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No 97, Surbiton

Warm and friendly with a superb fine dining menu and a drinks menu to die for - we're loving this restaurant and gin bar in Surbiton's leafy Maple Road.

THE LOWDOWN

If I was to run a restaurant, which I can assure you I’m not, but if I was, I’d want it to be just like Number 97 in Surbiton. It hasn’t been open long – just a couple of years – but this bijou neighbourhood restaurant and gin bar is a banging little place that effortlessly combines bar and restaurant with out either seeming to intrude on the other. And believe me it’s as much about the gin as it is the fine food here.

THE LOCATION

You’ll find Number 97 on leafy Maple Road in what’s become known locally as Surbiton Village. It’s in good company sharing a road with an array of award-winning independent restaurants, bars and pubs including The French Table, Gordon Bennetts! and The Antelope.

THE VIBE

Stylish. Funky. Classy. These are all words I’d use to describe Number 97. But it’s also warm and friendly, with a genuine feel that many of the punters know each other and the staff. Indeed, when I mentioned this to Kim, who runs the front of house, she told me that this summer she’d attended the weddings of two customers. Friendly, indeed.

The restaurant is set around a gleaming white marble bar, with a row of high blue velvet stools that look through to an open kitchen. These are known as the chef’s seats, and most nights you’ll hear friendly banter and chit-chat passing between the waiters, chef and diners at the bar. Banquette-style seating lines the walls and front, and it’s all rather stylishly turned out with black and white checkered tiles surrounding the bar.

Downstairs, there’s a speakeasy style gin bar which feels like little like a well-kept secret. I wandered on through after a trip to the ladies, and this really is where the cool people hang out I felt right at home!!

SCOFF & QUAFF

The dining menu is unashamedly tiny – one of the smallest I’ve seen in any restaurant – but also perfectly formed. There’s a choice of just four starters and four mains, and yet I still spent a moment or two deliberating over which ones I’d go for.

In the end, I went for the hot smoked salmon with charred cucumber, yuzu, horseradish and caviar for starter followed by the sea bream with Romanesco, broccoli puree, clams and Champagne sauce for mains. Mr M had the same main, but went for the delica pumpkin with walnuts, cumin , goats cheese and apple.

I’m only exaggerating a little when I say each one of these courses was like sex on a plate. The combination of flavours in the starter were perfect: smooth, spicy, a little smokey. It tasted sublime and looked stunning. If it’s possible, it got even better with the mains, climaxing with that Champagne sauce. Oh. My. God. I may even have had a Meg Ryan moment.

The drinks menu is quite the opposite to the food menu – and Mr M, who’s a massive gin lover and had a night off as designated driver, spent considerable time deciding which gin cocktail to start with. There are pages of offerings with an entire page dedicated to negronis and another to martinis. There are, of course, the classics as well as the gin bar’s signature cocktails. Mr M eventually decided on the Lemongrass and Ginger Gin Punch, which came served in a cute teacup. As the driver, I started with sparking water, which are offered alongside the flat water, on the house.

We ordered a bottle of wine to drink with the food – but David, the gin artiste and all round drinks expert – pointed us towards a different bottle that he suggested would perfectly complement our food choices. It’s not a wine I’d have chosen myself – a white Rioja from Spain called Felix Jimenez “Akemi” – but it was a great recommendation.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist the puddings. And I went for the iced chestnut parfait with roasted figs, pecans, meringue and espresso delice. Mr M went for the Chinese five-spice chocolate fondant with black sesame ice cream, cashew and peanuts. These came out looking like some kind of installation on a plate – and looked almost too good to eat. Almost.

KID-FRIENDLY?

The fact Number 97 is equal parts gin bar to fine dining restaurant means it’s not the type of place that screams out to you to bring the kids, so in my opinion in the evening they’re best left at home. In fact, if they’re under the age of 16 you’ll have to because they’re not allowed after 5pm. It’s a licensing thing.

But the restaurant is open for lunch and weekend brunch, and it’s such a warm welcoming place that I feel like kids would be more than welcome at these times. Although the lunch menu is still pretty fancy and frankly this food is probably wasted on kids.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Special occasions, nights out with friends, girly get-togethers, date night. If you’re a foodie who loves good wine (and gin), this is the perfect place for you. 

Not for: Families with children. 

The damage: Two courses for dinner is £28 and three courses is £33, with sides an additional £3, and the cheese board an additional £5. 

Number 97, 97 Maple Road, Surbiton, KT6 4AW. no-97.co.uk

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