Restaurants: A touch of glass

Musician Nick Lowe famously loved the sound of it breaking. He was rather keen on Kew's Glasshouse restaurant too. Photographs by Claudia Janke
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Genteel Kew in south-west London is an unlikely location in which to find one of London's most raved-about new restaurants. The area doesn't boast the high-caste media residents of neighbouring Richmond or Barnes, or the retired-rock-star rakishness of Twickenham or Strand-on-the-Green. In fact, apart from its famous gardens, there doesn't seem to be much going on in Kew at all. Which must make the locals all the happier that the brains behind The Square and Chez Bruce - two of London's best modern- French restaurants - have chosen a site next to Kew Gardens station for their latest venture, The Glasshouse.

There's a touch of Trumpton about Station Parade, the leafy street of butchers, bakers and scented candle-makers which houses The Glasshouse. It's the kind of perfectly preserved suburban location in which you might expect Lucinda Lambton to pop up from behind a Gilbert Scott phone box, enthusing about Pevsner and Betjeman.

Amid all this Metroland quaintness, The Glasshouse cuts an incongruously modernist dash. A discreet plate-glass facade conceals an airy wedge-shaped room, expensively refurbished in that monochrome contemporary style which makes a virtue of its featurelessness: all white walls, tan-leather club chairs, and crisp white napery. Vases of pretty flowers on each table do justice to Kew's botanical renown, and the unpretentious abstract paintings dotted around could easily be the work of one of the area's many Sunday painters.

Anthony Boyd, Glasshouse's 27-year-old chef, is a graduate of both The Square and Chez Bruce. His daily changing menu, which offers three courses for a set price of pounds 21.50, avoids fancy descriptions, but still manages to sound deeply appetising. For the adventurous, there's warm salad of wood pigeon with deep-fried truffled egg, or sardine and tomato lasagne with crisp mackerel, but there are also such Kew-friendly comforters as fillet of cod with mashed potato, spring greens and pea puree. Breads are fresh-baked and various, and the wine list non-partisan and reasonably priced. Most striking of all, though, is the expertise of the service, which is informed and attentive without feeling over formal - the waiter who instantly sped over to correct the wobble on our table was wearing faded denims beneath his starched-white apron.

My co-diner, the musician Nick Lowe, lives near Kew, and was pleasantly surprised to find an outpost of West End stylishness this far west. He was also rather taken with the air of benign authority radiating from Maurice Bernard, the restaurant's vastly experienced silver-haired manager. "Is he being this nice to everyone else?" he whispered, after we'd been talked through the menu with firm-but-fair Gallic persuasiveness.

Despite being something of a fussy eater, Nick was tempted by nearly everything on offer, eventually resolving to start with an oyster and salmon ragout. "I've never eaten an oyster before, but I think the time has come," he announced, with the trepidatious air with which Superman might order a Kryptonite salad. The gamble paid off; perfectly poached, rather than raw and slithery, the single oyster which topped his dish was about as unscary an introduction to that briny delicacy as it's possible to get. "It tastes of the sea!" he murmured wonderingly. That rite of passage belatedly out of the way, he was free to enjoy a succulent pan- fried escalope of salmon, crisp of skin and served with fresh asparagus in a broth fragrant with chives and leeks.

My starter, a risotto of curried smoked haddock and coriander, fused elements of three cuisines - Asian, British and Italian - in a triumph of international co-operation. The curried sauce was mild and fruity, the rice soft rather than al dente, and flecked with tender morsels of fish. Chopped fresh coriander was present in just the right quantity, providing exclamation marks without scrawling its signature all over the dish.

Nick's new-found adventurousness failed him when it came to the main courses, and he recoiled at my choice of braised leg of rabbit. "Rabbits - they're just rats with a good PR, aren't they?" he sniffed. Mine also had a good personal trainer, judging by the meatiness of the portion, which was served with sweet potato and hand-rolled Parmesan gnocchi, in a broth flavoured with sage and rosemary.

Nick's bourride of red bream followed a similar formula - a beautifully cooked piece of protein, a chivey sauce, and an accompaniment of shrimps and mussels given an elusive Oriental taste by a hint of saffron. Neither of our dishes was huge, but in Anthony Boyd's style of clean, contemporary cooking, every element is so well-flavoured that the result is brilliantly fulfilling.

The only low point of our evening came with the arrival of a pashminaed glamour-puss at the next table, wearing so much perfume that we were obliged to conduct the latter part of our meal in a throat-stripping fug of Poison. Apart from her, the other diners were a pleasant bunch. Many of them were obviously well-heeled locals, but there was also room, on a Monday night, for a young couple who arrived on bicycles and, without a booking, secured a table by the bar. Be warned, though - Friday and Saturday dinner tables are already booked up several weeks in advance.

From a dessert menu which caters for all levels of self-indulgence, Nick enjoyed a light cheesecake, served with griottine cherries and a blood- coloured ball of cherry sorbet. "This is so delicious I can't believe it," he panted. My sternly described "rhubarb and custard" was more sybaritic than it sounded; a layer of set custard beneath just-sweet-enough rhubarb, topped with a dusting of crumble. With excellent coffees, our bill came to a very reasonable pounds 76, including service and a pounds 23 bottle of wine.

We were just climbing into our car when a voice called out to us from the darkness, in cut-glass tones which suggested that Lucinda Lambton had finally put in an appearance. An attractive young woman approached us to ask if we would mind dropping her off a few streets away. On the way, Nick commended her for her bravery in trusting two strangers to give her a lift. "But this is Kew!" she exclaimed. For its residents, Kew is obviously a dream of a neighbourhood. How appropriate, then, that it should now boast a dream of a neighbourhood restaurant

The Glasshouse, 14 Station Parade, Kew, Surrey (0181-940 6777). Mon- Sat lunch 12-3pm, dinner 6.30-10.30pm. Sun lunch 12.30-3pm. Two-course fixed-price lunch pounds 15, three-course dinner pounds 21.50. Limited disabled access. All cards (except Diners).

More local options: Bites, page 51