Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Eagle Bar Diner, Soho

It find it frustrating that in order to meet friends conveniently after work we have to go central and I feel like I am running out of good, fair-priced dinner options.

However, there are still a few places on my list to try and three of us made our way to Eagle Bar Diner, just off Oxford Street, one weekday evening.  It was about half full and quite a smart interior compared to, say, The Diner on Ganton Street.  We had two waiters, both extremely flirty, and we ordered some house white whilst perusing the menu.  It is a pretty standard diner style menu, which was exactly what we fancied, and all we all had burgers - mine classic and my friends' Arkansas BBQ.  Fries are sold separately which bumps up the price and so we shared two portions between us - one plain, one cheesy.  The burgers were good, nice meat and generous fillings, and the fries more than enough for us.  The meal was nothing too out of the ordinary but for the price and location a good option.   My friends shared a brownie and ice cream which seemed to go down well.  If you're passing this place and fancy some fries, there are certainly worse options.

Two courses and a glass of wine: £22 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 27/40

Eagle Bar Diner, 3-5 Rathbone Place, London, W1T 1HJ.  Tel: 020 76371418.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Frog and Forget-Me-Not, Clapham

The Frog and Forget-Me-Not is an unprepossessing pub which serves Thai food, recommended to me by a friend who loves her Thai food. In fact, I went with her, and another three friends, for a chilled Sunday evening bite.

The interior is tatty - dark red walls surround a mish mash of tables and worn sofas but the room lacks atmosphere and the music and lighting weren't quite right. You have to order food from a hatch, where you also pay. It arrived a few minutes later, it was obviously all waiting to be heated and served.

Tom Yum soup was good - spicy and tangy and just the right amount. Prawn toast was less successful - greasy and a bit soggy. My nasi goreng was good, nothing to shout about, but certainly not the worst I have had. Others' noodle options, such as the pad thai, went down well and one of us chose an English option - fish and chips - which was typical pub grub.

Not one to add to my list of favourites.

Two courses and a soft drink: £14 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 5/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 25/40

The Frog and Forget-Me-Not, 32 The Pavement, London, SW4 0JE. Tel: 020 76225230.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Windmill on the Common, Clapham

 It was a sunny Sunday and a roast called.  Settling into one of the last remaining outside tables at The Windmill we congratulated ourselves on our choice.  There is a lot of outdoor seating and inside is cavernous too.  A mix of trendy twenty-somethings and groups of thirty-somethings with prams are the core clientele.

It's a Youngs pub and so the menu is pretty standard fare but what we order (two roast beef and a pollock and chips) is very good and the portions are generous (even of the lovely medium rare meat and light flaky fish).

It's probably not a destination venue, only because you could get the food in a million and one pubs across London, but it's friendly and location is pretty good too.

One course and a glass of wine: £20 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 28/40

The Windmill, Clapham Common Southside, London, SW4 9DE.  Tel:  020 86734578.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Albannach, Westminster

My parents were in London and we wanted an early dinner before the theatre.  Their hotel was moments from Trafalgar Square and so I suggested Albannach.

We didn't have a reservation on a Saturday night but it was early enough that we managed to get a table for three at about 6.30pm.  We were seated upstairs in the restaurant area after having a lovely Rioja in the bar.

The decor was attractive if a little bit nineties.  The staff were very friendly and directed our attention to a set menu available before 6.30pm, which suited our purpose perfectly.  My ma and I both had roasted peach and tomato salad with grilled Inverness goat's cheese to start, which was delicious - the sweet flavours of the peach and cheese melted together, complemented by the zingier tomato.  My dad had North Sea herring with grain mustard potato salad and horseradish creme fraiche, which he enjoyed.

Main course for all of us was a Scotch Broth of braised lamb neck, baby turnips and herb dumplings which was lovely - the meat was so tender and the dumplings sat in a lovely rich, meaty broth.  The portions weren't huge but I almost expect this on an 'offer' menu, perhaps wrongly.

