Rugby legends tackle their favourite English and French restaurants in Surrey
England meet France in the Six Nations at Twickenham in February as the British & Irish Rugby Legends tackle an equally legendary French side the evening before. Here, to mark this clash of the titans, the home nations’ Rob Henderson, who lives in Thames Ditton, reviews his favourite French restaurant in Surrey, while captain of the French side, Serge Betsen, who lives near Richmond, visits his top English eaterie
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2013
The French Table 85 Maple Road, Surbiton KT6 4AW. Tel: 0208 399 2365 / thefrenchtable.co.uk Reviewed by Rob Henderson
It is often assumed that the highlight of my playing career was the Lions tour to Australia in 2001. Whilst a great honour, my personal highlight was actually beating France 27-25 in 2000, for the first time in 28 years. Later, a happy season with Toulon, and these days enjoying a good French red with a fuller body (a bit like myself nowadays!), has all led to me becoming a bit of a Francophile.
Playing against the French is one thing; playing for the Lions another – but playing for the Lions against the French having reviewed a French restaurant is tantamount to suicide…Unless, as in this instance, the report back is exemplary!
There was no question then where I would choose to eat when asked to visit a French restaurant. The French Table in Maple Road, Surbiton, has to be up there with the best restaurants in England, and indeed enfant terrible Gordon Ramsay himself thought so when he visited.
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In short, an evening at the French Table in Surbiton is like un petit peu de France, mais en Angleterre!
Run by a husband and wife team, chef Eric Guignard works his magic in the kitchen while the front of house is excellently marshalled by his wife Sarah.
My wife Angie and I visited the restaurant, now in its 12th successful year, on a wintry Saturday evening. The simple and stylish décor seats ten intimate tables of two and four tables of four. We started our meal with an aperitif each and were offered a selection of their home-made breads including our favourite, the chorizo kind, as we perused the mouth-watering menu.
Whilst a five-course tasting menu showcasing Eric’s signature dishes is available, we opted for the à la carte menu. Having ordered, knowledgeable sommelier Ania was then able to suggest the perfect wine to accompany our meal and offered tasting notes and anecdotes about the wine chosen.
C’est magnifique! To start with, I ordered one of the evening’s specials; a very tasty fish stew topped with pastry whilst Angie chose grilled scallops with cuttlefish on a salad of artichoke, confit potato and raclette cheese and mushroom froth. We were in agreement that whilst each individual ingredient was delicious in its own right, it was Eric’s ingenious taste combinations, married together brilliantly, that made it so perfect.
For the main course, I chose a festive sounding Saddle of Venison with parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts and chestnuts served with the most melt-in-the-mouth braised venison tourte. Angie ordered the trio of Pork Belly. One of Eric’s signature dishes, it came three ways including grilled pork belly with pan-fried fois gras, a chorizo-topped spring roll of pork confit and a mini-burger – unlike any burger you have ever tasted!
Too greedy to turn down dessert, we ordered a hazelnut crème brûlée with praline ice cream and a cheeseboard. Our waitress brought a selection for us to choose from, including an unusual one made of a combination of ewe, goat and cow’s milk and one called Munster, which I simply had to order!
We were then invited upstairs to enjoy our coffees in the lounge, which can also cater up to 32 diners for a private function, an ideal location for an intimate celebration. We enjoyed such a high standard of food, yet in a relaxed and stylish setting, not pretentious in the slightest. The best meal I have eaten this side of the channel; c’est vrai.
Rob Henderson has represented Ireland with 32 caps and toured with the British and Irish Lions. Educated at the Tiffin School in Kingston, he went on to play for London Irish, London Wasps, Leinster, Munster and the French side Toulon before returning to the UK to sign for Esher.
The Dysart Arms 135 Petersham Road, Richmond TW10 7AA. Tel: 0208 940 8005 /thedysartarms.co.uk Reviewed by Serge Betsen
A recent discovery of mine is The Dysart Arms in Petersham. It’s only about 15 minutes from my home and it’s ideally located right opposite a pedestrian entrance to Richmond Park. It’s very convenient to have a business lunch there as I am often coaching London Scottish in the afternoons in Richmond. Also, you can have a really indulgent blow-out, or choose a light and more healthy but still delicious meal, which suits me better before a training session.
They have a fantastic selection of fine wines, too, but also offer a delicious refreshing cordial made from rosehips from their own garden.
Raising the bar In actual fact, it’s not really a pub, more a restaurant with a bar, and they are very family-friendly and also welcome dogs. As I have only recently discovered The Dysart, I haven’t yet been with my family, but I plan to bring them soon at a weekend as we could work up an appetite first over the road in the park playing ball or on the swings and then enjoy a lovely lunch.
Set in a beautiful Arts and Crafts building from 1904, the interior has been restored to emphasise as many of the original features as possible, particularly the wood. One exception to this is the oak bar, which was not original, but turned out to have an interesting history of its own – it had originally been bought in the 1850s from decommissioned Napoleonic period warships!
So enough about the setting and onto the food itself! As I was going on to a coaching session later at London Scottish, I wanted something fairly light so chose two starters instead of a main course.
First up then was an organic Scottish salmon sashimi served on crisp sushi rice with smoked lime and vanilla. It was an amazing combination of the warm crispy rice, with the cool salmon and touch of lime and vanilla sauce.
Home-grown produce Next, I had a winter pumpkin salad with a soft quail’s egg and muscovado yoghurt. Apparently, the pumpkins come from their own garden. It tasted superb and it was like a work of art on the plate. Alongside this was served freshly baked Irish soda bread, which is the chef’s grandmother’s recipe, and butter mixed through with fennel flowers, again from the garden.
All in all, just one word springs to mind when I think about The Dysart Arms –‘fantastique’!
Serge Betsen is a recently retired French rugby union player who appeared in 63 internationals representing France and played for London Wasps and Biarritz Olympique at club level.