Of the 385 restaurants I have reviewed over the past eight years for these pages, one in four no longer exists. They burst upon the scene with high hopes, big dreams and enormous overheads, get a blaze of publicity, a fistful of reviews, and then... disappear. So I'm not falling for that one again. This being my final column, I want to review something that will be here today and here tomorrow too.
The best way of doing that is to find one that was here yesterday, so here I am at The Glasshouse in Kew, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The chef is not a household name, nor does he have a TV show. I have no idea if celebrities eat here. Yet there is something special about this quietly glamorous glass-walled corner site.
When Chez Bruce's co-owners Nigel Platts-Martin and Bruce Poole first opened The Glasshouse in 1999, the head chef was 27-year-old Cardiff-born Anthony Boyd, who had trained first with Poole, then with Philip Howard at The Square. Not one of these people is remotely fashionable. Poole is all about flavour, Howard is technique, Platts-Martin is business and wine. It is one of the best schools in town, and Boyd was a star pupil, which is why he is still head chef today.
The dining-room has that same lush, rich, vaguely corporate feel of other Platts-Martin restaurants, such as The Ledbury and The Square, with its white-clothed tables, leather chairs and dazzling rippled feature wall. Tonight, it is all dressed-up dates and groups of six in for their Big Night Out, which the classic French-driven eight/eight/eight menu (eight starters, eight mains, eight desserts) delivers. It is a seasonal roll call of things the British love to eat, from smoked-haddock fishcakes with samphire to a crab salad and duck-leg confit and cabbage.
A warm salad of wood pigeon confirms that this is a cook who knows how to put compatible, seasonal ingredients together and then leave them alone. The clean, lean, venison-like breast meat is scattered with smoky bacon, frisée leaves and – the wow factor – a crunchy-crumbed deep-fried egg that spills its golden yolk over all.
This game plan of playing texture off texture also shows in a safe little soup of garden-green fresh peas and smoky ham hock, strewn with crisped shards of prosciutto.
To me, this feels like Pinot-Noir food, so I jump at a juicy, herbaceous 2006 Wild Rock from Central Otago for £32, but even more serious delving can be had from the 500-strong wine list.
A main course of lamb rump with spiced couscous and hummus is a departure from convention, the lamb arranged as a raft on a sea of moist couscous, with life buoys of well-made falafel to each side. Flavours are bold and punchy, but it is the cooking and resting of the lamb that brings the dish greatness. No such surprises in a girly, springtime dish of grilled/roast chicken with jambon de Bayonne on a pool of baby vegetables bathed in buttery, chickeny juices. Again, well-picked produce, generosity and precise cooking times turn the safe into the satisfying. The simplest of desserts – just strawberry sorbet with strawberries and crushed meringue – is an Eton mess without the mess.
Staff are keen but junior, and my one probing question produces, "I am sorry but this is my first week here." I'm sorry, too, but this is my first night here.
With every food critic in the country chasing the tail of the new, with big-budget restaurants going bust every other day, and with our grand hotels dependent on the whims of celebrity chefs, it is only those restaurants that offer real quality and real value from a good, honest, hard-working chef that will save the day. And more importantly, the day after that, and the day after that...
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
The Glasshouse, 14 Station Parade, Kew, London TW9, tel: 020 8940 6777. Lunch and dinner daily. About £37pp for three courses plus wine and service
Second helpings: More 'garden' dining
Off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Set not just in a garden, but in a garden centre where all the plants are for sale, the IoS's own Skye Gyngell lets the season's finest produce speak gloriously for itself
Auberge du Lac
Brocket Hall, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, tel: 01707 368 888
Chef Phil Thompson's seasonal, modern French cooking is a treat, especially when taken al fresco, overlooking the grounds of this former hunting lodge
Serpentine Bar & Kitchen
Serpentine Road, Hyde Park, London W2, tel: 020 7706 8114
The innovative Benugo group has installed chunky share tables, deckchairs, a wood-fired oven and an easygoing menu of fast comfort food in this iconic waterside café
Read Terry Durack's food blog at independent.co.uk/terrydurackReuse content