Two course set menu and a glass of wine: £25 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 28/40

Albannach, 66 Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DS.  Tel: 020 79300066.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Grey Goose, Clapham

Saturday lunch with the girls outside at The Grey Goose was lovely, if the food was a bit of a mix.

We just about managed to secure a table with two big parties taking up all the other benches.  Two of us went for burgers and the other two ordered two houmous with feta and pittas and two squid.

The burgers and houmous came first and they were very good, good quality meat in the former and a generous delicious portion of dip with the latter.

The squid when it came a bit later was a big greasy and soggy and actually, too chewy, although this is the nature of the dish.
The service was friendly if scatty (we had bill problems) and the menu is varied so I am sure we will be back.

The back yard could do with some beautifying as well.

One course and half a bottle of wine: £17 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 26/40

The Grey Goose, 100 Clapham Park Road, London, SW4 7BZ.  Tel: 020 77208902.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hare and Tortoise, Kensington

A pre-cinema bite was needed and High St Kensington being the restaurant black hole that it is we decided that the best way to go might be Hare and Tortoise.

We scooted in rather hurriedly as we had taken too long over the pre-dinner wine and left ourselves tight.  We were seated immediately and both selected the same (adventurously).
Two chicken katsu curries and two beers arrived and they were served by very polite and friendly staff.  The food was presented beautifully and was absolutely delicious.  Big tender pieces of chicken in a light batter, and really flavoursome sauce.  I wish we had had longer, I would have really liked to try some side dishes too.  The restaurant itself is a lot cooler than Wagamama, its obvious comparison, and you have individual tables.  The only downside is that it is much further down the High Street (but nearer the cinema which is a bonus).

One course and a beer: £10 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 31/40

Hare and Tortoise, 373 Kensington High Street, London, W14 8QZ.  Tel: 020 76038887.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ma Goa, Putney

There were five of us who fancied a curry on an Autumn evening and being in Putney we decided to see if we could get a table at Ma Goa.  Diane had wanted to try it for ages and we were lucky to get a table as it's a popular place and was soon packed out, even on a Tuesday. 

It's smarter than your average Indian restaurant and the atmosphere reminded me of someone's dining room -gentle chatter, soothing colour schemes and soft lighting.

We had beautiful freshly made poppadoms to begin with dips served in small white china pots.  Our starter selections we shared with mixed success; ragra pattice were fried potato and herb patties served with spicy chickpeas (quite spicy but not much too them flavour-wise) and dhai puri were fried puris filled with potato, coriander, yogurt and chutneys (moreish).

Main courses are not your typical Indian choice - I went for zafrani murgh korma which is chicken cooked in saffron, tomato, yogurt, rose water and nutmeg.  It was very mild, tasty but not extraordinary.  The rice was very good though.  Other selections from the group included a bhajee thali which was a vegetable selection, apparently delicious which is a good job because their vegetarian selection is either that or choosing three of the vegetable sides -  they offer no vegetarian curries at all, which is pretty poor.  A special of the day was whole Spring chicken which my friend enjoyed, although it was quite a fiddly dish to eat.  The others both had hot curries which they loved.  A side of spinach was really good - soft and flavoursome but cold.  The service was mixed - two excellent waiters who recommended a nice wine but then when we went to order a second bottle it had run out and two scatty useless waitresses who got in the way and didn't know what they were doing.

We had an enjoyable evening but it was a mixed success - it's expensive for curry so the service and cooking really need to be top notch - they nearly are but just not quite.

Poppadoms, two courses and half a bottle of wine: £30 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 27/40

Ma Goa, 242-244 Upper Richmond Road, London, SW15 6TG.  Tel: 020 87801767.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Patisserie Valerie, Chelsea

Seriously bad value for money would be my overriding impression of this Patisserie Valerie.  A coffee with a friend ended up taking place at lunchtime and so we decided to order from their limited 'grilled snacks' menu.  A croque monsieur was made from average white sliced bread, some cheap ham and topped with a meagre offering of cheese.  Claire's toastie was just the same - cheap bread and no better than something you whip up in five minutes at home.  They had run out of fresh orange but tried to charge the same on the bill for one from the carton.
The best part of the meal was the coffee, which was very good.

