Everything Google wants you to know about the Bingham boutique hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant seems to pertain to kinship. Lady Anne Bingham, who lived here in 1821, is related not so distantly to the Lucans, and by extension Lord Lucan, he of the 1974 disappearing act, and favourite of the conspiracists' charter – spurious sitings are alleged to this day. During our Sunday lunch I see at least a dozen men who answer to his description, but I cannot confirm whether "Lucky" Lucan – known as Lord Bingham before 1964 – is indeed present. The Binghams are also related to the Spencers; Lady Bingham's sister Lavinia married the second Earl of Spencer, progenitor of sorts to dear Diana. As to the conspiracies surrounding her disappearance, the less said the better.
Then there is the wedding factor. Richmond, an utterly spectacular appendage to the Thames, the luxurious bit post-Boat Race finish and pre-Berkshire pretension, is an ideal place to get married at the best of times; but the gloriously Georgian Bingham hotel is an especially fine venue, not least because it won that elusive accolade of Best Wedding Venue at the Wrapit Wedding Industry Awards in 2007. Motivated by such prestige, and feeling hopelessly romantic, my girlfriend C and I go for a walk in the magnificent Richmond Park, where, despite it being rutting season, the gathered deer evince all the eroticism of the Exmoor Emperor (assuming he's met his sorry end).
Passing hordes of kissy couples and Aston Martins on the road towards the hotel, we take a diversion along the river. It is some sort of kiddies' sports day. The names blurted out by dads, every one of whom could make a killing as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's doppelganger, veer between Tabatha, Tamara and Timothy. Here, too, the kinship is ostentatious. And so it proves once we get to our table – only now the kinship is transferred to the food, and ingredients engaged in such generous reciprocity as to make the awarding of a second Michelin star seem imminent.
Shay Cooper is the kitchen CEO. He trained with Paul Heathcote at Juniper in Altrincham and The Vineyard at Stockcross in Newbury. His food is subtle but opulent, unlike the décor here, which is just opulent. The main-room, like the wine list, is a little forbidding; the walls are between gold-plate and green, ideal for a constituency full of wealthy eco-worriers (Zac Goldsmith is the new MP). Some of the seats look like thrones and you can feel the chandeliers sniff each course. There are two rooms: a big one, and a smaller adjunct with a bar in it. Nobody could eat in the latter, as we do, without feeling like the cat that got the semi-skimmed stuff rather than the cream. Luckily, the food is good enough to compensate.
The three-course set lunch is £38 per person, and comes with an excellent amuse-bouche: celeriac and vanilla mousse with poussin (salty and moist) and crispy bits of apple. C has the organic salmon with a very clever courgette-and-basil relish, strips of squid and crispy ginger. There are hints of Tokyo in this. My charming venison carpaccio, with a creamy truffle mayonnaise and tiny pickled cauliflowers, hints more at Taunton. Both are marvellous.
C's plaice is unexceptional, but the side-portion – smoked eel gnocchi with hints of curry spice – may be one of the outstanding gastronomic experiences of modern civilisation: perfect mini-bites in an aromatic, buttery sauce. My braised halibut is muscular and pungent, and though it sits on an irrelevant wedge of baby gem, the accompanying hand-rolled macaroni with mushroom vinaigrette – Cooper clearly loves his fungi – is superb.
The Amedei chocolate tart with orange Chantilly, passion-fruit sorbet and dusted cocoa looks stunning just on the menu; but on the palate it is an exquisite marriage of complementary textures. And the crème-fraîche mousse with English strawberries and lemon madeleines – succulent rather than dry – is finished off with a spirit-raising rose jelly, intensely floral and smooth.
The service is outstanding. And though I'm not entirely sure why it is that every waiter is a handsome man of Asian origin, I can't deny that this realisation merely confirms kinship as the theme of the day. Love and good food on the Thames: maybe I'll get married in Richmond after all.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Bingham, 61-63 Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8940 0902
Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; breakfast and lunch, Sun. About £140 for lunch for two, including wine and service
Hotel du Vin et Bistro
The Sugar House, Narrow Lewins Mead, Bristol, tel: 0117 925 5577
This atmospheric outpost of the boutique-hotel chain, in a former warehouse, always makes a safe choice for food – but it's the superb wine list that is the real star
Angels & Gypsies
29-33 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5, tel: 020 7703 5984
Getting a table is already a challenge at this star newcomer, which forms part of a funky boutique hotel; the interesting tapas are of very good quality
Queensberry Hotel, Russell Street, Bath, tel: 01225 447 928
Excellent and imaginative cuisine at this popular cellar situated beneath a family-owned boutique hotel
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010'. www.hardens.comReuse content