61-63 Petersham Road
When Lady Anne Bingham lived in the elegant Georgian houses that today form Richmond’s Bingham Hotel, she might have been a little upset had she known that, centuries later, guests and diners would be walking through her back reception rooms with a sense – albeit brief – of ownership.
Coming in from Petersham Road to the small hotel reception of The Bingham, and walking through into the impressive bar, you do feel surprisingly at home. Despite the elegant high ceilings, large mirrors and picture windows, the impression is of quiet opulence, not ostentation. Despite sympathetic modernisation, Lady Anne might still recognise her old home.
And she needn’t have worried – the level of traffic in this wonderful boutique hotel is minimal, compared with that of most of today’s destination hotels. As The Bingham has reduced its bedrooms from 23 down to 15, guests have room to breath, and the sense of space and care carries through into the dining rooms.
We were seated at a capacious table by the far window, opposite a golden wall screen in chinoiserie style. Overlooking the balcony (where we could have eaten had the evening been a little warmer), we watched canoeists paddle by as we studied Head Chef, Shay Cooper’s tempting menu. Fresh from the Endsleigh, where he helped win the Devon Hotel three AA Rosettes, Cooper has opted for simple dishes served in excellent style. “I want the food to be British in origin, but to have a personality, to be original. But there’s no wackiness involved,” he told me before my guest and I had sat down. This was immediately evident from the amuse-bouche of mackerel tartar and gazpacho jelly that our waiter brought us. The flavours were tangy, the textures smooth.
We started with Smoked Eel Risotto, served with tomato jelly, coriander, heirloom tomato and cucumber vinaigrette, and the Artichoke Salad, which came with cep marmalade, baby leaves and truffle hollandaise. The Bingham champions boutique winemakers, and our waiter suggested a Pouilly-Fumé Domaine de Bel Air 2008 with the risotto. I can’t fault his choice. My guest, however, capriciously declined his suggestion and opted for a Pinot Grigio Alto Adige 2007 with the artichoke. The fruity Fumé accentuated the crunchy vegetables that accompanied the smoky eel, but she declared the Pinot too powerful against the subtlety of the artichoke, though the crisp dish itself was excellent. (Just goes to show, that she should have trusted the waiter).
For our main course, I decided on Salt Marsh Lamb with sweetbreads, roast aubergine, fried lentil purée and capers, along with a glass of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. My companion trusted a Fumé to accompany the tangy seafood bisque that was poured lovingly around her roast monkfish, served with razor clams, squid, scallops, fennel marmalade and citrus oil. And she was rewarded with a superb blend of tastes. Despite not being a fan of clams, even I was won over by the wonderfully balanced combination of fish, bisque and seafood. My medium-rare lamb was meltingly good. Cooper sources his meats from Macken Brothers butchers in Chiswick. “We have faith in them,” he told me, and his faith is justified. The salt in the meat and the capers was mellowed by the aubergine and purée, and the smokey Cabernet made each mouthful an event.
But there was more to come. With Richmond Bridge silhouetted against a glowing sunset in the background, we finish with Honeycomb Rice Pudding, set off beautifully by red wine jelly, caramelised figs and coffee ice cream, and a simply amazing Amedei Chocolate Tart, garnished with orange Chantilly, passion fruit sorbet and cocoa tuille. Superlatives fail to do justice to Cooper’s choice of ingredients and blends here, particularly with the tart. The Chateau Laville 2005 complemented a slightly overshadowed rice pudding, but presentation made up for coming a close second to the chocolate tart.
As we nibbled exquisite home-made petit fours with espressos, I thought how right Cooper has been to focus on every dish on his menu, and not worry too much on awards and accolades. “I don’t think I have a preferred course,” he said. “I enjoy it, right through to producing desserts. I take pride in it all, and just keep updating what I do. I’m always confident that we can consistently improve and take things to the next level.”
“And I’d never do anything overly special to encourage Michelin,” he goes on to say. “I have confidence in the menu as it is. If it’s good enough for Michelin, great, but if not, so be it. Generally, I’m happy with what my team can do - they’re great.”
That, like The Bingham Hotel’s décor, is a definite understatement.
The Bingham Hotel and Restaurant: 61-63 Petersham Road, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Surrey, TW10 6UT, 020 8940 0902. http://www.thebingham.co.uk. The Tasting Menu at The Bingham is priced at £55 per person. Three courses à la carte (drinks and coffee not included), priced at £39 per person.
**Reviewer:** Bryony Weaver