We’ve always been big fans of Elystan Street in Chelsea so we’re happy to report that this makeover of Sonny’s in Barnes transports Elystan Street to Church Road – a destination for restaurant lovers marooned south of the river by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
Key players have been drafted in from Elystan Street. Head chef Sam Astley-Dean was Phil Howard’s sous at the Chelsea restaurant, while front of house Alan Parry was assistant general manager. The pair have ensured that Church Road hums with the well-deserved confidence you’d expect from a restaurant backed by Howard and Rebecca Mascarenhas, who also have Gezellig and Kitchen W8 to their names.
But while Elystan Street’s signature dish is present and correct – a deliriously rich double-baked Cheddar soufflé which tastes as much of cream as cheese – this is very much Astley-Dean’s menu, albeit one that sticks to Elystan Street's elegant template of modern European ideas executed with seasonal British ingredients.
To start, fat coils of handcut strozzapreti, entwined around crumbled sausage and butternut squash and scattered with chilli and Parmesan, keeps its butch flavours in a careful balance, while burrata with rocket pesto, torn figs, red onions and olive oil transforms what is often the blandest of cheeses into an ingredient worthy of a starring role.
A Tamworth chop with sweet and sour plums, meanwhile, elevates the usual pork and fruit combo with superior ingredients, expertly timed to maximise flavour, while the accompanying pomme purée is good enough to be a main course in itself.
Things only went awry for us when the kitchen veered away from Europe with charcoal roasted prawns, masala sauce, aubergine, cucumber, yoghurt and radish, in which the parts seemed greater than the whole. We had no such complaints, however, about brown butter biscuit with salted caramel roasted nuts, malted ice cream and lime – like a very grown-up sundae – or a cheese plate of three perfectly ripe specimens.
Even allowing for such accomplished cooking, prices seem more SW3 than SW13, though a meat-free lunch and early-evening Little Sprouts menu (£22) serves up three courses of produce that might otherwise go to waste, with £2 from every meal sold donated to the Friends of Barnes Common.
Comfy leather chairs, properly set tables and kind lighting make up for a rather sombre colour scheme that seems better suited to the small bar at the front than the dining room behind. Cocktails and bar snacks (including that soufflé) would make for an alluring distraction from dissecting the latest releases at the Olympic cinema over the road.
Mascarenhas opened Sonny’s in 1986 to bring seasonal cooking and sophisticated neighbourhood dining to south-west London. We’re sure that Church Road will have an equally long and happy life.