When Giles Coren Tweeted: ‘I am having one of the meals of my LIFE’ (so good, he went into caps lock mode) at the revamped Sonny’s Kitchen in Barnes, we panicked and thought a Dabbous situation was about to occur. Our fear was compounded by news that the menu is now in the charge of Michelin superstar Phil Howard, of The Square and Great British Menu fame. We didn’t want to wait nine months for a table, as you currently have to at Ollie D’s feted gaff in Fitzrovia. We could have children or die in that time. So after a quick call, off to Barnes we rushed.
Barnes is a long way from East London, both in distance and psyche. It’s so far that it feels like you’re on a weekend break. It’s leafy and monied and we saw colourful parakeets in the trees. You don’t get that in Dalston. While the front bar at Sonny’s Kitchen was empty on the Tuesday we visited, the restaurant at the rear was a different story – every table taken with a bustling crowd of chic retirees and younger Farrow and Ball devotees. As neighbourhood restaurants go, this reboot of an already much loved destination is already quite the thing in swanky SW13.
Sonny’s Kitchen is a tad glossy, a little low-key, but acutely self aware of style, with its monochrome art, rubber stamp typography on the menus and modish white ceramic tiling on the walls. If Pizza East is utilitarian chic with a touch of funky nihilism and grinding decibels, Sonny’s Kitchen is what it looked like before the bomb dropped, in quieter and more genteel times.
There are, in fact, pizzas on the menu here, but we didn’t order them (although going by Giles Coren, the wagyu beef laden Bianca pie is the proverbial mutt's nuts). We also skipped the pastas, heading for the less carb-heavy, but no less comfort-focused dishes. A gazpacho with sour cream ice cream (£6.50) came with a little salmon and avocado wrap. The wrap was disappointingly Pret a Manger, but the chilled soup was bright feel-good sunshine in a bowl. Gorgeous. An octopus salad (£9) was slick, lovely and fresh, with mussel beignets giving a nice bit of crunch, if not actually adding much taste-wise. The rump of new season lamb (£16.50) was described by our dining companion as, prosaically, ‘good’, but not the best cut of lamb he’d ever had. We on the other hand quite fancied the look of the flatbread it came with, suggesting the kind of guilty pleasure, quasi-Indian dish that gastro pubs knock out. The breast of duck was wizard stuff. It’s always a bugger to cook duck well at home, but this was crisp and rich and moist – the protein of champions. The little tarte fine of caramelized endive and cherries that it came on was sweet and absolutely lovely. When it came to puds, we thought the double backed bitter chocolate and orange mousse cake (£7.50) was too mousse-y and not cake-like enough, but the SK Brownie Sundae (£7) was the sundae to end all sundaes. Indulgent but not oversized, it was a smart bit of ice cream styling.
The food at Sonny’s Kitchen is very good indeed. You won’t have the meal of your life (or indeed ‘LIFE’). But if you find yourself even vaguely close to Barnes for whatever reason, you’ll likely find yourself becoming a regular. We overhead other tables complaining about slow service, but we had no complaints whatsoever. The staff were a joy. Apparently Phil Howard – a Barnes boy himself – likes to pop in some evenings and don an apron in the kitchen as a respite from the Michelin star pressures of The Square. This suggests that the atmosphere in the kitchen is as good as that in the dining room. Going on what we ate on our visit, there’s clearly a lot of joie de vivre around the stove.
The ELLEuk Score
Style of food: Brasserie
Good for: Special occasion; first date; romantic; group dinner; work lunch/dinner
Prices and other details Sonny’s Kitchen
Address: 94 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 0DQ
Opening times: 12pm-3.30pm Mon-Fri; 10am-3.30pm Sat-Sun; 6.30pm-10.30pm Mon-Sat; 6.30pm-9.30pm Sun.
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £25
Price per bottle of house wine: £15.50
Price of glass of house wine: £3.95
Price of bottle of house champagne: £39.95
Price of glass of house champagne: £9
Private dining: No
Garden/al fresco dining? No
Best table? Yes
Who goes? Wealthy, local, Barnes residents and foodie followers of Phil Howard.
Nearest tube: East Putney or Barnes (overground)