words Adam Boatman
Let me start with the only negative on an otherwise glorious evening. The name. You could argue that I should have done my research. You could say that having a friend in Richmond, Yorkshire, I really should have checked before jumping on the district line that night.
But well… I didn’t. In future for my sake and the other million idiots out there please don’t call your restaurant in Dalston, The Richmond London. Also to the million idiots, check Google Maps before you get there and not after.
Anyway, despite my amensia, and after the brief obligatory stroll through the ex-council estates of Dalston, I found myself standing outside the turquoise (possibly teal?) comic sans style fronting of the Richmond. Though it sounds garish, previous visitors to 316 Queensbridge Road will know that compared to the prop ridden, gold-plated Egyptian restaurant it replaced, the Richmond oozes class. If it doesn’t outside it certainly does inside. The sphinxes are no more. Instead the building’s old public house roots have been unearthed with nothing but wood, leather and metal left.
While its well-crafted décor is thanks to the influence of stylist Mags Crow, the food is wholly the preserve of the other partner in this dynamic duo, Brett Redman. And while I liked the veneer it’s what sat sumptuously underneath that interested me. For out in the proverbial sticks they have created not only a comfort food cataclysm but also London’s, “first and only raw bar”. While the ‘only’ part of that sentence sounded a tiny bit intimidating to me (I wouldn’t want to be the poor schmuck who tried to set up a second) it also sounded fascinating.
So it was, that when we first entered the restaurant around the bar sat a huddle of humans hungrily slurping down plate after plate of quivering oysters. ‘Oyster Happy Hour’ was in full flow. Now, while I personally think they have the texture of phlegm and the taste of sea water, these people seemed to be getting a walrus like enjoyment out of downing the craggy shelled £1 morsels surrounding them.
Luckily for me the raw bar extended far beyond oysters. Our first experience of the food came in the form of raw prawns with lemon and basil and tuna tartare with aubergine, mint and harissa. I feared the prawns would come as translucent and slimy as previous attempts, but thanks to a good soaking in the lemon they managed to taste almost cooked and unbelievably fresh at the same time. Despite this welcome surprise the tuna tartare was the real king of the raw course. The tang of the harissa complimented the soft yet rich taste of the tuna. It was almost as good as a steak tartare. High praise from someone who orders steak tartare as a main course in almost every French bistro.
Along with our raw, wriggling beginners came an incredible spiel about the virtues of ‘natural’ wines. In fact the whole wine list at the Richmond is natural. The grapes come from humble organic beginnings and are matured without sulphates, presumably in the cellars of an agritourism place somewhere in the heart of deepest darkest France. The wine we chose (Pouilly Fumee La Levee) had the incredibly fruity aroma of a dessert wine, but with the taste of a dry white. Bizarre, but definitely to my taste – though my partner took against it, deciding she’d been tricked by her nose.
The starters which came out soon after though calmed her indignation – particularly the tasty (if frustratingly small) English crab muffin that scuttled its way to our table. It was buttery, rich and undeniably crustaceany. I would have happily ordered twenty or so plates of crab muffin and had myself an Anglicised White Castle. Unfortunately the beer battered scallop never stood a chance. Tasty as it was, I couldn’t help but feel that £9 was a little steep for a single scallop; and also amazed that I felt £7 was too little for a tiny crab muffin.
As soon as our starters left a new waiter appeared, carrying two much more healthily sized plates with our mains on. I think they saw the longing look in my eye as I finished the final bite of crab. It was only after I saw the rich glowing red Nduja spiced seafood stew in front of me that my stomach realised it was about to catch up with my eyes. I always feel a tiny bit bad about chomping on octupus, partly due to their incredible intelligence and partly because they just look so fucking cool. But in the end, it’s always worth it. Any shreds of morality hanging on at the edges of my soul jumped ship when the first bite of umami rich, chargrill glazed, gloriousy fleshy octopus passed my lips. The clams and hidden mussels backed up their beefier buddy as the oversized pasta shells padded out the stew. It truly was glorious. This was not my first Nduja spice seafood stew, but it was without doubt my favourite.
My partner’s whole roasted brill with clams, squid and sherry was no weak-hitter either. The fish was superbly cooked and the thin sherry sauce lightly covered the brill, a satin blanket adding to it’s delicate flavour but never going too far. The clams surrounded the brill like like a tiny guard of honour protecting its frilly virtue, dropping out of their shells at the merest suggestion. And the salty sea-fresh samphire sitting to the side was simply in the right place at the right time.
I could go on about the incredible food for at least a few paragraphs more. I could tell you about the Madame Maury cocktail that blew me away with it’s strength as well as its taste. I could paint a poorly illustrated picture of the spongy, treacly banana tart but I think you’ve heard enough to know you’d be a bit silly not to give it a go.
For a place that’s only been open for such a short time (and with some less than favourable reviews) the food was near flawless and the service was outstanding. Friendly, knowledgable and passionate. I genuinely felt they could have made the jug of tap water sitting untouched in the middle of the table seem exciting if they had wanted to. One thing I ask myself every review is would I come back? The answer is almost always no. It’s not that I don’t like the places I’ve been. It is just that a place has to have something indefinable that grabs me, calls to me, and then supplement it with undeniably delicious food. So would I visit the Richmond Dalston again? Even when I consider that it sits on the opposite side of London from me and charges £9 for a single scallop, the answer is definitely yes.
words Adam Boatman