When I was a music obsessed teenager in the 70s I loved Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees. Appearing in the various music rags of the time they detailed the often incestuous links between bands. I may not have been too hot on much else academically at the time but I could tell you who was the link between Amen Corner, T Rex, The Strawbs and The Bee Gees (keyboard player Blue Weaver…). The connections between restaurants can be considerably more opaque than those of the rock and rollers and I’m sometimes surprised to find out who owns a slice of what.
Rebecca Mascarenhas opened Sonny ‘s in Barnes 26 years ago. Having decided that the acting game wasn’t for her she started working for serial restaurateur Bob Payton (the man who brought Deep Pie Chicago Pizza to Britain) and ended up opening local favourite Sonny’s just round the corner from where the legendary Olympic recording studios used to be.
Having been successful in one of London’s wealthiest suburbs she has since partnered up with Sam Harrison for his restaurants Sam’s and Harrison’s in Chiswick and Balham respectively (see our reviews) and subsequently with two Michelin starred chef Phil Howard (The Square) at Kitchen W8 in Kensington which has gone on to get its own Michelin star. Her latest wheeze is to partner up with Howard for a refurb and relaunch of Sonny’s as Sonny’s Kitchen as a restaurant, cafe and delicatessen which is why Fiona from London Unattached and I
here to investigate.
Barnes is never going to be edgy with its pimped up suburban homes and mansions but at Sonny’s as at Mascarenhas’ other ventures there is enough of a hint of Soho cool mixed with Notting Hill Bobo chic to make the residents feel as if they are somewhere a cut above the chain restaurants. But will the food deliver?
Head chef Tommy Boland certainly comes with good credentials. He has worked for three years at The Square with Phil Howard and before that at The George V in Paris. Things start promisingly with freshly made oregano grissini and warm crumbly white bread being brought to the table while we look at the menu.
There’s an attractive looking and very reasonably priced set lunch offer with three choices at each course (£18.50 for 3 courses, £16.50 for 2) but we opt for the a la carte which ranges from the mundane if probably necessary (pizza or burger) to more interesting sounding seasonal Modern European options.
To drink we choose a bottle of 2010 Australian Mad Fish Riesling (£30.50) that has a citrus blossom nose and a long lime finish. It drinks really well opening up in flavour during the meal.
We start with Salad of Crab (£9.50) with butter lettuce, spring onions and avocado. This was simple but delicious. The crab meat was full of flavour with the dill and spring onion not overpowering it. The lettuce leaves were sweet and complemented a perfect spring dish.
Steamed Cambridgeshire Asparagus (£9.50) with deep fried egg and herb cream was a fun concept. A deliciously runny egg smothered with the crunch of breadcrumbs and lighty deep fried spread its yolk lovingly over the asparagus; however the vegetable had been chilled and as a result had lost much of its flavour and the two contrasting temperatures felt uncomfortable together in the mouth.
Roasted Fillet of Cod (£16.50) with lardo di colonnata, peas, spring onions and lettuce was perfectly cooked. Fiona wasn’t keen on the taste of the lardo on the fish but the peas and spring onions were sweet and lovely.
Roasted Skate Wing with beurre noisette and capers (£18.50) was slightly overdone for my taste and a bit chewy but the addition of croutons and buttery spinach added value.
Good French Fries (£3.50) and spinach (£3.50) were both well executed.
Having chosen our final course the chef then surprised us with a Lemon Posset covered with a fruits of the forest sauce and a creamy baby doughnut on the side. The dessert was sweet but tart at the same time and combined with the doughnut made a great combo.
By this time we were stuffed but somehow made room for a tasty Tarte Fine of Apples with vanilla ice-cream and caramel sauce (£7.50) and then a selection of British Cheeses (Lancashire Bomb, Stilton and Tymsboro) (£10.50) which were all well kept and full of flavour.
This new breed of suburban Modern European brasseries are clearly the coming thing; their breadth of menu and contemporary styling allows them to pick up on trends quickly enough so that their core market feels that they aren’t completely out in the sticks. It also gives talented young chefs the opportunity to front their own kitchen. If the food or the service isn’t completely perfect (there was an order glitch and some over-zealous waitressing) it’s not really surprising but would I be happy to have Sonny’s Kitchen in my neighbourhood and would I use it? Well yes I would.
Disclosure: The Hedonist was a guest of Sonny’s Kitchen
I spent my first few years in Chiswick and back in the early 1960s it wasn’t a place you went to eat. There was the mysteriously named 007 Restaurant that seemed like a palace of forbidden pleasures to a young boy, and, near to where Sam’s is on the High Rd, glowing like Las Vegas in the desert stood an American style ice cream parlour called Mylos-which I was banned from because my mother had heard that ‘it wasn’t clean’.
