Phil Howard's second venture with Rebecca Mascarenhas, in Barnes, south west London, is a neighbourhood restaurant with a relaxed, informal atmosphere and a menu to match. Janie Manzoori-Stamford reports
Who says Phil Howard can't do casual? The head chef and partner of the two-Michelin-starred Square restaurant in Mayfair, as well as partner of the two-star Ledbury in Notting Hill, is renowned for his attention to detail and deft touch with exceptional high end cookery.
But Sonny's Kitchen, which sits on the site of Sonny's Restaurant in Barnes, south west London, demonstrates just how versatile Howard is. It is his second venture with restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas after the hugely successful Kitchen W8, which they opened in 2010 and which gained a Michelin star the following year.
The attention to detail is undoubtedly still present and this time it is coupled with a relaxed and informal dining experience - exactly what you'd want, but also need, from a neighbourhood restaurant.
"There's something challenging, and also fulfilling, about trying to please local people," Howard explains. "You could argue that a restaurant in the West End will always have customers walking through the door, because you're there. They've got to eat. To succeed in a small community that sits in a loop of the Thames, you've got to get it right."
This approach to the business is clearly reflected in the menu. Howard is aiming to appeal to all people on all occasions with a remarkably concise and considered selection of simple and more complex dishes. It tries to offer the kind of food we all want to eat, with something for everybody.
As a result the list of starters features the likes of foie gras parfait, served with camomile jelly, the restaurant's own chutney and homemade sourdough toast (£9.50), alongside healthy options such as salad of globe artichoke with fresh almonds, pickled girolles and summer truffle (£10).
Pizzas and pastas are available too, which help meet the needs of the many families in this affluent area of London. Rather than inundate them with all the usual margarita and carbonara fare, the choices are limited to just three of each, such as pizza bianca with cured wagyu beef, smoked mozzarella, scorched onions, artichokes and rosemary (£16) and linguine with sardines, tomato, lemon zest, garlic, chilli and bottarga (£8.50/£14.50).
Howard says he will tweak his menu in acknowledgement of the passage of the seasons but admits that with such a busy dining room, which aims to serve around 1,000 covers a week, major overhauls would cause chaos.
A recent addition to the main courses was breast of duck with tarte fine of caramelised endive and cherries (£17), replacing a guinea fowl dish served with Parmesan gnocchi and morels (£17).
For those looking for more simple, hearty food there is a 28-day-aged White Park beefburger with smoked onion relish and fries (£13); and chargrilled rack of BBQ baby back ribs, and potato skins with sour cream and chives (£14.50).
Desserts will appeal to young and old, with a vanilla and citrus cheesecake served with strawberries (£7.50) available next to the "SK brownie sundae" (£8.50), or alternatively there is a short selection of British cheeses.
The concise, international wine list of around 70 bins, with wines by the glass starting at £3.95, aims to offer value and accessibility. As a result there are no wine and food pairing recommendations in order to maintain the absence of formality.
"I think everyone was expecting Kitchen W8 to be more casual than it is and they all said: ‘Phil Howard is incapable of doing anything that is actually chilled out'," says Howard. "Sonny's Kitchen really is an informal and relaxed neighbourhood restaurant, but ambitious."
Sonny's Kitchen and Foodstore
92-94 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 0DQ
020 8748 0393
Sample dishes from the menu
Serrano ham with tomato, pickled garlic & olive crostini (for two) £16
Chargrilled spiced spatchcock quail with couscous, pistachio & pomegranate £10
Roasted Italian peppers with marinated aubergines, balsamic vinegar & olives £8
Ravioli of kid with a vinaigrette of golden raisins, pecorino, walnut & rocket £7.25/£12.50
Pesto glazed sea bream with piperade, borlotti beans, semi dried tomato & olive oil £16.50
Ribeye steak with roast onions, field mushrooms, garlic butter & chips £21
Cherry & almond tart with cherry ripple ice-cream £7.50
Double baked bitter chocolate & orange mousse cake with creme fraÎche £7.50
Salad of new season's melon with mint sorbet £6.50