolley. From it we choose a glass of Thienot Brut Rose and begin to scour the a la carte lunch menu.
 
My starter of cuttlefish, gently poached, is surprisingly soft – I say that because it’s so easy to get it wrong and render it all rubbery, But this is buttery and sweet. Its ink, meanwhile, has found its way into a little mound of toothsome and slightly salty quinoa. A tender tentacle, here and there, give me something more chewable. And then a surprise ingredient: a scattering of nasturtium leaves (perhaps a trait taken from Sverisson's Texture to bring the outside in), just that little bit bitter enough to call my palate back to attention after the creamy cuttlefish.
 
My pal chooses a delicate dish of cauliflower and saffron risotto. With impressive attention to detail its fragrant curried sauce is subtly infused in white wine while a bejewelling of plump raisins are judiciously softened in earl grey tea. My mate cleans his plate.
 
Jarvis’s presentation is spare without being crassly minimal. The striking dark-coloured crockery is masculine though his cooking is so far subtle and delicate.
 
In the meantime, we’re drinking a La Contrada 100% Merlot, Guido Brivio 2007. “It’s a white wine from Ticino that behaves like a red”, we are told. I can testify it behaved very well indeed.
 
A main course of monkfish twice - we’ve ordered the same thing - arrived as attractive, bite-sized morsels of firm fish. Each one wrapped, like prizes, in Bellota ham for extra savour, to seal in the flavour and cannily keep everything mouth-wateringly juicy. Jarvis does surprise ingredients well. I’m not a huge couscous fan but this isn’t just couscous. This is Israeli couscous, dontcha know. It has a sturdier composition and nuttier flavour than the other mealy stuff. I don’t mind it at all. Jarvis brings the whole dish together with a flourish of very, very lemony, lemon puree. It all works like a dream.
 
What with the sun flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling windows (it’s the first spring-like day of the year) and the Champagne trolley being hailed like a London cab in rush hour, I’ll bet those lunching ladies are texting hither and thither to postpone afternoon schedules for the sake of another glass, a pud (Valrhona chocolate, blackberries, milk ice-cream), and to linger a while longer in this noisy, joyful space. Who wouldn’t?
 
In fact, there’s nothing hushed or altar-like about the The Bingham restaurant today. It feels a lot like the friendly, family-run place I discovered all those years ago. The food might be back on track for an award, time will tell. But here’s what I think. Right now Jarvis is cooking, obviously, with his customers in mind. Not inspectors. And it’s working.
 
Top-notch food and a relaxed vibe have to be the way forward. I hope they continue to fly in the face of stuffiness.
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