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The expat has returned from voluntary exile and finds herself with a new domain to discover: London.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

A fish pie with a Venetian view at The Summerhouse

Little Venice view from The Summerhouse

After dining at The Shed last weekend, I moved on to another wooden outbuilding: The Summerhouse by The Waterway. Which, as to be expected from the summertime 'pop-up' from Little Venice restaurant The Waterway, wasn't actually a hut at the bottom of someone's garden, but a reasonably solid little canalside eaterie.

It being one of those fairly warm and sunny early autumn days that you really should make the most of in England, never knowing when the next might come along, J and I opted to stroll from King's Cross to Little Venice along the Regent's Canal towpath. Passing through Camden Lock, we had to negotiate a few inebriated teenagers sprawled across the grass verge, but soon after we hit a quieter stretch of canal as we moved into West London, distinguishable by the size of the waterside mansions. After a mere 1.5 hours of 'strolling', we arrived in Little Venice a little breathless - and personally, I was somewhat nonplussed, seeing as it looked pretty much like every other stretch of canal we had walked along, albeit with more well-heeled passers-by and fancier housing alongside. Perhaps we missed something though, as apparently the area is 'interspersed with waterways', meriting further daytime investigation.

The Summerhouse's interior

Meeting the rest of our party in The Summerhouse, thanks to our early dining time we were seated at one of the prime tables by the water's edge, with huge open windows giving out onto the canal. The restaurant is decorated in Hamptons beach-house style, all white and blue paint with pale wood walls and tables topped with sand-and-shell-themed decorations. The atmosphere is fairly informal but, given the area, we're talking informal in a more moneyed than a McDonald's way, and we did spot a few female punters dressed to impress in shiny mini-dresses.

Popcorn shrimp
The short summer-inspired menu focuses mainly on fish, with starters including our table's choices of 'Best-ever' popcorn shrimp with sweet chilli sauce (£7), clam and sweetcorn chowder (£5) and the retro-sounding prawn and avocado cocktail with bloody mary sauce (£8). The latter was elegantly arranged in what looked like an ice-cream glass but failed to make a strong impression, tasting pretty much like any other prawn cocktail, while both the chowder and the shrimp found more favour. I was particularly keen on trying the shrimp, sucker for a gimmick that I am. The batter-coated prawns (sorry, popcorn shrimp) arrived in two mini buckets, in-keeping with the seaside theme. Complemented well by the chilli sauce, the shrimp was perhaps not crunchy enough to merit the 'popcorn' label, but for me the quantity and flavour made up for the slight mis-labelling. It also reminded me of my childhood favourite fish dish, scampi, in miniature form - perhaps not quite what the sophisticated Summerhouse folk were aiming for, though.

Sipping a very appropriate Venetian pinot grigio (£20.50) from a wine list populated by whites and roses, we watched the sun set over the canal; the odd moorhen, Canada goose or narrowboat gliding past. With the warning of 'excuse me, lady', my fish pie was desposited in front of me: service perhaps isn't The Summerhouse's strong point - our experience was efficient but indifferent. The fish pie (£13) made up for being addressed as 'lady' however: underneath the layer of creamy mash with a slightly crispy topping lay a selection of salmon, cod, prawns and smoked haddock, all mixed with summer herbs. The portion was generous without being over-facing, served with a green salad. R's swordfish ciabatta with mango salsa and chips certainly looked the part, with the chips again presented seaside-style in a bucket, but the serving was a little on the skimpy side for £15. More successful was J's Nicoise salad (£14), a bed of the usual lettuce, potato and olives with quail's egg, topped with a full-size seared tuna steak cooked to pink perfection.

After devouring the entire fish pie I couldn't find room for any of the desserts, which include retro seaside delight Knickerbocker Glory and lemon tart with raspberries, but M and R polished off a Pimm's jelly served with vanilla ice cream (£6), a much more subtly flavoured alcoholic jelly than our attempt at a Pernod version (don't ask) back in the univeristy days. And with a reminder that our table was needed for the next party, we paid the bill and departed, feeling that thanks to our waterside seat and the timing of sunset, we probably got a better deal than the interior diners. The Summerhouse's selling point is, after all, its location: sitting by a picturesque stretch of waterway is what makes the experience, rather than the food itself. Our choices were mostly tasty and of a quality befitting the price, with the fish pie a definite winner, but nothing was absolutely outstanding. That said, the setting is such that I'd be inclined to return if The Summerhouse does 'pop up' again next season.

  • The Summerhouse by The Waterway is opposite 60 Blomfield Road, London W9 2PA. Nearest tube: Warwick Avenue. Reservations recommended.

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