The baby boom in bistros

Just because a restaurant works well, it does not mean it can reproduce itself. Jim Ainsworth visits two offshoots of successful parents

The reproductive urge is strong among restaurateurs. No sooner do they find themselves in clover, with customers piling through the door, than they start planning another branch.

For nearly eight years John McClements has run a classy dining room, McClements Petit Restaurant, at 12 The Green, Twickenham. Following the example of some very smart chef-patrons across the Channel, who were opening less formal, but-my-goodness-how-fashionable bistros in tandem, he whipped the covers off McClements Bistro about 18 months ago.

"I couldn't afford to move into London," he says, "so I brought modern London cooking to the suburbs". The Bistro, though, is hardly out in the sticks - no more than 20 minutes by rail from Waterloo, plus a 75-yard dash from Twickenham station.

Mr McClements was aiming for popular, inexpensive but high-quality food that would mop up the local trade, filling what experts might call "a gap in the market". Experts on Twickenham will tell you just how big that gap was, which goes some way towards explaining why it took off so well. Another reason is the kind of food that his chef Philip Rickerby cooks: black pudding en croute, stuffed lamb's heart served with lamb's tongue and potato cake, and pig's trotter wrapped in Parma ham and fried.

If offal is the food of the moment, it is not before time. Oxtail is so much tastier than the general run of plain rump steak, and the textures of liver and heart are a pleasant change from lamb chop. "Offal is much more interesting to cook, and so versatile," says Mr McClements. Flavours and a rich stickiness come from slow cooking, and the edible bits can be detached from bones and cartilage and presented in any number of ways, even daintily.

The first thing that arrives on the table at McClements Bistro, along with a basket of first-class, thick-crusted, home-made bread, is a tiny pot of crumbly terrine-like spread made from finely chopped duck gizzard, neck and heart, flavoured with star anise, garlic and bacon, the whole cooked confit-style in duck fat. It is a simple and brilliant way to begin a meal.

Sadly, on the day we went, the pig's head - boned, pot-roasted and served with sliced Savoy cabbage and brown lentils - was not at its best, rather old and tired as if it had been hanging around too long. But there are plenty of other things to chew on, including cassoulet, osso bucco and - for those for whom offal is not an obsession - rump steak with chips, or noisette of lamb. First courses are generally £5 or less, mains £10 or less, and puddings £3.75, with an automatic 10 per cent service charge. Thirty decent wines are mostly under £20.

Modern cooking, of the sort that keeps a versatile chef happy, would be nothing without fish and vegetables, among them a fine Provencal fish soup, served with crispy thin toasts and a pink and garlicky rouille, a well executed salad of briskly seared scallops with minuscule pieces of crunchy bacon, and a vegetable couscous that makes the most of seasonal swede, carrot and turnip, all in tomato sauce, with gentle but persistent spicing from cumin and fresh coriander. Because it is a bistro, it may be tempting to skip pudding, but Mr Rickerby's tarte tatin of pears is exemplary, with delightful pastry, well cooked pear halves and good caramel sauce and custard.

Mr McClements cannot be in two restaurants at once, but he has found somebody who can deliver good food on his behalf. The Bistro works because the man at the stove knows how to cook.

Just before Christmas, Cafe Bruno opened up next door to its parent Bistrot Bruno in Frith Street, London W1, just in time for an opportunistic grab at seasonal passing trade. lt was patched together with a bit of artexing, and plywood around the walls to give it a breathless, temporary feel, and offers a commendably short menu at cafe prices. The gamut runs from French onion soup at £3, all the way up to roast poussin on gratin dauphinois with herb jus at £6.50, with 12.5 per cent service charge added automatically.

Hopes that some of Bruno Loubet's superior cooking skills may have rubbed off on this kitchen, however, are not met. The food lacks vitality, whether in the sauce for sauted chicken livers with penne and chorizo, or the tomato relish with limp and not very recently fried onion rings that accompany grilled mackerel fillets. An opportunity seems to have been lost in the rush to sire an instant winner.

McClements Bistro, 2 Whitton Road, Twickenham TW1 1BJ (0181-744 9610).

Cafe Bruno, 65 Frith Street, London W1V 5TA (0171-439 0606).

Emily Green is on holiday.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Day In a Page

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
    Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

    Escape from Everest base camp

    Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
    Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

    What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

    Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
    Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

    Gossip girl comes of age

    Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
    Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

    Goat cuisine

    It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
    14 best coat hooks

    Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

    Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?