Thursday, 15 July 2021

Bingham Riverhouse, Richmond

I first visited Bingham Riverhouse in March 2020, a world that seems so different now it may as well have been 1820. I had a lovely evening, nestled in a corner table in this plush old pile overlooking the Thames, popped in for a quick drink in a nearby pub on the way back to the station, and then got the train home, maskless and slightly drunk. Before I got round to writing it up, the world shut down, the blog quickly followed, and by the time restaurants had started tentatively opening again I realised I didn't remember enough about the meal to write it up and somehow also my camera's photobank had been wiped.

It's a testament to the lovely people doing the PR for Bingham Riverhouse that they didn't just put me on their black list there and then and call the whole thing a write-off. I did apologise profusely and found a couple of phone images to put on instagram, but still felt terrible about the whole thing, and was as surprised - and delighted - as anyone when they invited me back to try again. In November 2020. Everything would be back to normal by November 2020, right?

As that fateful day drew closer, cases rose and rose and rose and a few days before our triumphant return to Richmond, that got cancelled too. The story of the last couple of years is a cycle of fear, lockdown and isolation, hope and optimism, a period of hedonistic release and then the return of gradual crushing disappointment and fear. Rinse and repeat. Incredibly they got back in touch after the most recent lockdown to invite me back again and I got on the train to Richmond half expecting to discover on the way they'd been closed due to a Covid outbreak or a flash flood, both increasingly regular occurrences these days, but no - this time the restaurant gods were smiling on us and the evening passed without serious incident.

And I really, really hope they manage to stay open for a very long time now, because there's so much to love about the place I hardly know where to start. Anyone who's ever been to Richmond knows this is easily one of the most beautiful areas within the M25, but the location of Bingham Riverhouse, a grand Georgian building overlooking the Thames, is quite something to behold. From our dinner table in the nicely proportioned dining room we looked across a dainty balcony with lovely ironwork onto the river, where groups of people paddleboarded up and down in the early evening summer sun.

Dinner started with a couple of rather lovely canapés, a little truffled mushroom burger which disappeared in one deeply satisfying, richly fungal bite, and a neat dollop of crab on a little soft pancake.

House bread were these stunning brioche buns, so smoothly glossy you could almost see your reflection in them, and a whipped butter, green for a reason that escapes me, but I remember it tasted very nice indeed. I just love the variety of the bread course in London restaurants at the moment - each seems to be outdoing each other to produce something even more lovely and unique. We have certainly come a long way from the ubiquitous sourdough (not that there's anything wrong with that of course).

This is a broccoli "soup", although I'm sure I hardly needs to say it bears about as much resemblance to your nearest caff's Soup of the Day as a plate of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota does to a packet of Value Wafer Thin. It had been treated to one of those clever velouté processes that turns it into a kind of incredibly light broccoli mousse, which dissolved in the mouth leaving a wispy essence of vegetable and seasoning. In it were little bits of buttered asparagus - a perfect match for the soup, as it happens - and then alongside little pastry crackers topped with soft blue cheese and pickled apple. This was a very good dish.

A dainty little fillet of sea bream, skin crisped up expertly and topped with a couple of bits of charred courgette, came with a silky smooth courgette purée and - an interesting and clever touch - a few sprigs of micro basil. All the vegetables had of course been treated intelligently and skillfully but the real star here was the fish, all buttery beneath the crunchy skin and full of flavour.

A soft, rosy pink slice of duck breast next, next to a healthy little slab of foie topped with puffed (I think) rice for a bit of texture. With it, what they called 'raspberry ketchup', a clever bit of engineering that managed to use the flavour of raspberries to compliment the duck, without itself beeing overly sweet or distracting. Add a glossy duck jus and some pea shoots and you have a technically impressive but - most importantly - incredibly enjoyable dish.

As a kind of companion piece to the duck breast, here we have duck egg yolk, with a very slight firmness but without a hint of that rather unpleasant 'fudginess' that you often get with slow-cooked yolk. It sat on a bed of insanely creamy and light Jersey Royal mash ('tis the season, after all) and a very rogan-esque nasturtium oil which gleamed brilliant green but also added a nice earthy vegetal note. On the side, some geometrically-exact "soldiers" to dip in the egg, which didn't in all honesty add much but I can see what they were getting at.

Incredibly, the next course was even more impressive. A neat medallion of pork fillet, a juicy morsel of layered belly, a dollop of fennel purée and a baton of charred cucumber; four elements of exquisite beauty and rich flavour, bound by a dark, silky pork jus. A feast for all the senses, and a work of art.

Now, I fully respect anyone's decision to put Stinking Bishop cheese on the same plate as rose sorbet, and will defend to the death their right to do so. As the flavours mixed in my mouth, though, I went through various states of confusion, alarm and distress, and yet at the end of it all, though still bewildered and a bit traumatised, I have to say that, much in the same way as you'd feel after your first bungee jump or cross-channel swim, I felt my stack of life experiences had been built on. This is not to say I ever want to eat eye-wateringly smelly washed-rind cheese and rose sorbet together any time again soon, but at least I can say I've done it.

A little piece of chocolate cake with "croissant ice cream" helped settle the nerves. There isn't much to say about this; it was just a really nice dessert of chocolate cake and ice cream, and I was very happy with it.

Finally, gooseberry sorbet with an elderflower parfait, the sorbet sat on some shortbread crumbs and the parfait speared with a bit of fennel cracker. I like sticky toffee pudding and custard tart as much as anyone, but there's something just so right about summer desserts eaten at the proper time of the year, when the ingredients sing and you can enjoy them with added views of people paddleboarding on the Thames.

Because yes, all of this food would have been wonderful eaten in a windowless basement lit by a single naked lightbulb but here, in our grand perch overlooking the river, lit by the late evening sun, they took on a special kind of grandeur. I know I'm a sucker for this kind of food, and these kinds of surroundings, and yes of course this was an invite so I had the added bonus of not having to worry about a bill, but I would honestly come straight back to Bingham Riverhouse the first chance I got, and happily pay, because after two visits now over the space of a year and a half I can report that not only is the standard not dropping but in fact continues to accelarate sky high.

So, a year and a half after my first visit but hopefully better late than never, I can finally, unequivocally, recommend a meal at Bingham Riverhouse. Masterchef Professionals winner Steven Edwards is cooking exactly the kind of food anyone sensible would want to eat, and at prices that whilst somewhat outside of everyday, are still more than reasonable (£55 for 5 courses, £75 for 7, I mean you would, wouldn't you?). Look it's great, and it's open, and I suggest you get there as soon as you can because as we've all learned to our cost, nothing is certain anymore. And if there's somewhere - anywhere - like this offering an escape from the general terror, even just for a few precious hours, my advice is you take it.


I was invited to Bingham Riverhouse, and didn't see a bill.

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