It seems almost inconceivable with recent storms, but only a couple of weeks ago the weather was lovely and we celebrated with a stroll along the Thames. To the West, the riverside is much more rural, and as we wonder past the London Wetlands Centre (we decided against paying the 8.95 entrance fee) we felt like we were in the countryside. By lunchtime, we'd reached the pretty "village" of Barnes. I'd consulted my Harden's earlier, and all the places listed seem to come with some fairly sizeable but's, so we decided to wonder and take our chances. There was a cut little farmers' market by the lake, though I was whole heartedly disappointed by the cheese shop which someone had recommended -- all half-empty shelves sparsely filled with cling-film wrapped offering of cheese you could easily find in your local Waitrose...
We wondered down to the river, and marked The Bull's Head as one to try for live jazz and Thai food at a future date. Ye White Hart (another Young's pub)looked gorgeous - a garden (too cold), river views, and a roaring fire inside. But we'd accidentally timed our visit to coincide with the women's "head of the river" boat race and many of the entrants seemed to have chosen this spot for their post-race drinks. So we waited about 10 minutes at the bar for beers and gave up.
Just round the corner I was cheered up by the site of the cute-looking French bistrot, Ma Cuisine. Inside there were red checked table cloths, a fair few tables seemed to be regulars. The website bills it as "finest regional French cuisine". But my stuffed aubergine was bitter and undercooked - only the stuffing of Mediterranean veg was edible, if overpowered by the lashings of balsamic vinegar (12 with a glass of house red from the lunchtime menu deal).
The cassoulet that the husband ordered actually appeared as a coq au vin (12.50), but by that time we were starving so pointed out the error and let it go. They apologised, but this was in no way reflected in the bill or its 10 percent service charge. The coq was unspectacular. The accompanying mash and green beans were downright bland.
An old man next to us was tucking into his steak sandwich with great relish, and clearly seemed to be a weekly - if not daily - visitor. May be we should have followed his lead. Or may be we are just fussy from living in central London. It was certainly a good reality check to any wistful relocation thoughts we may have harboured after walking along the pretty, green riverside.
Ma Cuisine, 7 White Hart Lane, Barnes, SW13 0PX; Tel. 0208 878 4092; www.macuisinebarnes.co.uk; Rail: Barnes (nearest tube station is probably Hammersmith, but it's a bit of a trek)