Malcolm John's latest venture is a welcome addition to Caterer's home town of Sutton, bringing a little piece of France to an area otherwise lacking in upmarket independent restaurants. Kerstin Kühn reports.
When acclaimed chef-restaurateur Malcolm John announced he was opening a French brasserie in Sutton, Surrey, just a stone's throw from Caterer Towers, a buzz of excitement spread through our offices. At last there would be a new independent restaurant where we could spend our lunch hours away from the usual pizza chains and staff canteen. Luckily for us, John didn't disappoint.
The 80-seat Brasserie Vacherin is John's fourth neighbourhood restaurant after Le Cassoulet and Fish & Grill in Croydon and Chiswick's Le Vacherin. It is pretty much the only upmarket restaurant with a well-known chef at its helm in the area, which is exactly why John made the move.
"Sutton is a good commuter town that is underserved by good independent restaurants," he explains. "We're targeting professionals as well as people from surrounding areas. It's been busy so far - on weekends we're fully booked - but it has mostly been through word of mouth rather than marketing."
Brasserie Vacherin is a classic French restaurant through and through, offering all the old bistro favourites - from French onion soup (£4.95) to steak tartar (£13.95) and moules marinière (£6.50).
Inside, the decor is stereotypically French too, with red banquette seating, heavy wooden tables and dark wooden floors. There's a small bar area at the front with a crustacean counter, while the back opens up into a large dining room with big skylights. A small al fresco area will open in the warmer months.
Brasserie Vacherin serves lunch and dinner seven days a week and a breakfast menu is in the making. The menu is similar to Le Cassoulet and Le Vacherin, although slightly less expensive, and offers some of the most popular dishes.
"The menu is a combination of my other restaurants but much more simple," John explains.
"We're serving the classics here and aren't trying to reinvent anything. What's new for Sutton is that we're all about fresh ingredients and the menu will change with the seasons."
John divides his time between his restaurants, and the six-strong kitchen brigade in Sutton will soon be led by head chef Matthew Stone, currently sous chef at Le Cassoulet. Front of house is overseen by restaurant manager Angus Martin.
A prixe fixe menu is available for lunch and dinner from Monday to Thursday, priced at £14 for two courses and £16.95 for three. Steak and frites with a glass of wine is served at £9.95 every day. There are a few options to share, including a roast Landes chicken served with pepper sauce and frites (£22), a 28-day-aged chateaubriand with roast bone marrow, beans and frites (£40) and John's signature dish of baked Vacherin with a truffle and almond crust served with condiments (£17).
A starter of egg cocotte with smoked haddock and mustard (£7.25) is served in two little ceramic pots, one holding a baked egg and the other chunks of smoked haddock mixed with a bright, creamy mustard sauce. A classic starter of escargot de Bourgogne (£6.95), meanwhile, is hearty and garlicky - just as you'd expect.
Mains feature more than a dozen choices of meat and fish dishes, with the latter including whole roast sea bream with fennel gratin (£13.50); and slip sole meunière, hazelnuts and green beans (£12.50). Meat dominates the menu: côte de boeuf (£17.95); pavé steak (£10.50); garlic and rosemary marinated leg of lamb steak (£12.50); and pot roast Lable Rouge poussin with gratin dauphinoise (£13.95) are perfect examples of the simple, comforting menu.
Desserts continue the classic French theme and include crème brûlée (£6.50), petit pot au chocolat (£5.95), and ile flottante (£5.50), a huge, fluffy cloud of meringue floating in a bowl of vanilla-specked custard and drizzled with caramel and flakes of pistachios.
The wine list is dominated by French wines, although there are a few from the Mediterranean. Prices range from £15.50 to £77 but a good selection is available for less than £25 and about a dozen are available by the glass and carafe.
Brasserie Vacherin is a little piece of France right in the heart of Sutton. While it's not a restaurant diners will cross the capital for, it is a welcome addition to an area otherwise lacking in upmarket independent restaurants. Caterer will certainly be back.
Brasserie Vacherin Malcolm John
12 High Street, Sutton, Surrey SM1 1HN
Tel: 020 8722 0180
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
● Salad frisée, Alsace bacon and soft poached egg, £7.50
● Pork rillette, Dijon mustard, gherkins, £6.95
● Baked Vacherin, truffle and almond crust with condiments, £17
● Scallops served with garlic, parsley and black olive tartine, £15
● Duck and pork cassoulet, £13.95
● Ox cheek Bourguignon, £15
● Lemon meringue tart, £6
● Bread and butter pudding with Agen prunes, £6.25
● Ille flottante, £5.50