Charlotte’s is just the kind of bistro I’d love to have locally to me.
It offers thoughtfully designed and lovingly produced dishes in a convivial atmosphere. Service is from enthusiastic and friendly staff. Pricing, for London, is very reasonable.
My misfortune is the residents of Turnham Green’s fortune, as the restaurant is located in this residential neighbourhood of Chiswick.
Just inside the entrance is a cosy bar area with seating. Stairs lead up half a level, to a larger restaurant section, most of which sits beneath an enormous skylight, letting in lots of natural light, or a view of the night sky.
Cocktails to start, and there are some very innovative ones on the list, including my Venezuela Port (£7.50) featuring rum and fresh lemon curd which tastes just as you’d expect. It’s not visually very attractive but it tastes fabulous! Pete’s Rhubarb Fizz (£7.50) with fresh ginger root, poached rhubarb, rum, rum orange liqueur, lime juice and a Prosecco top is also deemed rather tasty, and has the added bonus of looking rather splendid too.
A board of bread and butter is brought out with our aperitifs, and the bread is excellent – fresh, great texture and good flavour.
Once we’ve made our menu selections, with the help of our waiter, we are served an amuse bouche, which is essentially a smaller portion of one of the starters we didn’t choose – parsley soup with a crisp bread topped with egg, bacon and some other bits and pieces.
Although the Vacherin fondant I’d been recommended by a friend is no longer on the menu, its successor, the Charlotte Potato & Goats Cheese Fondant . Wild Garlic . Grapefruit . Asparagus (£8) is very similar and absolutely fantastic. A feather-light, crispy shell releases a flood of soft melted cheese. The warm vegetable salad and dressing match it very well. This dish is a true winner.
I order the Beetroot Poached Salmon . Fennel Preserve . Burnt Orange Purée . Watercress (£8), asking for the chef to skip the fennel preserve, as I’m not a fan of aniseed flavours. When the waiter delivers the dish, he has brought me the preserve in a side dish, so I can try it if I’d like to, which is a nice touch and one I appreciate. The plating is really pretty. I really enjoy the plump, fresh pieces of salmon which have picked up a little sweetness from the beetroot. For more sweetness there are quenelles of beetroot puree and to balance in the other direction, the most amazing little dots of burnt orange puree. These are a revelation for me, as I assume on first glance that such tiny spots are purely decorative, but quickly realise they are sufficiently intense to come through very clearly on the palate. Also on the plate are dollops of sour cream or crème fraiche, with a welcome fresh acidity.
In the main, my Gilt Head Bream Fillet . Shellfish Bourride . Squid & Pork Dumplings . Paprika Aioli (£16.50) is excellent. The fish is perfectly cooked, the flesh soft and tender but not mushy, and the skin crunchy crisp. Beneath it is the shelfish bourride, with lovely small mussels and clams. The problem for me is the cubed squid and pork dumplings which are ever so salty, so much so that I have to leave them uneaten.
The side of purple sprouting broccoli is cooked simply, and not overdone, so the crunch of fresh vegetable comes through.
Although tempted by the Glazed Scotch Bavette . Ox Cheek Bordelaise . Bone Marrow . Watercress & Shallots (£16) Pete decides in the end to go veggie for his main as well, choosing the Organic Spelt Risotto . Cheddar “Gratin” . Cévennes Onion . Lime . Charred Spring Onion (£14.50). Though a touch heavy-handed on the salt, the risotto is very tasty. The slices of onion are fabulous, with all the deep flavours and none of the harshness of some onion varieties. The spring onions are a little tough but with great flavour.
Our amuses, starters and mains were served in very quick succession. But, after ordering our desserts, we have a long wait, longer than is comfortable, and am just looking to catch someone’s eye to ask after them when they finally arrive.
My Bitter Chocolate & London Porter Ice Cream . Treacle . Fleur De Sel . Sesame Cracker (£6) is a dish of two halves. The sesame cracker is deliciously thin, crispy and tasty. The chocolate mousse to one side gives me a deep, rich, dark chocolate hit. The salty nuts on the plate are lovely. But the scoop of London porter ice is so disappointing. On the flavour front, I pick up only a mild taste of chocolate and the porter doesn’t come through at all. More of an issue for me is the grainy texture, with big ice crystals right through it.
Pete’s Amalfi Lemon Curd . Lavender Meringue . Shortbread . Raspberry Sorbet (£6) on the other hand, is marvellous. All four elements are absolutely excellent in flavour and texture and go together beautifully. In addition, it looks stunning on the plate.
So, some great cooking, with lots of highlights and just a few dips. And, best of all, a chef who is creating some innovative dishes, rather than serving the same old same old.
On the drinks front, Pete is impressed with the wine list, in particular the ability to order wines by the 375 ml carafe (equivelant to half a bottle). He also appreciates the number of affordable options, with many bottles priced at less than £30.
In terms of pricing, the a la carte prices I’ve listed are more than reasonable for the quality of cooking, so no quibbles there – a three course meal ranges from £27 to £33.50.
But Charlotte’s becomes an absolute bargain if you go for lunch or an early evening dinner; the price for dinner drops to £26 per person, including an aperitif and lunch is a crazy good deal at 2 Courses for £12.95 and 3 for £15.95, ordered from the regular a la carte menu.
Talking to owner Alex Wentham after our meal, we learned that he is planning to further simplify pricing by setting a fixed price regardless of choice. Given that there is only 6.50 between the least and most expensive selections, that makes perfect sense.
Kavey eats dined as a guest of Charlotte’s Bistro.