EAST SHEEN's top (only?) gastropub recently relaunched its dining room without a Scotch egg in sight. Paul Merrett leads, one of the few chefs awarded a Michelin star in a venture which had already closed its reservations book. That was the clumsily titled ‘Interlude’, Charlotte Street, a restaurant annulled by new owners and evidently shipped to Australia (at least, that's what I fancy). He since became Head Chef at The Greenhouse, securing another star (which stayed).
Unfortunately I realised I didn’t have an appetite, sitting down at a chunky table in his restaurant/pub/seven roomed hotel, ‘The Victoria’. Having been invited late, on a whim, I had already swallowed a lavish sushi selection rinsed with seemingly unadulterated 'Azure' Sake. This surprisingly fruity, gentle potion was fermented using water drawn from the bottom of the sea.
Anyway, glancing around the underdressed, gloomily lit conservatory, next to a flue, I thought I had made the right decision to slip those slippery morsels. Deciding against a starter, I reluctantly agreed to share a steak. A cursory gnaw would keep up appearances with my distended-bellied friends. However their Oak Smoked Eel Fillet flirted with me, forcing me to eagerly fork it. My gluttony revealed a fatty, firm, wispily smoky water snake. Far from slimy, it was knitted between a firm, malic Caramelised Apple base and a leafy toupé. This was bathed in a dew of Basil and Apple dressing. A skeletal membrane of Treacle Cured Bacon clung to the stack like petrified lightening.
We chose a bottle of Condrieu, ‘Les Ravines’ ’06 (by Remi and former banker father, Robert Niero) from a clear, bright list authored by wine democratiser, Olly Smith. His description: ‘luxurious and delicious in equal measure … apricots, cream and verve. A stunning tipple, a real treat and a glimpse into the heights of truly fine wine.’ Also yielding, supple, fresh and balanced. Unfortunately the lights were so low, my friend kept missing aim for the cooler, causing an almighty clang. An unconventional dinner gong.
Appetite somehow whet, I was now primed to part the Beef Rib Cutlet from the bone. Between four of us, we shared two of these chunky monkeys, one rare, the other medium (a rather fun test). Béarnaise was lush. Beans were al dente (someone really lavished care on those greens). The delightfully tangy Bordelaise sauce was strict. Dauphinoise potatoes had a figure, never collapsing into the territory of the promiscuously creamy.
I preferred the rare meat, cooked to perfection with glycerous fatty sides and cushily rested. The actual ingredient somehow tasted hollow, however, like it had been thoroughly washed. It was certainly under-salted. Whilst cutting a path through, a smell suggesting incinerated fly distracted us. The culprit: watercress fronds overlapping a very low candle.
Triple cooked chips (see how this is done) were epic, which is what I told chef after service. Rough hewn with crunchy, bronzed skins enveloping ethereally soft centres.
A bottle of Château Leoville Barton ’90, brought along, surrendered a little honey. A bottle from a recession year uncorked in yet another. Refreshing, precise and beautifully angular, it was so smart it could have carried a limousine’s insignia. Filigree tannins gave way to a very long aftertaste.
A thoughtful cheese plate stocked by Premier Cheese was adorned with radishes, lithe Pinot Noir jelly, a miniature jar of onion marmalade and English quince, although it was not clear which marriages should work. And it all got rather complicated.
Apart from the under-seasoned meat and aloof dining room décor (the wallpaper in the loos was far more glamorous) The Victoria is cutting some style. It might seem a dicey time to relaunch. However a peak at upmystreet.com reveals the average wage of locals approaches £700/week. Jesus Maria. Combine this statistic with the absence of discernible competition and an overwhelming friendliness towards children (viz. the kids area, where: ‘the gastronomes of tomorrow can swing and climb…’) and the sun should continue to shine in Sheen on Merret’s latest playground...The Victoria Hotel - 10 West Temple Sheen, London SW14 7RT. T. 020 8876 4238
Nearest Station: Mortlake