I understand that the location demands high prices, and we sat in a very pleasant courtyard surrounded by beautiful shops and beautiful people, but it's just not that hard to make the food miles better.  Service was also slow and scatty.

One snack, an orange juice and a coffee: £11.50 per head

Value: 3/10

Service: 4/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 4/10

SCORE: 17/40

Patisserie Valerie, Left Wing Cafe, Duke of York Square, London, SW3 4LY.  Tel: 020 77307094.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Little Italy, Embankment

I had intended a repeat visit to Gordon's but alas, as I suspected, we were thwarted by the flocks of post-work drinkers and lucky tourists who got there before us.

A short walk further up Villiers Street brought us to Little Italy, an unassuming and reasonably priced Italian (the clue's in the name) restaurant.  

Only a few tables were occupied at 7 on a Thursday evening but the service was hurried and two different waiters hassled us for our order within the first five minutes of being there.  However, we chose quickly - house white wine, seafood linguine for Clare, spinach and ricotta cannelloni for me.  Mine was really good and Clare seemed to have no problem polishing hers off, the wine was ok, quite average but very cheap so who's complaining?  We finished with a tiramisu each - not so good this time, I think bought in.

It was a hassle getting the bill after the over zealous initial serving but if you're in the area and would like a good value Italian meal, this could be the place.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £20 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 26/40

Little Italy, 23 Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6ND.  Tel: 020 73210137.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hot Stuff, Stockwell

I had wanted to visit Hot Stuff for quite a while and yet I didn't see how I would ever persuade anyone to make the trek to the backstreets of Stockwell.  But then it turned out that one evening my friend and I would be both be in the vicinity and wanting a cheap meal.  Perfect.

I called the day before to book for a Tuesday night and they could only offer me a table for 2 at 7pm or 9pm and when we arrived at 7 I could see why.  The place is tiny and it was packed out.  The clientele looked entirely out of place for the locality as well, which goes to show that it really is a destination restaurant.  

We had poppadams first with some lovely dips, then vegetable samosas and for main we shared a chicken korma and a chicken tikka makhani with pilau rice and a paratha.  Delicious.  Everything had a rich flavour, not oily and not sweet, and the rice was light and and fluffy.

The service too is fantastic - uber friendly and easy going.  It's BYO and they were straight over with glasses.  At the end of the meal the owner comes over and mentally tots up your bill.  We will be back, in a flash, and would make a special journey any day.

Two courses: £9 per head

Value: 9/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 32/40

Hot Stuff, 19 Wilcox Road, London, SW8 2XA.  Tel: 020 77201480.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cafe Rouge, Kensington

I have been to the Cafe Rouge on Kensington Church Street many times.  Yes, it's a chain and no, the interior is not particularly inspiring but the food has always been good and High St Kensington has such a dearth of good restaurants (please do inform me if I am missing a corker).  Anyway, this was the reasoning behind a catch up with two friends here.  The service has always been friendly too, incidentally.

We started with some house red wine, which was very good, and the waiter made a little cheer when we decided to have another bottle.  At this point, we thought it may be wise to have some food.  One friend skipped, another had a croque monsieur and I had fishcakes.  The croque monsieur looked good - a generous size on good bread with lots of cheese and some nice ham.  Sadly my fishcakes didn't hit the mark.  There were two, and they were quite a good size, but they were so dry and mostly padded out with potato.  I managed to find some flaky chunks of overcooked salmon nestled in there somewhere.  The lime and coriander mayonnaise was fine, and the fries were very good - lovely and thin and crispy.

It was busy for a Monday night yet we had no trouble with service, which always puts me in a better frame of mind about a place.  But still... I think here, stick to classics.

One course and half a bottle of wine: £18 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 27/40

Cafe Rouge, 2 Lancer Square, Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4EH.  Tel: 020 79384200.

