The scene for this splendid nocturnal inter-generational a deux was the Depot in Barnes. It has become a bit of a cliche to say that London does not make enough of its river, so it is only fair to say that there have been a good number of restaurants opening up along the Thames of late. There's Terence Conran's ever-growing brood down by Tower Bridge, the Oxo Tower in Waterloo, the People's Palace in the Royal Festival Hall and Marco Pierre White's Canteen in Chelsea Harbour. But until a colleague told me about the Depot, the only restaurant I knew of along the western part of the Thames was the River Cafe in Hammersmith. So the Depot is a welcome arrival - especially as it's considerably less expensive than its competitors further downstream.
The Depot has, in fact, been on its site, between Barnes and Chiswick Bridge, for 10 years now (nearest tube: very far away indeed). It has only recently, though, been revamped from wine bar to "Waterfront Brasserie". The place, a large, prosperous affair taking up the ground floor of a Victorian warehouse, sits right on the river, with fine views and long afternoon walks both ways. With its white walls, rough wooden floors and bare tables, it is relaxed, light, and modern without being fashionable - Pizza Express rather than Pont de la Tour. The waiters are Antipodean and the atmosphere has something of the New World about it; the clientele, though, is firmly Fulham, and, I noted, predominantly female - generally the sign of a friendly, good-value place.
I had enticed my grandmother, who is Italian, along with the promise of something like an Italian meal. It turned out, however, that I had misled her. "I'm not sure what nationality this is - it seems to have dishes from all over the place," she puzzled, looking at the menu. Ah, that means it's modern British.
The Depot is wise to describe itself as a brasserie rather than a restaurant. The food here is the sort of simple, punchy if slightly rootless fare you now find in London's burgeoning restaurant-pubs: penne with a spicy tomato sauce, fish cakes (fast, it seems, on the way to replacing roast beef as our national dish), Italian sausages with an apricot marmalade, pear and almond tart. The Depot's weekly changing menu, then, holds no great surprises. It is good to note, though, that the dishes are seasonal, and the produce fresh. Prices, too, are fair. We eschewed the pounds 10 two- course set dinner and took our pick from the menu; our meal came to pounds 50 without service.
A spinach-and-artichoke salad in walnut dressing may not be hard to prepare, but mine was fresh, well balanced and full of taste. As for the curried parsnip soup, "it's good, and it's got ginger in it which is good for you", according to my grandmother. The high point of my meal came next, in the form of a gargantuan braised lamb shank on a bed of juicy little white beans. The meat, which tasted of rosemary and thyme, fell off the bone, just as it should. My grandmother, meanwhile, was hardly visible behind a huge mound of roast halibut, poached egg, mashed potato and spinach. "The spinach, you know, isn't overcooked, and the fish is fresh," she reported. Only the mashed potato, we both agreed, was watery and rather tasteless.
The service at the Depot wasn't quite as sharp as it could have been - our waiter forgot to bring us bread, wasn't much help in guiding us through the wine list, and then forgot to take our wine order. But he was friendly enough, and happily confessed that the Depot's ginger ice- cream came from a supplier. The biscuits that came with it, though, were home-made; firm and hard, they made "a good contrast to the ice-cream". These days, lemon tart seems to be almost as common as fish cakes; the pastry in mine was a bit soggy, but you could taste the grated lemon peel in the curd. It was also very prettily presented, with raspberry coulis and cream making a zany yin/yang pattern.
My grandmother has been living in this part of London since before the war, and often complains that there is almost nowhere good to eat (the fine Italian cooking at Riva, a short hop inland, is the exception that proves the rule). Her verdict, then, mattered to me, and although not easy to please in matters culinary, she liked the Depot: "I may well come back"
The Depot, Tideway Yard, Mortlake High Street, London SW14 (0181-878 9462). Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner; all major credit cards; wheelchair accessReuse content