Putney is not a dining destination. Londoners don’t, after contemplating where to visit of an evening, respond in exaltation with “Putney!”. It’s a little out of the way for those not situated in SW London. Even for those who are, it’s a first-travel-in-then-out scenario if you’re based on the Northern Line (like me).
A neighbourhood, Putney is. What a neighbourhood needs are good local restaurants that become regular haunts for residents who are after good food and wine. What Putney has recently acquired is a new-kid-on-the-block Italian offering, that, with a few improvements, has the potential to become a local favourite.
Upper Richmond Road is as uninspiring a high-street as most in London. But nestled in the bosom of a Nando’s, Pizza Express and Dominos that flank either side, Bibo and its interiors have a transportational quality that plucks you out of SW15 and plants you straight into a Soho dining-hotspot. It looks great - airy, high-ceilinged, white-washed exposed brick, dark wood, leather banquettes, a mezzanine at the rear, and an impressive bar upon entry. Once you’re in, you’ll be in no hurry to leave.
Commandeering the kitchen is Head Chef Chris Beverley (formerly at Theo Randall at The InterContinental), offering a menu of regional Italian cuisine. Portioned off into antipasti, primi, secondi and dessert, the pasta is very much where it is at. And it’s where I’ll start. Wide ribbons of crimped-edge pappardelle folded onto themselves, making best friends with a light rabbit and Prosecco ragu, was a very pleasing plate of substance and bite (small portion - £9). Raggedy black squid-ink tagliarini with soft slices of octopus, glorious amounts of garlic and flecked with red chilli was devastatingly good (small portion - £9). Present to me a kilo of this and watch it disappear before your eyes. The pastas were so impossible to ignore, we ordered a third, despite having already worked our way through most of the antipasti. The final was the polenta ravioli - al dente pasta parcels filled with wonderfully textured polenta, sitting in a pool of thickened stock bolstered with dried porcini, artichokes and parsley (small portion - £9). Really splendid.
Backwards to the antipasti. It’s impossible for me not to order chicken liver when I see it on a menu, and there were no exceptions here; crisp crostinis heavy with olive oil were a happy method of transportation for the rough paté, seasoned with capers and sporting hats of crisped pancetta (£5). Potato and ‘nduja crochette were pretty good with a very delicate touch of heat, but could have done with more (£4). The farro arancini less so, lacking in discernible flavour (£3.50).
The borlotti bean bruschetta was ok - sweet roasted tomatoes, good bread, but again the beans themselves were short on flavour, seasoning and presence in general (£6.50). A dish of salt cod, chickpeas, chard and tomato was the D-grade student of this lunch-time class - the pulses were too al dente, the sauce was watery, I was left desperately seeking savour - I’d go so far as to say I didn’t enjoy this plate (£7).
A good finale we did finish on, though. A creamy mound of salty gorgonzola against sweet poached pear and toasted and honeyed walnuts, was very pleasant (£6.50).
How the pastas can be so uniformly impressive, and the antipastis range from not-bad to an-effort-to-finish, almost makes me think there were two entirely different chefs behind them. In different kitchens. Which group the secondi fall into, I can’t say - we didn't order any.
My final concern is the pricing and portion-size ratio. Whilst the pastas were magnificent, £9 for a small plate seems a lot (and £14 for large - of which I didn’t catch sight of - also seems high). A pound for each very small crochette seems a lot. Mains ranging from £16 to £19.50 seem a lot. Particularly when factoring in location and comparisons to some very good centrally located Italian eateries that are less pricey (specifically Bocca di Lupo and Mele e Pere - the latter of which has a pre-theatre and lunch menu that are scandalously priced for the cooking you get in return).
Despite the food being discounted at 50% during the soft-launch period we visited, we still racked up a lunch-time bill of over £30 per head with a glass of wine each. If the food was fully priced, I would have paid an amount that would not have sat right with me for both the quality and quantity of food I received. My feeling is the prices need to reduce by around 20%, or the portion sizes should increase. But then, what the hell do I know.
A special note goes out to wine man of the moment Zeren Wilson who developed the offering available at Bibo. The Pino Noir and Barbera we had were very accommodating, and Zeren was able to identify what was in our glasses by colour alone - what a pro.
The menu at Bibo reads of everything you would want to eat, yet success is hit and miss from one course to the next with prices not reflecting what is being received. If the kitchen can recover the intermittently AWOL flavour, I think the food would have a really good thing going on and I would probably return for it.
Liked less: location; salt cod and chickpeas; lack of seasoning and flavour in more than one dish; prices that seem too high
Good for: trying out if you're in the neighbourhood - I'd give them another go once they're more settled if Putney were mine
My rating: 3/5*
*If I scored out of 10, this would be 6.5