76-77 South Parade,
London, W4 5LF
Tel. 020 8742 2121
Food type: French Bistro
Nearest tube: Chiswick Park
Website: Le Vacherin
It has been a long time since I last dined at a Malcolm John restaurant, back when his duo of restaurants in Croydon ‘Le Cassoulet’ and ‘Fish & Grill’ were still around. Of course, this was before the recession when the restaurant industry was booming and there was plenty of money to go around, even in less fashionable areas in South London. Le Cassoulet has sadly closed down and Fish & Grill was subsequently rebranded as Brasserie Vacherin, incorporating the bistro style menu served at the former. Nevertheless, his flagship restaurant in Chiswick has come out unscathed and had recently received a refurbishment.
I was to meet up with a couple of relatives for dinner on a Wednesday night. My initial choice was to dine at La Trompette but they were relatively full and could only offer me a late table. After a bit of thinking, I had narrowed it down to either Michael Nadra, another old standby of mine, or to check out Le Vacherin which I have been meaning to for some time now. As it would have it, the menu at Le Vacherin was much more appealing to my fiancée and so the decision was made.
The menu here offers a vast array of appealing French Bistro classics, all at a relatively sensible price. All the usual suspects such as oysters ‘au naturel‘, escargots, steak au poivre and creme brûlée make a show on the menu. The menu also offers a few dishes designed for sharing such as a Chateaubriand for two, with the meat carved at table side. It is nice to see a little bit of table side theatre which is often missing nowadays when dining out.
I started off with a dish of pan-fried red mullet with aubergine caviar which was fine. The fish was carefully cooked and the aubergine caviar accompaniment was sensible. On the side were a few tomatoes to add some acidity to the dish. I am sure this dish would have been a lot more exciting to eat somewhere in the Mediterranean where the quality of fish would no doubt be dazzling. However, here this dish was perfectly acceptable.
For mains, I opted for an old-fashioned Lobster Thermidor, served whole in its shell with a whole procession of gadgetry to help extract all available lobster meat from every nook and cranny. The lobster was well-timed and the thermidor sauce had a nicely seasoned. As far as lobster thermidor goes, this was certainly one of the better ones I have eaten and so it should be as the most expensive item on the menu, ringing in at £28. What has to be an irritation however, is that the dish comes with no garnishes or accompaniments – you get the lobster and that’s about it. Side dishes are priced at £4.25 each and quickly drive up the price of the actual dish. For what it is worth, the small side of fries were pretty decent but at that price, I’d rather opt for Heston’s triple cooked chips at the Hind’s Head (which are also incidentally cheaper).
To finish, I opted for an Eton Mess which was prettily presented in a tall glass. This was well made, if again uninspiring with plenty of crunchy meringue, whipped cream and red fruits.
Le Vacherin certainly offers an authentic French Bistro experience from their menu which is unpretentious and full of bistro classics to the decor. Sadly they have also brought along the old-fashioned grumpy bistro service. The restaurant had a good buzz going about it even on a Wednesday night with plenty of local punters dining here and you can certainly see why Le Vacherin has been going strong all these years.