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Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Surprise upon surprise at Sonny’s Kitchen, Barnes

Words and Photography by Su-Lin Ong

They’re a very talented lot at Sonny’s Kitchen.  Head Chef Tommy Boland is pretty hot on the bagpipes, and a former waiter Stephen Gillatt became a fine artist, whose cheeky cheery work adorns a wall of this gem of a restaurant in south west London.  Well, there’s much, much more to this local.

Opened nearly 30 years ago by Rebecca Mascarenhas, it is now co-owned by chef Philip Howard.  Both are long-standing residents of Barnes, and you can tell from their warmth that they’re used to welcoming local once-a-week regulars.  With a clutch of Michelin starred restaurant siblings within their individual ownership – The Square, The Ledbury, Kitchen W8 – plus other venues, Sonny’s Kitchen inspires with high expectations.  In 2012, it transformed into a fresh face on this high street catwalk of chic boutiques and now combines a sleek dining room, cocktail bar and boutique grocer.  

It’s been a fickle day - snow blizzards, sleet and wet snow, interspersed by bright, warm Spring sunshine.  It makes you indecisive about where to go and what to eat.  The evening temperature plummets and the fire in the dining room is blazing.  Though minimalist in design, the chairs are super-comfy, and the heavy rattail cutlery already wins me over.  The detail of the interior gets your eyes darting to all corners.  You need to pass the cocktail bar tables, and go deep inside to get the real aura.

Our menu is full of crafted promise, but what we don’t know at the start is how much more of an adventure is to come.  The dinner is embellished with bonus dishes; every diner’s delight!  Let’s get dining.

The menu & wines:

Grilled mackerel with fine potato salad, smoked eel & golden beetroot
Wild garlic velouté with ham hock beignet 
Pan fried pollock with a vinaigrette of razor clams, barba di frate & leek hearts
Roasted haunch of venison with beetroot purée, creamed cabbage, 
pickled pear & green peppercorns
Mango sorbet with pomegranate & passionfruit 
Crème brûlée with griottines cherries

Montarels Viognier 2011
Seresin, Chardonnay Reserve – Marlborough – 2010
Gigondas, Domaine du Pesquier – Rhône – 2009
Ch Fayau Cadillac – Bordeaux – 2008 - semillon, sauvignon blanc, muscadelle

Head Chef Tommy Boland bounds in for a friendly hi.  If the dining room wasn’t so buzzing and full, I would kidnap him to answer the many ‘How do you do that?’ questions I want to ask.  It’s all in the detail. The food is bright, breezy and uplifting, with honest ingredient flavours that set you thinking deeply and appreciatively.  

With sharp cubed beetroot and potato dice combined in the first course, it’s a mystery how the warm potato stays warm’til the end.  The viognier lifts the sweetness of the mackerel.

Mystery no.2: The ham hock beignet has rustic textures and attitude, yet holds together incredibly loosely.  A luminous green soup with the subtlest flavour accompanies it.  But there’s no puzzle in its purpose; it’s wickedly scoopable with the beignet.

Prettiest of all courses, the pollock is sheeny and glassy with a fine, light fried crust.  Everything is delicate.  The leeks are sweetly perfumed, and the slightly salty barba di frate is like the first grass shoots of Spring.

Then along comes the more gutsy venison with its assured slick of glistening crimson beetroot.  There are sweet peppercorns for popping!   The accompanying gigondas is one to linger over, but the dinner is racing along.

Now it’s time for double dessert, and it combines like a two-parter.  The sharp-sweet combination of sorbet on jewels of fruit is a real palate perk-up and is enough in its own right.  But then comes the decadent creaminess of the dessert finale.  It’s a statement you can’t ignore. You know how you build up that trust with the chef all along the meal journey?  Blame the chef!

It’s a big dinner, the kind which one might ration for white tablecloth restaurant occasions.  But it’s more of a surprise when enjoyed in this less formal setting.  

Lucky people of Barnes.  And I too am close enough to be nearly within the ’hood.  We have a terrific, stylish local that soothes, pampers and peps you up, whatever the day throws at you.  And without the hassle of a trek into town.

Sonny’s Kitchen, 94 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 0DQ  
Tel: 020 8748 0393

Sonny's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Su-Lin Ong dined on behalf of The London Foodie as a guest of Phil Howard, Rebecca Mascarenhas, Tommy Boland and MeMo.

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