The French Table

by Nick Harman - Thursday August 24, 2017 9:08 am

85 Maple Road, Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 4AW www.thefrenchtable.co.uk

Classic, yet contemporary, French cuisine of the kind that the French themselves seem sadly to have largely abandoned.

Everyone of a certain age remembers The Good Life was set in Surbiton, then a simple one-word invocation of the supposed horrors of suburbia. It’s easy to visualise Tom and Barbara wandering down the street outside in their wellies and they would definitely have eaten in The French Table, but of course Jerry would have had to pay.

No doubt the owners of The French Table are tired of hearing about one of the UK’s most loved sitcoms, but you have to get the elephant out of the room.

It’s very nice in The French Table, rather classy. Many of the men wear cashmere jumpers knotted around their necks, as well as jeans with brogues, the uniform of the upper middle classes and Jeremy Clarkson. Conversation is muted and the accents are of private schools. Don’t get me wrong, I went to one myself.

The restaurant smells right with a taste-bud tempting waft of garlic on the breeze, although it’s a bit cold. The staff happily turn down the aircon when asked.

It’s been here a long time has The French Table, sixteen years in fact. It’s easy to see why it has lasted so well, this is an area where the locals are of an age to still appreciate a proper French restaurant and not some fly by night trend in a ruined shop with a chef invisible behind a giant beard. And let’s face it, most of the locals probably have second homes in the Dordogne, too.

It’s a local restaurant for local people, but if you’re a fan of classic French cooking then it’s worth coming into le hood. The menu reads very well, reminding me of holidays in France, back when the French could still offer a decent bistro in every town. Words like Bayonne, Brandade, Charolais and Assiette, all call to me deeply.

We kick off with soft poached duck egg with winter truffle, truffle mayonnaise, fresh peas and avocado for P, but this turns out to be the only real misfire of the evening. The egg is a very pale and unattractive colour and is not poached enough.

This means everything is soon swimming about in runny egg and becomes a bit of a soup that even the truffles can’t float. As for fresh peas, I grow peas myself and there is little point in a fresh pea unless eaten within fifteen minutes of being picked, as after that the sugars start to turn to starch. Frozen is far better.

However, my own starter of smoked eel with caviar, courgette cannelloni stuffed with a ricotta mousse and a carrot and ginger sponge is spot on. Visually attractive and the eel is very smoky indeed, which I like a lot, while the almost transparently thin courgette slices, wrapped around mousse, is a classic fine dining idea that works very well. The cheese is a bit on the cold side, but not a real problem.

The breads are rather good too, especially the one with chorizo. Just as well really as the wait for mains is a long one and the bread keeps us going when all hope begins to fade. I made it fifty minutes from waving off the starters to mains arriving and that’s too long. The restaurant is full, but even so I’m surprised.

Luckily we haven’t quite reached the grumble point when it does turn up, and the wait has sharpened my appetite and not my critical dagger.

I’ve been rather traditional and gone for Charolais beef fillet with pea and wasabi purée, fresh peas, pomme darphin, red wine sauce. Those fresh peas again, but this is proper French cooking with the added razzle dazzle of the wasabi. Pommes darphin is not a mistype for pommes dauphinois, but a kind of potato pancake and just what I like to eat, as is the red wine jus. Fewer and fewer chefs are schooled in how to do a decent jus.

The meat is excellent and not still mooing. I like my beef rare of course, but all too often French chefs simply wave the raw meat in the general direction of the stove before putting it on the plate.

P has North Devon turbot with butternut and ginger purée, crab ravioli, tomato and basil sauce, which sounded good on paper and turned out good on the plate. Ginger, like wasabi, does not have a place on the traditional French menu but it worked with that little tickle enlivening the whole dish. It was smartly plated without being focussed (sic) on being instagrammable.

Incidentally, I didn’t see a single person take a photo of their food the entire evening, not even me. How refreshing is that?

And so to dessert, which arrived without any longer delay. A peach melba with vanilla parfait, lemon balm and white peach sorbet was clean flavoured and hinted of the best of retro, as did lemon meringue with passion fruit pate de fruit and crème fraiche sorbet. Proper desserts that didn’t weigh heavy.

We had some interesting wines by the glass, although the English wine I thought was off at first; the nose was of mostly of damp Alsatian. It got better after a few minutes and I expect it was okay, but the aroma of mould never quite disappeared.

I am not confident with sending wines back, it’s not my expertise, but I still wonder if I should have, or at least asked the staff to sniff it and give me an opinion. Typical English reserve I suppose, which was appropriate in Surbiton

The French Table is something of an anachronism, proper classic French cooking in London but not stultifying or predictable. If you’re of an age to like eating food more than taking pictures of it, then this is for you and me.

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