Criticising chain restaurants is a popular sport and one which I confess to playing on occasion.
The fact of the matter is that chains exist because people love them. They’re a known quantity, safe pair of hands – call it what you like, they’re here to stay.
One of my favourites is Bill’s but I don’t mind admitting that our relationship has been through the mill. Our love affair harks back to my days living in Brighton, when the first Lewes-based restaurant gave birth to a second, in what was then my home city.
Bill’s was on-trend and perhaps created the blueprint for what was to be the norm – produce was fresh and where possible organic. The decade that followed saw Bill’s morph into an ever-growing organisation and for while my affections remained.
I loved nothing better than turning up in a city, and on the rare occasion that there was no plan of where my knife and fork would meet that day, I felt safe in the knowledge that I could rely on Bill’s. That was until about four years ago when it started to notice standards seem to have slipped a little.
As is true of many chains, homogeny had crept in. I can’t have been alone in my thinking as visits to Bill’s in the last 18 months have unveiled an entirely different beast. Service is once again on point, with staff so good, you almost want to befriend them, and food that looks and tastes as if it’s left the kitchen of an independent restaurant. Bill’s is back.
A few weeks ago, my family and I made our way to Bill’s in Wimbledon to sample the new autumn menu.
The interior is homely and although there are quite a few styles going on, I love it. Knowing that the exposed pipework of industrial chic can appear a little cold, warmth is created with oversized lampshades, with patterns of yesteryear, as well as great, towering tropical plants.
The end result is the ideal ambience. And doesn’t matter who you are – big tables for families, leather banquettes for courting couples looking for a more intimate setting – everyone is catered for. After a long day at a theme park, my toddler was starving so we ordered her meal pretty much as we sat down, at the suggestion of the charismatic waiter.
Two courses will set you back a staggeringly good £5.95. Cod fish fingers and beans arrived in under 10 minutes and the home-made golden fingers were well received by all at the table. An additional 95p bought an orange juice. Crispy calamari, with red chilli and lime aioli, and devilled chicken skewers (£6.95) kept the adults in check. Again, these were cooked from scratch, showcasing fresh flavours.
I failed to spot Bill’s sharing platter (£14.95), until after ordering, but combining the starters we chose and tzatziki, red pepper dip, olives and tortillas – this would make a lovely family starter.
It was nice to see a good selection of salads and healthier style bowls, despite the autumn weather and as this was a particularly dinner grilled miso salmon fitted the bill nicely. Served with coconut rice, aubergine, baby spinach, spring onion with toasted sesame and honey – this was our host’s recommendation and turned out to be the standout dish. Juicy fish, well marinated, and cooked just enough to maximise flavour.
All the standards remain – with multiple choices on the burger front, steaks but always an interesting curve ball.
This time, beef rib slow cooked in cabernet sauvignon was among them. As ever, Bill’s caters for vegetarians and vegans, going above and beyond the expected, with dishes like beetroot wellington, spiced cauliflower and butternut squash and falafel bowl.
Veggie sharing platter, including crisp fried cauliflower also struck a chord with me. Bill’s does everything it can to meet the needs of its customers, one example being the express section of the menu for those short on time.
We were these same people so tried to skip dessert but at the insistence of the waiter gave the Chocolate Flowerpot a go – decadent mousse encased in an edible chocolate flowerpot. Irresistible – thanks so much for forcing our hand. Monday to Wednesday enjoy up to 50 per cent off from the set menu – including sirloin steak, wild mushroom and truffle macaroni and cheese. One course for £9.95, two courses for £14.45 and three courses for £18.95 and enjoy £10 off any bottle of wine or bubbles over £20
Bill’s 20 Hartfield Rd, Wimbledon, SW19 3TA.
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