Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Restaurant Spy; 'WALPOLE'S Apple Pie and Custard Is Just the Ticket after a Day's Rowing'

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Restaurant Spy; 'WALPOLE'S Apple Pie and Custard Is Just the Ticket after a Day's Rowing'

Article excerpt


The reason I'm reviewing a restaurant that's a little bit off the beaten track this week is because I'm effectively imprisoned in the BBC equivalent of the Big Brother house. I'm participating in a BBC3 reality show called The Other Boat Race in which a group of fat, middle-aged Oxford graduates and their Cambridge equivalents are being taught how to row with a view to competing against each other in an actual race. This week I'm holed up with my Oxford team-mates in The Bingham Hotel in Richmond where we're being put through our paces by a couple of Olympic gold medallists. It's a gruelling physical ordeal, but at least the food is quite nice.

The Bingham Hotel is on Petersham Road, not far from the centre of Richmond.

The first room I was allocated turned out to be rather poky, but after I threw a hissy fit - all captured on camera, needless to say - I was moved to the Spencer Suite, a cavernous, banqueting hall of a room, complete with a four-poster bed and panoramic river view. If this was the middle of the summer, my sleep would be interrupted by a wedding party in the hotel gardens - they're booked solid from May to September - but since it's winter, the only noise I can hear is the sound of an occasional boat drifting past. It's really rather idyllic.

The in-house restaurant is called Walpole's and, while it's not exactly sophisticated, it's far better than I expected. (In 2003 it was Green Magazine's restaurant of the year.) While my team-mates have been forced to subsist on a fairly basic set menu, carefully chosen for its nutritional content by our coaches, I've been allowed to go off-piste because I'm reviewing the restaurant. So far, I've had a perfectly respectable rack of lamb, a decent Hungarian goulash and a delicious tomato and Emmenthal salad.

The puddings leave a little to be desired in the sophistication department, but if you're rowing over 10 kilometres a day - and we are - apple pie and custard is just the ticket.

The only complaint about the food has come from Helen Atkinson-Wood, a highly respected comic actress who's sitting in the bow seat on the boat.

'It's a bit fur coat and no knickers,' she said, on discovering her porridge came with a strawberry garnish. However, she was grateful that they'd gone to the trouble of preparing special vegetarian meals for her.

Fortunately, I haven't had to contend with the porridge. I've taken advantage of my 'special' status to order a Full English every day - and what a Full English it is. Admittedly, it's a hard dish to get wrong, but even the sausages - always the trickiest part - are cooked to perfection. Our cox, Jonathan Aitken, has been gorging himself on kippers every morning and has persuaded half the team to follow suit. 'Some of the best kippers I've ever had,' he says. …

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