In fast-evolving – but not necessarily fast-improving – Chiswick, a smart bistro where the cooking strikingly lacks ambition.
he 'chi' in Chiswick definitely stands for 'chichi' nowadays.
Gone are the bad old days when Chiswick’s main drag was nothing more than a magnet for chain pizzerias. Now a slew of stylish new openings confirm the area's transformation. Or does it? Might a cynic just snipe that the increasingly glossy selection of eateries has replaced one set of banal spin-offs with another (albeit with superior interior design)?
Charlotte's Place is the latest number-two branch of a would-be empire to plant its flag in W4 in the past six months. It joins nearby Franco Manca (whose elder sibling is in Brixton) and the second Villandry Kitchen (Holborn),
This newcomer's big brother – Charlotte’s 'Restaurant' (note, not bistro) – is Ealing's posh place. The brand's first foray outside W5 occupies the site at the end of a parade of food shops that was until recently part of yet another fashionable chain that briefly had big ideas: FishWorks.
In the entrance way, an area that used to house a wet fish counter is now a good-looking bar with a couple of booths. Upstairs, one or two traces of the FishWorks design are still visible, but for the most part this long thin room has been successfully made over in a medley of very now (or at least last-year?) dark wood browns, and creams and neutrals. On a sunny day, as it was on the Sunday lunch we visited, a big central sky-light adds a real shine to the whole atmosphere.
The welcome was warm from our greeter and waitress, and service throughout was charming, if glacially slow. Perhaps we should allow credit for the pressures of being packed for a Sunday lunch, where most punters looked perfectly content to take things at a leisurely pace.
The prices on the menu would be eminently reasonable even in a less stylish 'burb… which is a good thing as the food so signally lacks ambition.
Not that we want complication for its own sake. And the place is aiming to be a 'bistro'. And OK, it was the weekend. But, even taking all this into account, it’s difficult not to be a bit bored by a menu that (roughly) reads: beef & Yorkshire; fish ’n’ chips; roast chicken; nut roast; salmon & salad; and veggie moussaka.
Much of what we tried was very competent, if with a slight tendency to over-richness. The nut roast was anything but virtuous and a bread ’n’ butter pudding with crème anglaise could more accurately have been described the other way round.
Would-be stylish Chiswick, it seems, is still desperately stuck in the middle of the road.