Surbiton - Reviewed By Paul Blake
158 Ewell Road
Tel: 0208 3907564
of the challenges of writing a
restaurant review is knowing
quite where to pitch the praise
and quite when to pull the punch.
The problem, you see, is the big
E - Expectation. Time after time
one can sit
down to dine "knowing" that
it's going to be grand only to
find that, well
it really wasn't all that. Why?
It's that big E again.
As I type I glance down the list
of popular restaurants and I see
two that I know well (one
local to my parents, the other
nearby where I used to live) and
guarantee you won't get a "bad" meal
at either, but is the overall
experience really that good in
either? I'd say not.
"Where is all this leading?" I
hear you ask. Or perhaps that's "Get
on with it!"
Well, OK, I will.
We were taken on
this thirtieth of January to L'Esperance
new venture in an old venue it
was, until recently, a lack-lustre
before that a purveyor of musical
instruments where Clapton bought
first guitar and going back to
the 20s and 30s it was even a Waitrose.
The decor and layout is understated
with few frills but it's stylish
the boss (who seems to do absolutely
everything except cook) is friendly
and relaxed and charming.
We arrive early and
the chef is front of house and
gives us a friendly
smile as we are shown to our table,
for a while it's just us.
Before the menus
arrive there is a moment to check
out the mercifully
short specials blackboard. Things
look promising with the offer of
Bream with asparagus and crayfish,
but the menu entices more.
A little amuse bouche
of tomato and mozzarella with a
coriander, garlic and almonds,
sets the scene for an eastern-med/middle
east kind of event which is quite
at odds with the French-style menu
was a real appetizer and so I'm
just being picky.
Back to the menu
and between us we go for Cappucino
Bacon, Tarte Fine Nicoise with
Salmon and Terrine of Foie Gras
Onion Marmalade. For myself and
Mrs B the pumpkin soup was a winner,
it was so much better than just
that. It was light without being
it was big on flavour but not overloaded
by the smokiness of the bacon and
seasoned perfectly it was so good
that a little bread was required
the bowl back clean.
On to the mains and
we ordered two of the Tuna with
Sauce Vierge, one Sirloin with
onions and thyme spuds and I had
with pureed Jerusalem Artichokes
and seafood sauce. I have to say
I was a
bit nervous of "seafood sauce".
These days heaven knows what one
served in such a thing, but I needn't
It's rare that I
choose the best thing on the menu
(my wife seems
that knack, or is that just plate
envy?) but tonight I think I got
right. I had two fillets of Sea
Bass which was an unexpectedly
portion, but I ain't complaining.
The artichoke puree was almost
and with the bisque-like seafood
sauce it was absolutely delicious.
fish was cooked well too with a
good deal of browning and crisping
skin (which I love) and yet the
flesh was soft and not even close
overcooked. I snuck a bit of creamed
leek, thyme potato and sirloin
my friends' plates and nothing
negative to report there. The steak
the most fantastic char grilled
flavour but I was keen to get back
We downed a Chilean Merlot at £17.75
which was a reasonable price for
reasonable wine. The wine list
was a little disappointing, although
I'm going to be down on a French-style
bistro for be a little up on French
wines then perhaps I should hold
my tongue. Then again, I might
ordered French if the selection
had been a bit more eclectic and
run-of-the-mill. But it's a personal
For pud we tucked
into Vanilla and Armagnac Creme
smooth with a lovely crunchy top)
and a tarte tatin which was huge
well flavoured with a good bite
to the apples but the pastry was
flabby and all in all it let the
We passed on coffee
but were treated to a little glass
of the boss's
favourite dessert wine which was
a lovely touch.
Service wasn't included
and the whole meal came to a really
reasonable ninety-four quid including
The place was quiet
with fifteen covers including ourselves
left but it was, after all, a cold
Wednesday in January and the place
But herein lies the rub and the
business with the big E.
We weren't expecting
much from L'Esperance but what
we got was
a big tick from us. But, if I tell
you you've got to go and you'll
it, well maybe you'll go with the
big E on your shoulder and you'll
it's not so good. So this is my
recommendation. Go and make up
mind - but I DO recommend you go.