These days with the influx of city and media money there are plenty of options to choose from. Hedone and La Trompette rule the top end and there is every mid-range chain outlet you could imagine to soak up the yummy mummy money.
Sam Harrison is a restaurateur with a mission. He is slowly building a group of Modern European Brasseries in the London suburbs delivering something more idiosyncratic and better quality than the chains can manage whilst keeping prices at a reasonable level. Having worked front of house for Rick Stein he opened Sam’s in 2005 with backing from the King of Padstow and Harrison’sin Balham more recently (see our review).
Situated in a converted paper factory the room retains its industrial character but this has been softened through the use of wood and contemporary light fittings.
There is a longish zinc bar and an area for drinking and lighter bites as well as the main restaurant. With live jazz and soul on the weekends it is positioning itself as your ideal local hangout if you want a drink, some food or entertainment. Would it deliver?
The bar features an extensive cocktail list; classics such as a Cosmopolitan, Negroni or Manhattan, long, champagne-based or virgin blends and then Sam’s favourites-mostly Martinis. Prices are around the £8 mark. I didn’t want anything too strong so went for an Aperol Spritz (£6.50). Aperol is similar to Campari but sweeter, less alcoholic and with a distinct orange flavour. Mixed with prosecco it is one of the great Italian aperitifs and on a grey day it has a definite cheering effect.
The bar menu is long and varied with small bites ranging from £1.50 for a bag of ‘brown bag’ crisps to bigger plates of food such as Ham Hock Terrine with a Celeriac Remoulade (£7.50) or a Sam’s Cheeseburger with relish and chips (£12). But my companion Fiona from London Unattached were here to lunch properly and not have a burger-it was her birthday after all.
Padron Peppers with Maldon Sea Salt
Some of the bar snacks double as small plate starters and so Fiona who had been out for a large steak the night before, chose the Padron Peppers with Maldon Sea Salt (£4.50) and the Hummus with Flatbread (£3.50). The peppers, which come from the Galician province of Padron in northern Spain, were fried in olive oil and served with good salt. It’s a simple dish that is to be found in the better tapas bars-the piquancy and occasional heat of the peppers is softened by the oil and offset by the sharpness of the salt. What is interesting is that in a little joint off the Chiswick High Rd they got it right.
Hummus with Flatbread
The hummus was also better than it needed to be. Well spiced and with enough oil to be satisfactory it had texture and that delicious earthy taste.
Maldon Rock Oysters
As I was feeling a bit jaded I went for half a dozen Maldon Rock Oysters (£2 each). Smooth textured, creamy and served with a red wine and shallot sauce, I soon got my required mineral hit helped along by a couple of glasses of a young well-rounded 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from the Morton Estate in Marlborough, NZ (£20.75 for a 500ml carafe).
Roast Cod, Buttered Leeks, Clams, Chervil Pesto
Roast Cod, Buttered Leeks, Clams, Chervil Pesto (£16) was a lovely dish. The leeks were soft and sweet and the cod fresh, firm-bodied and full of flavour and not overwhelmed by the light aniseed taste of the chervil pesto.
Roast Trout, Bacon, Pearl Barley, Monk’s Beard, Tomato Beurre Blanc
Roast Trout, Bacon, Pearl Barley, Monk’s Beard, Tomato Beurre Blanc (£14.50) was a more rustic looking plate of food- the fish had lots of flavour, the Barba di Frate (Monk’s Beard) was crisp and the barley soaked up the tomatoey beurre blanc. Perfect for a freezing spring day…
Brioche Bread and Butter Pudding
The birthday girl’s Brioche Bread and Butter Pudding (£6.50) came and went so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to taste it but she pronounced it to be excellent.
My Chocolate Tart (£6.50) with honeycomb was like a dark and sophisticated Crunchy Bar! It didn’t last long on the plate either…
To wash down our desserts we tried the two sweet wines on the menu: a punchy 2008 Sauternes Chateau Petit Vedrines from Bordeaux with notes of orange peel and citrus which matched the chocolate perfectly and a lighter pineappley 2008 Riesling Noble Rot from Seresin in Marlborough, NZ. that worked well with the bread and butter pudding.
With his small group of restaurants it doesn’t feel as if Sam Harrison is trying to reinvent the wheel, but genuinely wanting to provide what we all want-a relaxed local hangout with good food and drink, enough variety to bring us back and some entertainment on the weekend. It sounds as if it should be easy to pull off but it isn’t and he manages it. The restaurants are able to punch above their weight on the food front at a price point that is reasonable and I for one will be back.