Different parts of London create different expectations. The City is structured, macho, and expensive. Soho: dishevelled, creative and media. Shoreditch is stylised, design-led, and pretentious. Simplistic and bordering on stereotyping? Absolutely. But time and again, restaurants assume the persona of their locale. It’s logical when you think about it. So when we went to review a restaurant in leafy Barnes, we had very different expectations.
I mean, Barnes? Isn’t it all a bit quaint, conservative and twee? And what does that mean for its restaurants?
Well, Sonny’s Kitchen is very much a neighbourhood restaurant, but in a city rather then Cotswold way. Walking through its original shop front exterior with the delicatessen to the side – selling artisan goods, of course – it is noisy and bustling, like a South West London take on a French brasserie. When the charming front-of-house team take you through to the restaurant at the rear, you are welcomed by a light and airy space that could be the living room in one of Barnes’ many impressive riverside houses. Albeit a very large one, as the room, complete with brown leather banquette seating, off-white walls and contemporary art dotted around the edges (apparently from the owner’s private collection), has seating for up to 100 people. So far, so big.
The clientele are a local mix of 2 + 2 families, well-heeled ladies who lunch, and parents treating (or being treated by their) children. The middle-of-the-road background music is fortunately drowned out by the steady flow of chatter sprinkled with champagne-induced laughter that gives Sonny’s a joyous, celebratory ambiance. Give the women some hats and you could be at a posh wedding reception.
However, I’m doing Sonny’s a disservice by painting it this way, as the menu is more West End then Middle England, and includes dishes like tartare of veal “tonnato” and fillet of organic salmon with curried cauliflower puree. Actually, I guess you would expect such fare from the management team that brought us the Michelin-starred The Square in Mayfair and Kitchen in W8.
The Northerner and I started with linguine vongole – perfect pasta, a nice if slightly overly oily sauce, and a little sparse with the clams – and a mixed green salad and bread basket; simple items that used the best combination of the freshest ingredients and were superb. We followed with the pan-fried calf's liver with creamed potatoes and balsamic glazed red onions, and roasted Pollock with razor clams, leeks, olive oil and lardo di colonnata. The liver was cooked perfectly – tender, with a deep beef flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture. I don’t normally go for Pollock as I find it lacking in flavour. Not so this dish. It was well seasoned, moist, and beautifully balanced by the bite of the razor clams and lardo. We finished with the vanilla crème brulee with kirsch, and Griottines cherries and tarte fine of apples with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. It was hard to say which was best, but it had been a long time since either of us had eaten such fabulous desserts. A bottle of well-priced (around £20) Malbec, Finca los Primos, 2011 rounded off a great afternoon of dining.
Sonny’s Kitchen exceeded my expectations, and proves that occasionally, different parts of London can confound your expectations. Perhaps you don’t always have to stay in Zone 1 to get great food.