When a new chef takes over the kitchen of a well-respected restaurant there's always potential for a few wobbly moments, particularly if he or she wants to impose their own character on the menu immediately. The clever restaurateur dodges this nascent crisis by putting someone in charge who will continue to evolve a restaurant's reputation rather than alter it drastically.
This is exactly what's happened at Chiswick's La Trompette, where 28-year-old James Bennington took over from Ollie Couillard earlier this year. Bennington comes from the same stable as Couillard - restaurant owner Bruce Poole's own Michelin-starred Chez Bruce in Wandsworth - and, consequently, the transition has been seamless.
Like Couillard before him, he gets a satisfying depth of flavour in his food, which is essentially modern French in style with a nuance of Iberian and Mediterranean in the ingredients. "I've grown up with Bruce's style and it's moulded the way I cook," he admits. More important, it's the type of food Bennington likes to eat, too.
Sensibly he's continued to keep the menu compact (seven to eight choices at each level), tweaking it when appropriate in response to the produce coming through the doors. Among the puds, for instance, a tart always has a place, but whereas the summer kicked off with a lovely peach and almond version served with rich, cloying Jersey cream, by August cherries had replaced the peaches, and now plums are set to oust them from their starring role.
Gazpacho, too, started the summer with shrimps and basil oil, but Bennington substituted salted almonds and crotons for the seafood element in August. "We print the menu every day, so it's easy to put in new elements, and because we have a lot of regulars it's really important that we keep changing things," says Bennington. Not only does reacting to seasonality make sense from the customers' point of view, it's practical for Bennington and his six-strong brigade of chefs. Changing a menu completely in one go is often a recipe for chaos. Gradual introduction of new dishes means they're cooked consistently well.
One of the standout dishes for me when I visited was a gutsy ballottine of pata negra pork belly with borlotti beans, chorizo and salsa verde among the starters. Halibut with mushroom duxelle, serrano ham and a truffle veal jus was also good - although a rump of lamb with crisp sweetbreads and an anchovy beignet that wafted past my table looked enticing enough to make me almost change my order.
Best of all was a creamy vanilla-tinged cheesecake with a berry compote enhanced with orange zest and a palate-cleansing basil granita with pineapple and a fromage blanc sorbet.
Satisfyingly for Bennington, dishes have sold well across the board during his first few months at La Trompette's helm, with classic combinations like duck and cherries, and veal and sweetbreads just edging it in the popularity stakes among the mains. Unsurprisingly, it's the hot chocolate pud with praline parfait that bring in the bucks among the desserts (even during the summer).
One word of advice - leave room for cheese. A selection of about 20 French and home-grown varieties carry many temptations and are worth the £5 supplement. Try Rawcombe Blue, a tangy, Welsh goats' cheese.
All in all, La Trompette remains a haven for grown-ups in leafy, cappuccino-bound Chiswick - a sophisticated bolt hole for locals with sleek, professional service that gives them West End standards on their own doorstep. But at 35 for three courses, you get more for your money than in the heart of the Big Smoke.
What's on the menu
Three courses, £35
- Rare grilled salmon with crisp fennel salad, tapenade and sauce vierge
- Cannelloni of ham hock with broad beans, girolles and crisp pancetta
- Steamed plaice with scallop mousseline samphire and buttered cockles
- Duck breast, croustillant and foie gras with endive and cherries
- Soft polenta of asparagus, poached egg, Parmesan and black olives
- Blanquette of veal with crisp sweetbreads, creamed potatoes, baby vegetables
- Crème Brûlée
- Glazed lemon tart
- Pinkk grapefruit sorbet
La Trompette, 5 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, London W4 2EU
Tel: 020 8747 1836