Nick Montagu on the latest addition to the local restaurant scene
Le Vacherin has been open for two weeks on the old (and rather unpromising) Riso site at Acton Green. We went there for Sunday lunch - one of five tables in a restaurant so big that they'll need to expand the clientele quickly to survive. They deserve the chance: all the signs of newness are there, but there's also the potential for a good unpretentious local bistro.
The pluses first. Service is friendly and attentive - at times excessively so, with our first courses whipped away barely before we had emptied our last mouthful. When a dirty knife was dropped onto my trousers, a hot damp cloth and a complimentary glass of port to go with my cheese appeared in rapid succession. And the food is OK to very good.
Starters of chicken liver with pine nuts, and of grilled goats cheese with a chicory and walnut salad were competently done. The main course - a whole roast Gascon chicken for two - was more than competent. Beautifully roast and with a good creamy tarragon sauce, it came with (as an extra) dwarf green beans, perfectly cooked. If I were being hyper-critical, I'd say that I like my beans topped as well as tailed. Cheeses were well kept and explained - a platter of seven of them.
But they haven't really got their act together yet. The waiting, though friendly, is amateurish. Wine was poured too generously - half a bottle into our two glasses at the outset. And the wine list does not accurately describe the wines: our (very good) Anjou red was described as being of a different vintage and of a different strength from the reality. The espresso machine was not yet functioning; we were presented with a menu with a (set price) lunch menu and an a la carte brunch one. We had ordered from the set menu when the waitress returned to tell us that it was not available on Sundays, necessitating complete re-ordering from the brunch menu. The chef appeared four times from the kitchen to sit with a couple he obviously knew: on some of these forays he went to other tables, apparently at random, but did not cover the room, despite there being only five tables of lunchers.
And a final carp: bread comes free initially, but with a £1.50 charge if you want more. The free portion was three pieces of (admittedly very good) bread, the paid portion four: that's mean. The wine list is pretty fairly priced, but the price of the aperitif that they were pushing - £8.50 for a strawberry Bellini in a champagne flute - was not.
On balance this is worth encouraging: let them settle down, and give them custom, and they could be a worthy addition to Chiswick's restaurants. But the competition is stiff (not least from the Swan, just around the corner), and it is a big restaurant that will need a lot of that custom to stay in business.
June 2, 2004