Samantha Laurie samples the menu at Surbiton's award winning restaurant
The first thing you need to know about The French Table is that it has a serious reputation. Three years ago this quiet, unassuming little eatery on a leafy suburban street picked up the Good Food Guide’s award for the best restaurant in London despite being in Surbiton, several train stops off the culinary main flame. As word travelled, so too have its customers: at weekends it’s booked two months in advance, even lunchtimes can be hard to find a table.
For the past twelve years French chef Eric Guignard and his English wife, Sarah, have been serving high-end French/Mediterranean dishes to widespread acclaim. Yet once inside there’s not a flicker of pretentiousness. The staff is friendly and relaxed; the handmade bread from the restaurant-owned bakery next door is served directly to the table (no side plates). At the end of the meal chef Eric is at the table telling us about the old fridge he converted into a smoker in the back yard: wood pigeon, salmon, haddock, lentils have all been through his contraption and made it onto the a la carte.
It’s a casual charm that belies a seriously grown-up approach to food. We are here to try the tasting menu – five courses paired with French wines, chosen by Sarah. At £75 a head (or £45 without the wines) expectations are high and the first dish doesn’t disappoint: Cornish crab with coriander and mint served with savoury pannacotta on a sesame wafer. It’s a superb and skillful blend of tastes which leads into a menu that twists and turns with surprises: foie gras crème brulee is followed by a fabulous monkfish wrapped in potato with home-smoked lentils. Sirloin beef with wild garlic leaves is served with a deep-red wine from French Malbec country, Cahors, that Sarah chose this morning at 10am ‘when my tastebuds are at their best.’
But it is the sharing plate of desserts that creates the biggest stir: an exquisite vanilla crème brulee with earl grey ice cream, a gingerbread and butter pudding with prune compote and a chocolate fondant with cherry sorbet are paired with a rich Coteaux du Layon dessert wine.
A keenly-price lunch menu (£23.50 for 3 courses) and a new farmers’ market breakfast (£15 every third Saturday of the month) mean Eric’s culinary charms can also be experienced on a tighter budget. It cannot be long before such a restaurant reaches the eyes of the Michelin inspectors. Get a table whilst you can.