Sitting beside the river at the Bingham, the Thames's slow crawl to London flowing onward below, it's easy to forget you're a stone's throw from the hubbub of the city.
Two years ago the hotel was a run-of-the-mill bed and breakfast. Since then the Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse has made a point of showing what can be done with a splash of cash and some taste. The 15-bedroom property is now a stylish quasi-retreat - it's far enough from London to feel like an escape - with a river-facing restaurant serving modern British food.
Visually commanding Head chef Shay Cooper joined the property in the middle of 2007 from the equally picturesque Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, bringing with him his visually commanding cuisine. Aside from the breakfast and weddings, Cooper's main charge is the 45-seat Caulder Moore-designed restaurant. He admits that, slogging his way to Richmond for the job interview, he'd made up his mind to rule out working in London, and it took every ounce of the Bingham's riverside charm to change his mind.
His food bears the hallmarks of Michelin inventiveness that are apparent on his CV, with previous jobs including stints at Putney Bridge, Juniper in Altrincham, and the Vineyard at Stockcross. Plated up on slates or slabs or bowls, the dishes are as visually arresting as the best of modern British but, beneath appearances, Cooper's menu is rooted in classical flavour combinations.
Lemon sole with fried bread crust, capers, pickled grapes and roast chicken jus (£10) is a take on the classic French dish, sole véronique, with the yeast of the bread tying in with the grapes. Poached brill fillet is served in a sticky red wine glaze, with sliced razor clams, samphire and a carrot and orange purée (£10.50), while duck and foie gras terrine comes with beetroot chutney, apple salad and cider vinegar caramel (£8). Cooper's favourite starter, he says, is the pared-down braised pig's cheek served with seared scallops, kohlrabi salad and an olive oil sauce gribiche (£9). "It's a clean dish, and quite robust for this time of year," he says.
It's also testament to Cooper's style of including nothing that "customers can't get their heads round". So, while there's a relatively straightforward-sounding shellfish salad of Cornish crab, cockles, clams, oyster and shrimp (£11.50), it has Cooper's touch in the tomato jelly and tomato foam that accompanies the well sourced fruits de mer.
The highlight of the mains is a perfectly braised veal cheek (£21), served like a sticky daube of beef, with sweatbreads, a red wine sauce and Parmesan gnocchi and cauliflower purée, acting as a fine-dining take on cauliflower cheese. It's a forceful, rich dish that Cooper says is suited perfectly to the colder edge of winter.
Classically Balanced Again, the pork dish of slow-cooked suckling pig is one of the most popular, with the loin, saddle and pressed leg and shoulder accompanied by Hispi cabbage, brandade, glazed shallots and Pommery mustard (£19), while roast garlic risotto (£14) is one if the simplest high achievers, with the risotto finished with roast garlic purée and Parmesan foam, then served with black trompettes and sorrel. Line-caught sea bass is also a classically balanced dish, with shredded squid giving a textural edge and squid ink vinaigrette the base flavour, cut through by pickled vegetables and orange (£22).
The desserts, again, run through a list of usual suspects, tweaked and changed according to to Cooper's cuisine. Valrhona chocolate mousse - the most popular on the menu - comes with vanilla rice pudding and pink grapefruit sorbet (£8) and lemon thyme panna cotta with quince compote, crème fraîche sorbet and cinnamon (£7), while a martini-glass lemon meringue is served with poached blackberries, cassis syrup and a wonderfully vibrant blackcurrant sorbet (£7).
Also on the menu
â- Artichoke salad, cèpe marmalade, baby leaves, truffle hollandaise, £8.50
â- Red mullet, saffron mayonnaise, shellfish broth, rye and caraway croÁ»tons (set lunch option: £15/£19 for two/three courses)
â- Organic salmon gremolata, potato and mussel gratin, cucumber and lime relish, £19
â- Rump of lamb, lamb sweetbreads and tongue, olive oil mash, confit celeriac, marjoram dressing, £20
â- Label Anglais chicken, macaroni carbonara, watercress and Parmesan, cèpe purée (set lunch menu)
â- Hazelnut and chocolate marquise, sugared hazelnuts, yogurt jelly, mandarin sorbet, £7
â- Fig parfait, espresso syrup, marscapone, pistachio ice-cream, £7
â- Selection of British cheeses, £8
Away from the stove
"My last meal out was Hibiscus. You can't fault it it's just spot-on technique."
By Tom Vaughan