Most people make a special trip to Wimbledon, or indeed their first ever trip to Wimbledon, for the tennis. But not me. All that racquet-swinging and ball-slinging punctuated by the occasional grunt doesn’t particularly interest me, I waited until the tennis was over and went in search of a decent meal. This, I think, is a sport in itself and almost as hard as lifting that coveted trophy when you’re in certain well-heeled neighbourhoods… Despite their high-brow stores and their village-esque vibes, a quick wander down those high streets will uncover a chain… of chain restaurants, that is. Which makes The White Onion really stand out in more ways than one.
This contemporary French restaurant has made its home in Wimbledon village for the past two years, and judging by the steady stream of diners waltzing in on an ordinary Tuesday night, it’s got a loyal following amongst the locals. And why wouldn’t it; the dining room is charming but not pokey, modern but still homely, and the menu is neither daunting nor boring. The food is billed as French, but completely classic it is not with some more exotic influences sprinkled subtly throughout the dishes. Upon first impressions, The White Onion had all the makings of a good neighbourhood bistro.
The ample and varied bread selection was another good sign, but I was most excited to have superbly salty, spreadable butter. I know the flavoured and fancily whipped stuff is all fun and games, but at the end of the day… good butter is just good on its own. The French know that well so I’d expect nothing less from a French restaurant. They also know theirs wines, and though there were some tempting French options from the impressive wine selection, we settled on a Spanish albarino, a firm favourite from our recent trip to Andalusia. It’s a fresh and zesty wine which traditionally pairs exceptionally well with seafood, but we find it very versatile.
And just as well too as our starters couldn’t have been more different in style or size. Mine was an immaculately diced stone bass ceviche flavoured ever so lightly with hints of sesame oil and soy, then topped with two juicy prawns. This petite plateful could have easily disappeared in two mouthfuls, but it was so good, I had to remind myself that quality is better than quantity and managed to stretch it out into about four bites. Meanwhile, on the other side of the table a certain someone sliced into a crispy duck egg and we were both mesmerised as the yolk oozed out all over the truffle potato salad. It looked rather spectacular, but what I liked most was that at the heart of it, it tasted as any comforting, well-balanced potato salad should… albeit with the added luxury and richness of the truffle!
Rather unusually, we both settled on fish and it wasn’t even a Friday. The perennial British favourite, cod, was served alongside a pea and wasabi puree, lemon buerre blanc, and a deep fried crab ravioli. On paper, this seemed like an adventurous yet sound combination – the inclusion of wasabi, lemon, and a fried element equates to enough contrast in flavour and texture to make this dish interesting. The fish looked beautifully cooked, and though I wasn’t entirely convinced that deep frying the ravioli was the best way to show it off, I wasn’t at all expecting a certain someone’s response to it. The flavours didn’t work for him, he wasn’t sure what the woody foliage on the dish was about, and basically it wasn’t to his tastes. Can’t win them all, however we were both unanimous in our view that the crispy broccoli could have been a knock out but fell flat… the chickpea batter felt too heavy and they were bland and lacklustre.
The catch of the day, which happened to be sea bream (though I wish restaurants, particularly neighbourhood gems like The White Onion would showcase lesser known varieties) had a Mediterranean flair. A sundried tomato risotto mingled with pesto, which coupled with broad beans, which intertwined with the piperade… which was also covered in a foam. And of course, in amongst this milieu lay a gorgeous piece of fish. In case you hadn’t guessed, there was a lot going on but though the party was crowded, it all came together really well. I threw some mashed potato into the mix but it was so gluggy, I never went back for seconds… let’s not get a certain someone started on what a crying shame it is when potatoes are subjected to this treatment.
Given the generous portions of our fish dishes, it took a lot of effort to find our second stomach for dessert. We decided to share, and chose what we thought might be the lightest option on the menu, a delectable sounding lemon delice with an apple sourz sorbet. Oh how right we were; there was enough cake on the bottom for substance, yet the combination of lemon and apple were refreshing enough to make this feel heavenly! While a certain someone didn’t see eye to eye with his Cornish cod dish, this was still a rather satisfying meal. I love a good neighbourhood restaurant because they’re reliable and accessible, and I’d say The White Onion succeeded in serving me the decent meal I was in search of… it’s a local spot that the folk of Wimbledon can certainly be proud to call their own!
Do you have a neighbourhood bistro worth boasting about?
Thanks to The White Onion for showing us that there’s more than just chain restaurants in Wimbledon, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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