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Le Vacherin

06 October 2004
Le Vacherin

In recent years, aspiring to put out French bistro food in London hasn't been a very cool thing to do. Talented chefs have striven much more for the fine-dining route to gain credibility with their peers. But the dining-out public, particularly in the suburbs and provinces, has never fallen out of love with good bistro food and, pleasingly, the

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The 70-seat Le Vacherin opened four months ago in Chiswick, west London
style of cooking is making a bit of a comeback. The problem is that while many restaurants claim to offer French bistro cuisine, few actually do. Le Vacherin, a newcomer to Chiswick's dining-out scene, is a happy exception. It even delivers on the decor. The 70-seat dining room is stubbornly undesigned, and has a series of non-intrusive prints decking the walls above a band of dado-height mirrors. Very Parisian. Food-wise, chef-proprietor Malcolm John (ex-London's Bluebird Club, Caf‚ Royal and St Quentin) shows a sure hand with classic bistro dishes. Among recent starters, a generously portioned baked egg with creamed smoked haddock (£5.50) proved satisfyingly creamy with nice chunks of fish; that ladies-who-lunch favourite, goats' cheese tart (£4.95), came lovely and light on a crisp and feathery pastry base with an endive and walnut salad; and white asparagus with pickled mushrooms and beetroot (£6.50) was well-balanced in taste and texture. John, 42, who has also worked in Positano in Italy, changes his menus on a monthly basis but tweaks the offerings continually according to the produce he can get. His experience tells in the fact that most dishes sell well - the balanced menu is spot-on for his market of well-heeled locals. Naturally, Vacherin cheese is on the menu - the dessert menu, to be precise - served baked for two or four people (£7.50/£9). At present this is a goats' milk Vacherin, but next month the more celebrated cows' milk version takes pride of place as its new season hits the market. Getting back to the … la carte, all the other usual bistro suspects are present and correct, too: grilled calves' liver, herb-roasted Landes chicken and slow-cooked rabbit leg among the mains; créme brÁ»lée, floating islands, chocolate fondant among the puds. Every now and then John sneaks in a slightly more challenging option - like poached peach in Sauternes accompanied by tangy goats' cheese ice-cream and chocolate sauce, the latter delivered in a little white jug (£4.95). John has stayed true to France in the wines, too, with an interesting 47-strong list of regional glugs, priced from £12.50 to about £50. In fact, the straightforwardness of the restaurant - both food and wines - is a winner. Cannily, he also runs a lunch menu (£11.95 for two courses, £14.95 for three) and a brunch menu, with fillers like croque monsieur (£6.75), scrambled egg and organic salmon (£4.50) and Toulouse sausages and mash (£7.50). And with an inspired bit of marketing to celebrate the arrival of the new-season Vacherin, he's holding a gala dinner centred on the cheese next month: six courses for £42, kicking off with souffl‚ Suissesse of Vacherin and ending up with another variation on the cheese, yet to be revealed. John has pitched his operation cleverly. He sources good produce, cooks it well, prices it competitively and doesn't bamboozle his diners with too much choice. Chiswick is lucky. Le Vacherin, 76-77 South Parade, Chiswick, London W4 5LF. Tel: 020 8742 2121. [www.levacherin.co.uk
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