Church Road restaurant review: A Barnes landmark re-born, and set to become a destination for foodies

Mark Hedges wasn't happy when one of his favourite local restaurants closed its doors earlier this year — but its replacement has him beaming from ear to ear.

When I started working for this company almost 30 years ago, our offices were in a vast tower block just off Stamford Street. In those days that part of London, south of the river was a virtual ghost town. If tumbleweed had blown down the street nobody would have noticed. Lunch was either in the grim canteen or at the sandwich shop, which did a thriving trade in sausage baps. There was nowhere else to go. One day a Pret opened, it seemed impossibly glamorous for the area, but that was followed by the opening of Tate Modern, which transformed the area totally. Today the area is bursting with restaurants.

Restaurants add a lot to an area, at best they help to make it into a neighbourhood, a village or even a destination.

For 33 years, Sonny’s restaurant had played that role in Barnes and I can testify to the gorgeousness of its treacle tart in the corpulent shape of my body. This summer it closed to howls from the locals.

In the last week of September it opened again as Church Road Restaurant under the leadership of a team from the hugely successful Elystan Street. Lighter, breezier and more comfortable than old Sonny’s, the menu is described as modern British, something that compliments Barnes’s two other fine dining restaurants: the fish at Steins and the classic Italian at Riva.

My partner Rachel and I visited a few days after opening night and already there was a good buzz. I began with a warm salad of wood pigeon with root vegetables that was sweetened by scorched onion and plump blackberries. So often, pigeon is overcooked and becomes tough, but here it was exquisite, a plateful of joy. Rachel opted for clam chowder and beamed.

The forced closure of Hammersmith Bridge for repairs will take at least three years to complete and has made it harder to reach Barnes from north of the river. This may be good news for the locals as Church Road is going to become a destination for foodies.

Church Road's roast chicken with lavender by Polly Webster.

Church Road’s roast chicken with lavender.

Our main courses excelled. Rachel’s charcoal roasted prawns in a masala sauce had just the right amount of heat to delight; my double-baked cheddar soufflé with leeks and mushrooms was a triumph of simplicity, beautifully executed.

We finished by sharing scorched bitter chocolate cake and the brown butter biscuit with salted caramel, roasted nuts, malt ice cream and lime. It brought back memories of licking my granny’s cake bowl.

Church Road restaurant, Church Road, London SW13 — www.churchroadsw13.co.uk

Church Road's blackberry jelly by Andrew Hayes-Watkins.

Church Road’s blackberry jelly.


Recipe: How to make Church Road’s Rump of aged Dexter beef, truffled baked potato and red wine sauce

Sam Astley-Dean’s recipe — pictured at the top of this page — takes about an hour and is described by the chef as ‘easy’.

Ingredients (serves 2)

For the steaks

  • 2 x 250g rump steaks
  • 3 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 sprig thyme, leaves removed (stalks discarded)
  • 100g butter
  • 300g spinach leaves (to serve)

For the sauce

  • 3 shallots
  • 6 button mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 150ml Port
  • 450ml red wine
  • 500ml veal stock
  • 250ml chicken stock

For the potatoes

  • 4 medium Charlotte potatoes
  • 100g salted butter
  • 2 drops truffle oil
  • 1 small fresh black truffle (NB although these are quite difficult to get hold of, you can find them online fresh and in a jar. Otherwise, you can elect not to include in the recipe)

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C | 180°C (fan) | gas mark 6. Wash and dry the potatoes, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper, then roast, turning once, until golden and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. About 35-40 minutes.

Next up is the red wine sauce. Slice the shallots and mushrooms and fry these in a wide saucepan in a little oil on a medium high heat until golden brown. Then crush and add the garlic and a pinch of salt and continue frying until golden.

Add the herbs and 1 tsp of fresh coarse ground black pepper. Add the Port and deglaze (ie scraping all the cooking bits of the bottom of the pan) and reduce the volume by four fifths. Repeat this process with the red wine. Finally, add your stocks and reduce until dark, shiny and delicious and then sieve into a heat proof bowl.

To prepare the truffle butter, simply soften the butter to room temperature and mix through plenty of freshly grated black truffle (if using), a dash of truffle oil and season if required. You can roll this into a sausage in Clingfilm then slice or leave at room temperature and spoon over.

For the meat, heat a frying pan to a high heat and add enough vegetable or sunflower oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Then season the steaks generously with salt and pepper. Cook to your desired degree — if you have a 2cm-thick piece of steak, it’s 2-3 minutes each side for rare, 4 minutes each side for medium and 5-6 minutes each side for well done

To finish, add the butter, a generous seasoning of salt, the garlic and thyme to the pan. Then baste the steak in the foaming butter for about 30 seconds. Removing the steaks to rest for about 5 minutes and whilst doing this, you can wilt your spinach with a little extra butter and salt in the same pan.

To serve, put the wilted spinach onto two warmed plates. Carve the steaks, and put on top of the spinach. Cut the potatoes in a criss-cross at the top and put next to the steak. Top the potato with the truffle butter. Pour the resting juices from the steak into the sauce and spoon a good amount over the steak.