Restaurant review: London House, West Byfleet
- Credit: Archant
Now long established as part of the Surrey dining scene, version two of London House will soon celebrate its second anniversary. Matthew Williams visits the new home of former MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist, Ben Piette, and his team and discovers an expanding foodie empire in West Byfleet
In an unassuming parade of shops near West Byfleet railway station, an exciting foodie empire is growing. Having moved to the area from their first incarnation of London House restaurant in Old Woking, Ben Piette and Lornette Valentine have quickly transformed their new home.
While there’s a betting shop across the road, along with what is currently a building site, you could be anywhere you wish to be once you’re inside. A bar stretches out in front of you in the restaurant, but they’ve also just opened a brand-new wine bar next door called Camouflage. With their The Pantry deli on the other side, it’s a hell of a foodie sandwich that’s quietly coming together in this corner of Surrey between Woking and Weybridge.
We arrive early on a mid-week evening, and the restaurant is fairly quiet – it’s that time of the year in Surrey, where restaurants aiming for the fine dining crowd often come to life at weekends. Taken to our table by the bubbly Jenny, we’re greeted by a giant fish tank style window that gives a full view into the kitchen, where Ben and his team are busily working away prepping. We can read the titles of his cooking books from where we’re sat and watch every ingredient as it’s plated. It’s like MasterChef with a live audience, which is fitting, of course, as Ben originally came to prominence when making the semi-finals of MasterChef: The Professionals back in 2010. You’ll find his chef’s jacket in the restaurant, although I’ll leave it to you to discover where when you next visit.
A lot of time has passed since then though and in its time in both Old Woking and West Byfleet, London House has become a staple of the Surrey dining scene. Most recently, I’d bumped into Ben helping to cater at the birthday celebrations of his friends, Cellar Magneval in Woking. Cooking on TV and for the top bods at McLaren (another former life) was nothing compared to presenting a whole meal that had be served and eaten in the dark. No such challenges tonight, however, with London House all pristine white linen, intimate lighting and chilled lounge music.
Diving straight in
Intrigued to see how London House stacks up against our first visit, back in the early days of version one, and the reports we’ve received ever since, we dive straight into the four-course menu. It’s an intriguing menu that flits between French and English, with both abstract titles (The Modern Cauliflower Cheese and Asperges Blanches Avec Papa, My Version) and traditional ingredient-led ones.
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Our young sommelier for the evening is Joshua and, like Jenny, he seems relaxed and enthusiastic. It fits the place. There’s an unpretentious neighbourhood bistro feel about the place, even with the white linen.
My first course is The Modern Cauliflower Cheese. I’m not entirely sure what I expect when I order it, but my brain is perhaps edging towards some kind of Pablo Picasso-style deconstruction. What I don’t necessarily expect is, well, cauliflower. At first bite, I’m still not entirely sold. But then, slowly, with each little mouthful, the flavour builds until by the end I’m looking for a second plate.
Sylviane opts for the lobster risotto which, I’m told, is well-balanced and deliciously creamy – and shot through with feisty parmesan. I’ll have to take her word for that though...
Asperges Blanches Avec Papa, My Version comes next for Sylviane and such is her enjoyment, I couldn’t let this one off a tasting. When a forkful is passed over, I again have no real expectations – it’s a pretty enough plate but, well, it’s asparagus. It turns out to be an explosion of flavour and texture, however. It’s a dish I’d have looked passed without blinking, and yet that would have been my loss entirely. Deep and earthy truffled Tomme de Vache brings an unexpected complexity into play alongside the succulent asparagus. It’s a memorable dish.
Delivered snug, hidden under a blanket of super thin pasta is my delicious quail, butternut and cannellini. It has a certain je ne sais quoi. Like my starter, it tries its best to trick me into complacency before proving to be a sensation beneath the (pasta) sheets. As with most of the dishes we try, I can imagine it scaled up to a main.
Our actual mains of Monkfish, Land & Sea and spiced rump of lamb are delivered next. Round three to me here.
We have fond memories of Ben and his team’s handling of meat dishes from his time in Old Woking and it’s pleasing to see they clearly haven’t lost their touch. The lamb is utterly ‘make embarrassing noises while you eat it’ divine, while the jus and aioli provide heavenly hits and the rosti and egg provide subtle contours for the flavours to spike off. There’s nothing flash here, it’s just seriously good eating.
Sylviane’s monkfish is well cooked and by no means completely in the shadow of my lamb, but it’s a tough competition this food envy. The addition of a breaded prawn adds an additional touch of class and magic to the plate. This is delicious food and seems extremely well priced in the current market.
My dessert is a fun little denouement of Cambridge burnt cream, coffee panna cotta and lemon posset. While at first I’m left with a spoon that’s too big to work its way around the dishes in front of me, that’s quickly put right and each dessert is perfectly satisfactory.
Sylviane’s eyes light up at the cheese platter, which showed the same care and attention that was obvious throughout our journey. As Surrey Life’s Official Cheese Taster™, she loves every aspect of the dish from the bespoke plates to the cracker selection.
I’d love to revisit on a more bustling night, as I’m sure the drama in the open view kitchen must be something to behold. In fact, it turns out you can ensure you’re at the heart of the action anyway. Catching up with Ben after our meal, we spot the chef’s table hidden away on the kitchen side of the window. Priced at £62 for six off-menu courses, it sounds like an intriguing option. MasterChef: The Professionals Live, if you will?
Suffice to say, the whole experience left us rather envious of West Byfleet commuters. Just imagine, having endured the cattle run of the trains following a stressful day in the office you can pop in for something delicious at your neighbourhood restaurant or grab a glass of your favourite fine wine next door. Sounds like heaven to us.
Need to know
London House, 30 Station Approach, West Byfleet KT14 6NF
Tel: 01932 482026
What we ate
Evening menu: two courses £30; three courses £35; four courses £42
Wine taster: two courses £12; 3 courses £17; four courses £21
• Beurre noisette cauliflower with bacon and bread sauce.
• Lobster risotto with tarragon, fennel and parmesan crémeux and lemon.
• White asparagus with rapeseed mayonnaise, truffle Tomme de Vache and croutes.
• Quail with butternut, cannellini, sage and pasta.
• Monkfish with Parma ham, tomato broth, breaded prawn, sea herbs and pickled courgettes.
• Spiced rump of lamb with artichoke, port blackberry, aioli, sprouts, potato rosti and soft egg.
• Cambridge burnt cream, coffee panna cotta and lemon posset.
• Cheeses, chutney, crackers and fruit.