Our Jack makes the effort to go to Putney (which is actually quite good) and is rewarded hugely for doing so. Introducing Bistro Vadouvan – French cuisine, but not as you have tried it…
French people. Come and see what chef Durga has done with the cuisine of your home country. Come and explore the possibilities!
The kind of people who describe themselves as ‘foodies’ and actually make the effort to travel significant distances to try new restaurants – prove your dedication, make the passage to Putney. You’re not likely to be disappointed.
Anyone in Putney who going out for a meal and who doesn’t have any strenuous objections to French, Indian or Middle Eastern food. You have the Bistro on your doorstep, there are no excuses.
In a Word
Visiting somewhere like Bistrot Vadouvan is a privilege, and one of my favourite things about being a part of Tasting Britain. Here’s a place deserving of attention – not just because it’s new (which seems to be a reason in itself to open a restaurant these days), but because it does bloody good food, at reasonable prices – in an unpretentious way and in an area that could do with it.
Vadouvan is the result of a collaboration between chef patron Durga Misra and his longterm friend / co-patron, Uttam Tripathy. Durga’s the guy who’s been on the Michelin kitchen slog since the early 2000s, and Uttam has years as a maître’d behind him. Neither of them are in attendance when we show up, but Durga’s Michelin influence on the food is everpresent, even if he isn’t.
The restaurant is as new as the surrounding area it’s in. The ambience is ‘been here 3 for weeks’- AKA the ‘fresh refurb look’ AKA the ‘just got a feature at Clerkenwell Design Week look’ – any fresher and you’d be able to smell the paint.
It lives in Putney Wharf – this is one of those areas now populated by fancy flats (of the shared ownership variety) and paths so new that the concrete and surfacing materials reflect the light to an uncomfortable level when it’s sunny. Vadouvan sits next to a large chain restaurant which I shall not name. Despite the location, there are no riverside views, an area in which they missed a trick but can’t really be blamed for.
The space is modern, spacious, and welcoming – tiled flooring, sparse wooden surfaces and an open kitchen, but doesn’t exactly advertise ‘Crazy French Indian fusion cuisine’. It catches the sun and has an outdoor terrace that spills out onto the immaculate blinding pavement.
At 1900 on a Tuesday it’s quiet – just me and my buddy Andrea for the whole evening. That said, it’s a Tuesday after bank holiday where I think people have maxed out their emotional and monetary capital on the weekend before. An atmosphere nothing short of serene due to the lack of people – undoubtedly a different experience when it fills up!
The sonic backdrop does nothing to puncture the soporific ambience that you get from a dining group of two, sober and softly spoken men. It’s instrumental acoustic music on the main part, which moves onto cool jazz and bossa nova later in the evening. I have a game that I play inside my head called ‘will they play Dave Brubeck’s Take 5?’ And I always win because they always play the song.
We are served by a wonderful, possibly French woman who manages to look after us without being too attentive. Other wait staff basically have an entire evening to polish glasses and pretend to be busy. I see chefs peaking over the open kitchen to see how we’re reacting to the food. I hope they get as much of a kick out of our reactions as we get from what they’re cooking for us, because this stuff is very good indeed.
How about that food then…?
The Food and Drink
The restaurant describes itself as a ‘Modern French concept subtly blending the essence of French cuisine with spices of the Orient’, which is a pretty accurate description. The culinary approach is certainly ‘French with Indian and Middle Eastern tweaks’ (and not the other way around)
True, not everything on the bistro’s menu is ‘fused’ – but for an idea of what’s going, think Spiced Bouillabaisse Provencal, Middle Eastern Beef Tartare with Smoked Aubergine and Duck Leg Asiatique “Pot au Pho”.
It’s a fantastic food menu undersold a little by a limited number of drinks – it definitely needs more wine and beer choices, considering the current, collective and all consuming obsession with ‘craft’ (when I was there, I only saw 4 beers on the menu). Perhaps surprisingly there are not that many French wines or beers on the menu, but this is certainly the kind of place you come to eat, not drink, at. There’s 7 cocktails on the menu, including the Negroni, which is reasonable, I suppose…
My second opinion and co-diner Andrea (a man who can always be trusted to provide honesty at nothing short of a brutal level) is impressed with the food and wine – particularly with his main. We opt for pairings of single glasses and courses.
Spiced Bouillabaisse Provencal ₤8.00
The ‘Classic Fish Soup With Rope Mussels, Potatoes, Chorizo & Middle Eastern Flavours.’ Phenomenal, spicy and warming, the best Bouillabaisse I’ve had by far.
Middle Eastern Beef Tartare, Smoked Aubergine ₤9.50
‘Seasoned Beef, Barbecued & Smoked Aubergine With Tahini Dressing & Flaked Almonds.’ The subtle tartare provides underlying flavour for the smokey aubergine and tahini dressing. The almond flakes provide crunch and textural contrast – masterful.
Vadouvan spiced cous cous raisins and pine nuts ₤5.00
Essentially a very good cous cous.
Duck Leg “Pot au feu “, Asiatique ₤17.00
Confit De Canard Served In Asian Flavours. I only tried a tiny piece, in the French style, it is cooked as rare as they can get away with, and is tender and delicious. For the price, the portion is meagre.
Sea bass with Celeriac, Cauliflower & Raz el Hanout ₤18.00
Cornish Seabass, Celeriac Hummus, Spiced Cauliflower, Parsley & Lemon Confit. The seabass is cooked to the point where I can cut it with the edge of my fork. The picture of this dish cannot do it justice. Again, for the price, the portion is too small.
Exotic Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Creameux ₤6.50
One of those dishes where you spend an inordinate amount of time trying to work out a familiar flavour. Beautiful presentation, undersold by my photo – as a rather thin sliver of cheesecake, the portion could be more substantial, but very good nevertheless.
Coffee and Rum Sundae ₤6.00
Sedimentary layers of chocolate, coffee, sugar and rum, all melting into each other. Texturally exciting but the layer of frozen coffee turns out actually to be a little watery (I’m not sure why). Everything else is delicious and after a while it’s all melting together into one delicious homogenous mess. Too delicious to allow to melt all the way, Andrea sharks most of my portion (I don’t blame him).
I can’t really think of a restaurant that really compares at this price point. Many of the highly known (and highly priced) Indian restaurants take some liberties in the name of ‘fusion’, but none of them go quite this deeply into French cuisine, or in such an… affordable way. That’s not to say that this place is cheap, the mains can get a bit pricey – but the dining experience you get here would cost you a lot more, were you to be ‘uptown’.
From what I’ve been hearing on the review sites, many locals were sad that the site’s predecessor (a Spanish restaurant) closed, but are more than happy with Vadouvan picking up where they left off, and I can see why. I’d give it 5 stars but it does fall short on the drinks choices.
I guess the main challenge that Bistrot Vadouvan will face is its location. Much as Putney is ‘nice’, people aren’t likely to make the detour out of London to visit it, no matter how this restaurant is. That said, word of mouth may very well bring the hardcore Hardens/Zomato/Time Out readers from all corners of London on their food fusion pilgrimages. And let’s hope it does.
Yes – it will have a tough time with its somewhat secluded/peaceful location, and with the chain restaurant competition so strong. Let’s hope it gets all the patrons and cashflow it deserves. Well done Bistrot Vadouvan!
30 Brewhouse Lane, Putney Wharf, Putney, London SW15 2JX, United Kingdom