We were escaping another wet British evening when we slipped gratefully into the dry confines of The French Table. This restaurant’s window had long been scrutinised by us on countless occasions as we’d walked along Maple Road, but this was our first visit despite our seven years in Surbiton. So why had we not dipped our taste buds in before? Well, the price tag if we’re going to be honest – or at least a presumption of it. Admittedly The French Table was never going to be on our culinary radar as students, but it was some years since we’d shrugged off our staple diet of baked beans.
As we walked into the restaurant, it was obvious that everyone was having a fabulous time. There were plenty of locals eating (always a good sign), and there was plenty of laughter, banter, and an endless amount of appreciative diners. A quite divine looking dessert plate of chocolate delicacies swooped past us as we sat at our table, which meant a serious look at the menu to plan a little space for pudding. An aperitif of Kir Framboise arrived and we set about deciding what to have as we sipped our bubbles. The problem with the French Table is the business of deciding. It’s the sort of place you endeavour to return to, just so that you can satisfy your curiosity for the entire menu. As if there wasn’t enough to choose from there were also specials on, relayed by the discerning staff.
We decided in the end, on the starter special of pan-fried red mullet on a bed of risotto with pickled mushrooms, and the salmon blinis. We also opted for a bottle of Madiran Charles de Baatz 2003 from a seriously comprehensive wine list. There were probably ten pages to the list, but thankfully each wine came with a description from the restaurant, which made choosing a little easier. Wines by the glass start at £3.50 – not unreasonable for a chic little place like this.
Our starters arrived looking so stylish, it was a wrench to destroy each dish with our forks. But the pang of guilt quickly faded as the flavours hijacked our taste buds. The salmon blinis were a little hit of decadent richness, whilst the red mullet special offered up a balance of creamy risotto against the light, meaty texture of the fish. The pickled mushrooms were fantastic and would have been a great starter in their own right, but worked well, giving a sharpness that cut through the creamy risotto. As pricing goes, The French Table is very reasonable when you consider the kind of food you’ll be receiving. The cooking here is of a seriously high standard, and judging by the bustling custom, dud dishes don’t feature at this upmarket Surbiton eatery. We had expected the menu to be slightly pricier than it was – starters average at around £8 each, with all of the main dishes sitting comfortably under the £17 mark. Typically the odd side order of vegetables bumps the price up, but a serving of mashed potato between us was plenty.
We sat back and enjoyed a few slurps of our wine before our main course arrived. We had chosen the special of Argentinean beef on a bed of spinach and the monkfish, wrapped in bayonne ham, served with creamy salsify. Both dishes were wonderful – the beef was perfectly cooked and fell apart when my partner’s fork dented it. The monkfish with parsley sauce was divine – I would eat this for breakfast every morning if I was rich enough, (and knew how to cook it). The fish was sliced into little discs, wrapped up delicately in the crispy, salty bayonne ham, whilst the salsify had been wonderfully cooked – releasing its tender sweetness to round off the dish. I would have ordered this again for pudding, if the chocolate dessert hadn’t looked quite so addictive.
So what of the puddings? Well as if the main courses weren’t enough to lure us back for a second visit, the dessert list was certainly the clincher. I will take you through all of the puddings as it would be criminal not to mention exactly what was on offer. Firstly, there was the assiette of chocolate, which had been the dessert that flew past our gaping mouths towards another lucky table when we first sat down. Then there were other choices of banana and passion fruit mousse with pineapple fritter and passion fruit coulis, or ginger bread and butter pudding with caramelised poached pear. Let’s face it – they all sound wonderful so far, but there was also the Tonka bean souffle with amaretto ice-cream, the Quince tarte tatin with saffron cream and a good old cheese board to choose from too.
We ordered the chocolate assiette and the ginger bread pudding on recommendation of the waitress (and because we would have been there for another hour choosing otherwise). They didn’t disappoint. The ginger pudding tasted intensely gingery, but with a slow burn of spice rather than the raw kick it sometimes throws to the back of your throat. It was served up with poached pears and vanilla ice cream - the pears serving up a gorgeously delicate contrast to the comfort of the pudding. The chocolate assiette was fabulously indulgent and comprised a macaroon of delectable gooeyness, a scoop of extremely adult dark chocolate ice cream and a slice of chocolate gateaux so rich it would have given J.K Rowling a run for her money. Puddings always have a distinct advantage over starters and main dishes, in that they are the last course you consume, and if phenomenally good – the course that you remember. Do not come here if you’re on one of those diets that prohibit a sweet course, as you’ll leave the restaurant having eaten superbly, but failed completely, to resist the temptation of one hell of a dessert list.
A meal for two with wine will set you back by around £85.
The French Table: 85 Maple Rd, Surbiton, Surrey KT6 4AW.
Tel: 020 8399 2365
Useful info: The French Table runs master classes once a month on Saturdays. Classes run from 9.30am-1.00pm priced at £80 per person. Dates vary, so phone direct for more information.
Reviewed by: Helenka Bednar