How do you PR a new restaurant? Having a really famous TV-chef as a backer isn’t a bad start: that Rick Stein is investing in one of his ex-employees at this Chiswick newcomer has drummed up a lot of interest from day one.
Given Stein’s involvement, you might perhaps expect a seafood place, and one going for gastronomic glory too. But the ex-employee in question, Sam Harrison, was actually a manager at The Seafood Restaurant, not a chef. And his brainchild is a big, modern brasserie – think brunch, meeting friends, supper after a movie – not a special occasion place.
It certainly fills a gap. As leafy locations packed with nice shops and affluent homes go, Chiswick – long dominated by chain pizzerias – is surprisingly thin on real neighbourhood hang outs. The site is an old paper factory, in an alley set back from the street. By using the odd rough finish and lots of ducting, the designers have achieved a very attractive post-industrial feel.
The owner’s background as a restaurant manager shines through in the motivation and seemingly genuine friendliness of the staff. For a busy, buzzy place, the service is unusually personable and responsive. The menu is of something-for-everyone variety, with a few more ambitious-sounding items thrown in. These don’t promise fireworks, and you don’t get them. The occasional dish does impress: for example an unusual, creamy and deeply flavoured fennel soup. But for the most part, though, you get honest, well put-together scoff that satisfies without startling.
In short, this is the sort of agreeable, not-trying-too-hard venture that I’d happily drop in on most days of the week. It may have some big-name backing, but there’s no hype surrounding Sam’s.