Chiswick has a reputation as one of the more affluent areas of London, a leafy suburb that is financially out of reach for most of us and as a result isn’t necessarily explored as much as is should be. The actor Colin Firth was born there, and when it comes to picturing Chiswick in the mind’s eye, the Richard Curtis idealised view of London isn’t a bad comparable.
However, the place throws up all sorts of surprises. And one of those gorgeous, fabulous, marvelous surprises buried under a well-to-do, Richard-Curtis-rose-tinted veneer, is Charlotte’s Bistro.
It was a pretty miserable Wednesday when we arrived for a 12:30 lunch. We were shown into a back room that was dripping with natural light from the glass roof overhead and sat down.
First up – the bread and butter, a good first indication of the quality of the meal that’s to come. After that had been devoured I was brimming with excitement, the butter being some of the best I’ve had outside France.
Next came the cocktails. Charlotte’s Bistro, it was explained to us, has a relationship with Sipsmith, the London-based gin distillery and so they have some skills in mixing an imaginative and interesting cocktail, even a few non-alcoholic ones. Both of ours were finished at breakneck speed.
Shortly after the cocktails arrived so did some small dips and nibbles. These took the shape of some beef croquettes, a spicy tomato dip and a delicious aubergine caviar (which doesn’t contain actual caviar!) The last of these was so tasty that I insisted I be told the recipe. The next day I attempted to make it myself (some mixture of aubergine, creme fraiche, garlic and several mystery ingredients) but let me give you some advice – don’t bother; head down to Charlotte’s Bistro and insist that they give you as much as they have. It is possibly the most delicious thing I have tasted this year.
After these golden mouthfuls of heaven were taken away our meal really started. I braved the steak tartare and my fellow diner tackled the cured salmon with grapefruit. I was a little apprehensive at first – a rather embarrassing incident at a Cirque du Soleil involved steak tartare and the ingrained memory has put me off this typically French dish ever since. But this was the time to be brave, and I’m so glad I was – it was delicious. The dressing the steak was mixed with was not as overbearing as it can sometimes be and had a subtle almost sweet aspect to it. My guest was making equally positive squawks opposite me and I was assured that the salmon and grapefruit dish was nothing short of excellent.
Now comes the tricky bit. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I was somewhat pleased with how the meal was progressing. Atmos – tick. Drinks – tick. Starters and nibbles – tick. Butter – double tick. The difficulty now comes in proceeding in any more of a glowing way, when everything so far has been five over five, but I will do my best, dear reader.
I am a big fan of sea bass. If it’s on the menu, I’m going to order it. French, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican – sea bass stands up to the lot of them and emerges with a friend every time. So I’m happy to suggest that I’m a pretty good judge when it comes to sea bass, a pretty experienced taster. Charlotte’s sea bass with crushed potatoes, samphire and a creamy mussel sauce is probably one of the tastiest sea bass dishes that I’ve ever had. Ever. Full stop. No caveats. If you can stand the taste of fish – and I know some people can’t – don’t leave Charlotte’s Bistro, or Chiswick for that matter, without tasting this dish. Yes it’s classic and traditional and rich – but it’s one of the best classical, traditional and rich dishes you’re going to find in London.
Opposite me the beef bourguignon was being devoured at an incredible speed and it was only the brief distraction of an incoming phone call that allowed me to pinch a mouthful from my partner’s plate. Another fine plate of food.
I admit that at this stage I was starting to feel a little full and so we decided to share a beautiful apple crumble that finished the meal off perfectly. I should also say that throughout this wonderful meal we were waited on in a friendly but professional way that matched the excellence of the food.
Chiswick has a lot to offer. However, if I’m ever in the area, I’m heading straight to another meal at Charlotte’s Bistro.
6 Turnham Green Terrace Chiswick, London, W4 1QP