It’s funny how there are some restaurants you go to again and again, even though they may not be your favourites – places like Wagamamas and Pizza Express spring to mind, probably because they are so ubiquitous in London! Others are so lovely that you go again and again, even though they are milies from your home, like Woodlands in Marylebone. And still others you may only visit once and yet they leave a lasting impression. In 2003, Nick’s great-aunt Dulcie (she of the tomato and marmalade soup) and her husband Alan visited us in London. Already in their 80s, neither of them was up for lots of walking about so Nick decided to take them around London by car. We managed to cover rather a lot of ground and finally ended up in Barnes around lunchtime. The Depot seemed to have a river view and we could drive our guests just about to the door, so we picked that as our lunch spot. I don’t remember exactly what we ate (clearly my pre-blogging days!), but I do remember the view being quite spectacular from the glassed-in verandah; and I remember Dulcie and Alan’s beaming faces. We had always promised ourselves a return visit to relive these happy memories, but the Depot is literally on the other side of town from where we live and it was not until recently that I returned to help them celebrate 25 years of being in business.
The Depot is situated on the banks of the River Thames, not far from Barnes Bridge, in a pretty restored Victorian courtyard. Constructed in 1901, the buildings which currently house The Depot restaurant were originally the stables and coach houses for the Barnes Council refuse depot. During World War 2 the corner occupied by The Depot served as a barracks for air raid wardens and their tin helmets were still hanging there in 1983! By 1981 the Council had no further use for any of the buildings and proposed to demolish the whole site and leave it as an open space. Local residents protested and competition for local architects/developers was held, with a brief to keep the best of the existing buildings, to include some new housing and to provide space for small new businesses to start and flourish. The competition winner, chosen by the local residents, was Gillian Harwood and her architect partner Philip Lancashire, who still own the building and the restaurant. We were lucky enough to have Gillian and Philip join our table when we recently visited and a more interesting, engaging and charming pair you could hardly hope to meet.
Ailbhe, Neil, May, Kavey and I snacked on wild mushroom croquettes with a red onion marmalade dip - a light, crispy crust concealing a creamy, rich interior; and a delightful caramelly sweet & sour tang from the marmalade. From there we moved inside to our window table to enjoy the truly breathtaking view west along the Thames to where the sun was turning the water flame-coloured. Later, as dusk fell, lone scullers rowed past us, leaving behind only their eddies to show they had been there. It’s utterly relaxing and quite entrancing.
Reading through the special 25th anniversary menu was a hoot – a real trip through the classics! One side is divided traditionally into starters, mains and desserts while the other side was divided into decades. We had a good laugh seeing whether any of us were stuck in one decade, ordering all courses from it, or whether our tastes were mix ‘n match across the decades. We swooned over much-loved eponymous retro treats such as peach Melba, beef Wellington and steak Diane, and in the end we settled on our choices. I opted for the twice-baked goats cheese soufflé with mustard leaves and saffron pears (£6.25); while neighbours Ailbhe and May went for the yellowfin tuna with a Nobu dressing (£7.00) and the devilled lamb’s kidneys with a potato rosti (£6.00) respectively. Across the table Neil succumbed to the lure of thesuper-decadent omelette Arnold Bennett (£6.50). The soufflé was nice although not world-beating (although I loved its pairing with the saffron pears) – I think it suffered by comparison to both the fabulous tuna and the decadent liver. One thing hasn’t changed in 25 years: order envy!
For mains, our choices ranged across the decades and included roast duck breast with a marmalade glaze, grilled skewered duck hearts and duck fat potatoes (£14.25), the entrecote steak Diane with fries (£19.50), the chargrilled calf’s liver with onions, bubble & squeak & crispy pancetta (£14.25) and my choice: the grilled sustainable gilthead bream with cirtus fruits, thyme and olive oil (£14.00). I am usually a sucker for the duck, but as a non-lover of offal, the skewered grilled hearts were a turn-off not quite outweighet by the promise of those duck fat potatoes. Neil loved his steak Diane and also professed it to be a great match with the bottle of 2008 Minervois we were enjoying. My taste of Ailbhe’s truly wonderful calf’s liver (perfectly pinkly cooked and tender) was almost enough to bring on another bout of menu envy… until I saw my bream. A thing of greater loveliness I have seldom seen on a restaurant plate. It was served whole with a distinct silvery glint to to the skin, and dotted with colourful segments of citrus and redcurrants. The sweet flesh was balanced beautifully by the tart citrus and redcurrants – and who knew fish and thyme went so well together? A simple, beautiful and remarkable dish that inspired me to cook whole fish more often – and seek out fresh gilthead bream!
By the time we got to dessert, we were probably all too full to do the menu justice – but it seemed a pity not to sample this retro romp. I opted for the platter of British & Irish cheeses with a shallot chutney and oatcakes (£7,00) and others tried the sticky toffee date pudding with banana ice-cream; the peach melba; and my personal favourite the baked Alaska pictured above (all £5,00). I was disappointed that nobody tried the Chocolate Nemesis though – purely for scientific research purposes
Special offers on the Depot 25 year anniversary menu include 3 courses for £25; or a starter and a main course for £20.
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal. Obviously the good company helped (!), but all the food was well prepared, well presented, very tasty – and a testimony to the lure of nostalgia food. Prices are reasonable for the surroundings and the 2 and 3-course specials specials are really rather good value. The pretty Victorian cobbled courtyard full of flowers is a great place to have a relaxing pre-dinner drink and I can think of few tables with a better view of the sun dipping over the Thames and turning the water into a stream of molten gold.
Liked: the fantastic and uninterrupted views of the Thames, the retro specials
Disliked: the slightly cramped seating if you want a window table
On a scale of 1 to 10: 7
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this complimentary meal as a guest of The Depot, Barnes.
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