83 Maple Road,
If you mention that you live in Surbiton, it goes without saying that a handful of comments about The Good Life will ensue. Margot, Jerry, Tom and Barbara might be fictitious characters from a 70's sitcom, but they have stayed in people's hearts years after the show's final episode. Consequently, Surbiton is viewed as the place to put on a pair of dungarees and get all self-sufficient. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone's back garden is full of pigs, cabbages and dubious home-brewed wine. It might even surprise some people to know that you can eat very well in Surbiton, if you step outside your front door, and heading towards Maple Road is your best bet when it comes to filling your belly.
The French Table can be found at No. 85 (which featured on Gordon Ramsay's F Word back in 2009), and its sister establishment, The French Tarte can be found next door at No. 83. Husband and wife team, Sarah & Eric Guignard have been running The French Table for the last 10 years, with a loyal following, and The French Tarte is their latest opening, featuring Eric’s signature fresh breads, incredible pastries, tart’s and cakes, along with some of the finest artisanal produce available to purchase in-store.
This blue-fronted bakery, which opened up in January this year on a well-heeled street in Surbiton, has filled a hungry gap in the market. Granted there are plenty of coffee shops on the high street a few roads away, but this boulangerie patisserie is for epicureans who like a slice of the finer things in life. Cakes and tartes fill up the glass display when you walk in, with freshly cooked bread wafting over from the shelves opposite. On the first day of opening, The French Tarte had people queuing out of its front door, and each time I've visited since, the cafe has had that reassuring busy buzz.
We popped along for Afternoon Tea (available Saturday and Sunday from 2pm – 4pm) to find the cafe as busy as ever. Head Pastry Chef Michel Rissons has created the Afternoon Tea menu, which includes sandwiches, traditional scones with clotted cream, and a variety of bite-sized mouthfuls from the patisserie counter. If you're terrible at deciding what to have, the Afternoon Tea lets you taste your way through much of the cafe's sweet-toothed selection.
We opted for pots of White Tea with Elderflower & Apricot, which tasted delicate and elegant, and got sipping and chatting while we waited for our Afternoon Tea to arrive. In no time at all, a three-tier cake stand appeared with our sandwiches and patisserie. The sandwiches were tasty enough, but it was really all about the patisserie. We tucked into mini slivers of lemon meringue pie, light carrot cake, caramel choux (utterly delicious), eclairs, Paris-Brest, a very adult Chocolatine, and gooey brownies studded with macadamias. Rissons (formerly of Michelin Starred Yauatcha and The Ritz in London) is obviously doing something right, as we polished off the lot and got stuck into the equally delicious but light scones. The worry with Afternoon Tea, is that the cake stand will beat you and you end up begrudgingly throwing down your napkin, defeated and unable to eat the last few had-crafted morsels. But, The French Tarte has got things right – lots of variety, but all of it light enough to excite your taste buds whilst leaving room for one more bite.
This was my third visit to The French Tarte and my favourite so far. Grumbles are few and far between with this new cafe. Friends haven't been a fan of the hot chocolate here, expecting more of a chocolatey hit, and I'm not a fan of the lentil salad, which could have done with lots more flavour. On the whole however, this is quite the place to come for some well-executed patisserie, a cup of coffee, and a loaf of bread for the journey home (their chorizo bread is particularly tasty). The French Tarte's location is well-placed, but it's likely to be the food and service that give this cafe and bakery staying power. Sarah Guignard knows a thing or two about running front of house, and its clear she's passed her experience and warmth on to her capable, friendly staff. Loving the “community feel” of a busy cafe is something she has enjoyed so far since opening in January. Guignard gives everyone a thoroughly warm welcome, with lots of loyal customers from The French Table coming in to say hello, and no doubt returning again and again.
**The French Tarte:** 83 Maple Road, Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 4AW. Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 8am-7pm, Sunday 10-5pm. Closed on Mondays. The French Tarte Afternoon Tea is £14.50 per person, available Saturday and Sunday from 2pm until 4pm. Vouchers for Afternoon Tea are available in house at both The French Table and The French Tarte. Keep an eye out for evening tastings too. Reservations: 0208 399 1123. For more information, please visit: www.thefrenchtable.co.uk.
**Reviewed by: **Helenka Bednar