What do you look for in a good neighbourhood restaurant? A high standard of cuisine consistently maintained; a strong following of regulars attracted by value for money prices; a warm welcome with friendly, efficient service; and pleasant surroundings in which to enjoy a relaxed meal out.
Charlotte’s Place in Ealing has all these qualities in abundance. But this is no ordinary neighbourhood restaurant. Winner of the 2013 Good Food Guide’s London Readers’ Restaurant of the Year Award, and currently holding two AA rosettes it is developing a higher profile in the capital as a whole. Opened in 1984 and still bearing the name of the original owner, it was refurbished, rebranded and reopened under new ownership in 2005. Since then its reputation for being THE PLACE – forgive the pun – to eat locally has been regained.
Its appeal lies partly in a sheer lack of pretention. Located in a quiet street overlooking a corner of Ealing Common, it shares its home in a 150 year old house with an adjacent pub, The Grange, and is barely noticeable from the residential properties nearby. Ringing the doorbell in the side entrance gives an intimate, domestic feel which is emphasised by the simple décor of the ground floor dining room. Floral prints, large mirrors, wall lighting, wooden floor and plain, candle lit tables make the room cosy, compact and comfortable.
With a maximum of 54 covers, over half of which are in the basement dining room, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner all week, a remarkable feat given the kitchen is smaller than those in modern homes, and is only able to accommodate four of the six chefs at any one time.
Chef Greg Martin leads the brigade offering what the restaurant describes as “traditional and European food.” Certainly, the presence of roast beef at Sunday lunch would confirm this. However, the set menu of six starters, mains and desserts shows a pleasing degree of ambition in its use of first rate, well sourced, seasonal ingredients. Consider for instance Heirloom Beetroot with goat’s curd cigar or crisp pig’s cheek, pork and fennel sausage roll , pork terrine and sauce Gribiche as interesting starters; or Home cured Saddleback pork loin, Chorizo , tomato and white bean stew as a main.
Whilst dishes are mercifully devoid of foams, purees and gels, the cooking is thoughtful and precise, with modern interpretations and combinations. A few dishes executed well in each course seems to be the key focus.
Pricing is also well judged: three courses at £29.95 for dinner, £19.95 for lunch (£5 extra at weekends) with reductions for two courses constitute real bargains. Even more so is the early evening offer of three courses and an aperitif for £26.95. Supplements – so often encountered in many restaurants – are noticeable by their absence.
Fine Dining Guide visited on a Wednesday evening in March and was delighted with the dishes sampled.
Cornish mackerel tart featured slices of the raw fish, anchovy fillets, diced peppers parmesan shavings and balsamic dressing on a crisp puff pastry base smeared with tapenade. These strong flavours and contrasting textures were perfectly balanced, allowing the beautiful freshness of the oily fish to take pride of place.
A raviolo of delicately smooth pasta was generously filled with Cornish crab. The sweetness of the well-seasoned white meat worked well with the braised leeks and a chive butter sauce, making this a rich, unctuous dish.
A main course saw meltingly tender shredded braised oxtail topped with a tranche of roasted cod accurately timed to produce succulent flakes of translucent flesh. Added richness and sweetness was given by caramelised onion to contrast with the artichoke puree, cabbage and brown butter sauce. Crisp potato waffles crowned this robust tour de force of a surf and turf dish.
Equally accomplished was the more classical ballotine of chicken. Gently poached then wrapped in smoked bacon and finished in the pan, it was well seasoned and moist. Simple garnishes of buttered potatoes and steamed purple sprouting broccoli allowed the main element to shine, whilst a rich sauce spiked with tarragon lifted the whole dish.
Nor did the third courses disappoint. A classical pear and almond tart featured crisp pate sucree with soft frangipane and with sweet poached pear. The accompanying vanilla ice cream was velvety smooth whilst the butterscotch sauce gave a not too sweet a finish.
A selection of fine cheeses from La Fromagerie were in peak condition. Quince paste and oat cakes added to their enjoyment.
Overall, this was a most impressive meal, enhanced by well informed, engaging service and well- chosen wines from the extensive wine list. Given the skill shown in the cooking, the range of dishes offered and the competitive prices, it is no surprise that Charlotte’s Place is open all week, with 90% of diners booking to guarantee their places. Success has also led to expansion, with the opening of daughter restaurant Charlotte’s Bistro in Chiswick in July 2010. This has already gained Michelin Bib Goumands in 2011 and 2012. Fine Dining Guide will watch the progress of both restaurants with interest.