Fine dining. Remember that? Once upon a time if you wanted to treat yourself you’d find the fanciest restaurant you could afford, ideally one where waiters remove crumbs from the tables with little silver scrapers and every dish has artful drips of sauce painstakingly painted on the square, semi-opaque glass plate.
Then recession happened and the restaurant industry changed beyond all recognition. No bookings, utilitarian furniture, all-day casual dining. These days people get more excited about deep fried hot dogs than fine dining. Tell someone you went to the Gilbert Scott and you get a shrug. Tell them you went to Spuntino and they’re all like “OMG I went there last week it was totes nomtastic and it’s staffed by rockabillies they have a secret burger and there’s crack dealers outside”.
One sunday Mrs MBFBY? and I decided we wanted a bit of a fancy meal. No factory lighting, mismatched cutlery or enamel mugs of popcorn. Shocking news - MBFBY? is a resident of Surbiton. I know, food blogger law states you must live in South East London, but I’m a maverick. Lovely place that it is, culinary pickings in the Surb aren’t too rich (aside from the excellent Sarab and a smattering of chains and curry houses). There is diamond in the well-manicured suburban rough, however - The French Table. It’s been serving high-end modern French/Mediterranean cuisine in a neighbourhood setting for over 10 years now, and has even been on the telly with that chef who likes to say ‘FUCK’ a lot. It’s certainly not ‘this little place I know’ - they’ve been doing serious food to serious acclaim in recent years.
They had a table for us so we ambled down there (it was Sunday - one ‘ambles’ on a Sunday. Maybe you even ‘promenade’ if you’re feeling chipper). It’s a tasteful, if somewhat neutral room. Mirrors on the walls, comfy seats, plenty of natural light. They’ve made good use of a small room. The place is crammed with exactly the sort of people you’d expect to see in a fancy restaurant in Surbiton. I’d even put on my terracotta chinos and brogues for the occasion. Imagine that! Dressing up for a meal in 2012! You feel like you need to get a facial tattoo to feel comfortable eating in some places these days.
We started with some decent cocktails and decided we were going for 3 courses on the set menu at a very reasonable £26.50. To start I had the fancy-pants sounding ‘grilled cuttle fish with potato and raclette cheese salad, lobster froth’. It was an impressive looking dish. I do like a bit of froth. The cuttlefish was tender and bouncy, the lobster flavour binding everything together without overpowering any individual ingredient. The cheese cut through it all occasionally adding a bit of chewiness. Overall, a rich, tasty starter. Very enjoyable indeed.
Mrs MBFBY? had the ‘chicken liver parfait rolled in four spice with toasted brioche’ which she described as “delightful.” I had a nibble too and can confirm it is indeed delightful.
For main I had the ‘Panaché of fish and scallops with potato gnocchi, crispy samphire and basil sauce’. You know you’re in fine-dining territory when the word ‘panaché’ is being employed. This was, as we say in the north, ‘reet proper good, like’. Juicy fish (cod I think) with scallops, tempura-style samphire and some very, very good gnocci. All swimming in a delicious, buttery basil sauce.
Mrs MBFBY? had the ‘Mille-feuille of sea bream with grilled vegetables, tapenade and beurre blanc’ Look at that. That’s fine-dining turned up to 11. It even comes on a slate. Mrs MBFBY? said it was ‘marvellous’. I tried some. It was.
Dessert was a nutty chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. Sounds simple and it was, but it was executed incredibly well. A dirty great brownie with some creamy home-made ice cream made by people who know what they are doing (they have a bakery next door called The French Tarte).
Mrs MBFBY? had the impressive-looking ‘rhubarb soup with île flottante, crispy nuts and peach sorbet’. More fine-dining stacking. Lovely. She said it was ‘bloody good’. Indeed it was.
The only thing I’d mark The French Table down on was the service. It was slow, drinks took a while and annoyingly when the sommelier told us they were out of the wine we wanted he recommended one which was more than double the price of the original bottle, which meant us awkwardly having to point out we didn’t want to spend that much. A good sommelier should never make you feel awkward for not wanting to spend 70 quid on a bottle of wine.
Overall though we had a grand old time at the French Table on that Sunday afternoon. It was a proper high-calorie fine-dining workout, hop on the train to the ‘burbs and check it out (we’re only 17 mins from Waterloo, you know). The kitchen kept surprising us with inventive dishes that were always more than the sum of their parts - but maintaining a level of simplicity that kept their feet on the ground. It’s impossible to talk about this kind of food without sounding like a wanker, I hope I haven’t disappointed you. It’s also impossible to write an article about Surbiton without predictably mentioning ‘The Good Life’. DAMN. See? Impossible.
MBFBY? was NOT invited to review this restaurant.
The French Table
85 Maple Rd