Harvey Trollope's seafood-led, brasserie-style cuisine is drawing customers into Sam Harrison's stylish restaurant in spite of social distancing. Tessa Allingham pays a visit.
Sam's Riverside could hardly get closer to the water. A step or two across the Thames Path, the river bends sharply towards Chiswick in one direction, slips back towards Putney in the other.
Owner Sam Harrison, who is on the floor every day, greets many of his guests by name. The clientele is a mix of well-heeled west Londoners, cinema-goers and the occasional celebrity working at the newly redeveloped Riverside Studios, of which Sam's Riverside is part.
The interiors are glam, with art deco lamps, blue-grey velvet banquettes and a giant arrangement of delphiniums on the central waiters' station; it also feels a little bit neighbourhood hang-out. "A great mix!" says Harrison. "I love our local trade, but we're also becoming a destination. We're seeing more bookings coming through the likes of Golden Keys hotel concierges."
Since reopening on 4 July, banquette tables have been separated with Perspex screens, others are well-spaced and seat six maximum. Instead of physical menus, guests scan a QR code.
Head chef Harvey Trollope's classically rooted, modern British style was nurtured, separately, under the heavyweight gaze of Marco Pierre White and John Williams. He spent two years – including one as head chef – at Wheeler's of St James, working with Garry Hollihead at the time of the restaurant's 2009 relaunch, before moving to the Ritz London as premier sous. He also worked in France and Italy, where he dived deep into the countries' respective cuisines.
Since lockdown, the menu has inevitably been shortened and dishes simplified to be manageable by five chefs (previously eight), and to make financial sense with half the covers (just 60). Among approximately nine starters and mains (plus snacks and sides), and four desserts (plus cheese), are dishes for those seeking the full lobster (£39.50), prime sirloin (£29.50) or wild bass (£28.50) experience, as well as cheeseburger and chips (£17.50) or a plate of grilled summer vegetables (£14.50).
The menu will be in place until September, but for now it sings of summer. Half a dozen oysters (Carlingford or Jersey rock, £18) with a classic shallot vinaigrette are pure, minerally mouthfuls, and popular – some 600 are shucked a week. Ditto native lobster, grilled and served with homemade mayonnaise and chips, or on a ‘shuckers platter' (£42) with oysters and crevettes. A lobster roll (£27.50) sells well. "It's about 200g of meat, packed into a fluffy brioche bun made for us by the amazing Hedone Bakery," says Trollope, "Then our lobster sauce, salad, loads of chives. It's extravagant comfort food."
At the other end of the scale is hake for just £18, pan-fried with chilli, lemon, capers and parsley, and served with charred baby Gem; and a shrimp salad (£18.50) with cos and oakleaf lettuce tossed in rapeseed oil and lemon, and fat prawns curled through homemade mayo that's been pepped up with a slug of brandy, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, horseradish, cayenne and paprika.
Flavour combinations are considered but uncomplicated. Trollope will pair lovage ("far more interesting than basil") with Isle of Wight tomatoes macerated in rapeseed oil; he likes the sharp flavour of sorrel with Severn & Wye smoked salmon; and sea purslane with bass. It fits that chefs Fergus Henderson and Stephen Harris are inspirations.
Savoury churros are deep-fried, Parmesan-flecked bestseller snacks. "It's basically a gougère mix with loads of Parmesan, piped into sticks, frozen, then deep-fried at 160ºC for four or five minutes. There's a constant ‘how long on the churros' shout!" laughs Trollope.
Homemade raspberry sorbet (£7) is all about the fruit, a whack of clean flavour powering through sugar to end a meal on a sharp high. "There's verbena in there too – I've got it by the bush-load at home. I use a little salt to extract the flavour and less sugar."
A compact wine list favours the Old World, a straightforward Languedoc Picpoul (£30) or Garrus, a blend of the region's Syrah, Grenache and Carignan grapes (£25) leading the way to a Meursault Premier Cru or St Julien Grand Cru Classé (£125). A glass of Kent's Gusbourne Estate fizz is a popular aperitif (£10).
Week one of the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme resulted in fully booked lunch and dinner, and Harrison is hopeful that his new deli nearby, Sam's Larder, will add a layer of interest, stocking ingredients used in the kitchen, pies and sauces made by his chefs, and provisions from favourite suppliers.
From the menu
- Chilled pea and mint soup £6.50
- Isle of Wight tomatoes, Graceburn soft cow's cheese, lovage £9
- Hereford aged rib-eye beef tartare, dripping toast £12 (£20 as main)
- Roast wild Dorset bass, sea vegetables, seaweed butter £28.50
- Sirloin steak salad, horseradish dressing, beef dripping croutons £21.50
- Fosse Meadows chicken, roasted carrots, green sauce £19.50
- Gooseberry crumble, raw cream £7.50
- Lemon posset, raspberries, meringue, lemon balm £7
Sam's Riverside, 1 Crisp Road, Hammersmith, London W6 9DN 0208 237 1020 www.samsriverside.co.uk
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