Monday, September 29, 2008

New Culture Revolution, Chelsea

It was a Saturday night and a friend and I had intended a night in with X Factor, or perhaps the cinema, but at the last moment we fancied eating out.  Cheap and cheerful was the way forward and we ended up at New Culture Revolution on the Kings Road.  It was full but a couple were just leaving and so we were seated immediately and presented with menus.

There's nothing surprising on there but we were happy to go for classics.  To start, chilli squid and spring rolls didn't disappoint.  The prawn crackers were of the Chinese takeaway variety though - thin and cardboardy as opposed to the thick crunchy ones you usually get in restaurants.  My sauteed chicken char mein for main course was substantial and tasty.  Katy's chicken tong mein was a little bland I think but brimming with vegetables and improved with seasoning.

The service was fine - a little slow, but generally helpful.  The atmosphere was subdued for a Saturday night, with bright lighting and a canteen feel, which I suppose is what it's based on really.

Two courses and a glass of wine: £18 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 26/40

New Culture Revolution, 305 Kings Road, London, SW3 5EP.  Tel: 020 73529281.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Mango Tree, Belgravia

A celebratory meal was in order and a friend and I chose The Mango Tree as our destination.  We booked the day before and, despite it being a very big restaurant, I was glad we did because it was packed and there were people waiting.

The atmosphere was really buzzy but not too noisy and the sleek interior is smart but not so smart that it's formal.  In short, I liked it.  We had an offer with Toptable and so we felt we could order without worrying about prices.

To begin we ordered the kong wang luam mid, which is an assorted platter for two, featuring chicken and beef satay, shrimp cakes, fish cakes, vegetable spring rolls and a papaya salad.  It was really delicious, the meat was juicy and flavoursome, the spring rolls not greasy (my bugbear) and the fishcakes had a good spicy tang.  The salad was fresh although it's a hard one to share, I find.  My main course was so so good - a panang curry with lamb shank which was so beautifully tender it literally fell off the bone.  Charlotte's yellow curry with monkfish and butterfish was full of big chunks of lovely fish. 

The service was attentive and friendly.  The house wine was very good.
My only reservation would be that without a discount it would be quite expensive and the wine list begins at about £20, so potentially, not a cheap night.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £35 per head (without Toptable discount)

Value: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 32/40

The Mango Tree, 46 Grosvenor Place, London, SW1X 7EQ.  Tel: 020 78231888.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Sun and Doves, Camberwell

I was a little disappointed that by the time two friends and I wandered down to The Sun and Doves on a Sunday evening they had already run out of roasts but it was hardly surprising: this is a lovely pub inside, lots of tables, light, relaxed and with a mixed clientele.

The do a BBQ menu in the summer which we were invited to select from.  There was a variety of meat/fish/veggie options and they serve your selection with a mixture of the day's salads (which you don't choose yourself).

My salmon was a decent portion and there was a great deal of salad.  The fish was plain and tasty without sauce but the dish became a little repetitive with a huge mound of raw cabbage, coleslaw, new potatoes and green leaves.  It actually sounds blander than it was but I thought for the price I could have had a bit more zing.  My companions' meals were better - a steak and Guinness pie was very tasty with a big side of fat chips and a vegetarian option (which I afraid I have forgotten) went down well.

A nice big glass of red wine rounded off the weekend.

One course and a glass of wine: £14 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 27/40

The Sun and Doves, 61-63 Coldharbour Lane, London, SE5 9NS.  Tel: 020 77331525.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gordon's Wine Bar, Embankment

A gorgeously sunny Saturday late afternoon saw a me and a friend in the Embankment area.  What better way to while away the hours than with a bottle of rose and a ploughmans at Gordon's?

Somehow we managed to find a table to perch at and I wrestled through the crowds to order cheese (brie and applewood smoked cheddar - I asked for a recommendation) with three different sorts of bread (white, brown and one with lots of nuts and seeds) and pickled onions, gherkins and pickle.  

It was delightful - rustic, unpretentious and very good value for money - given that you get huge chunks of cheese and bread - more than enough for two people.  And, the cheese was beautiful - creamy brie contrasting with the deeper sweetly smoky cheddar.

The interior of the wine bar is underground - lots of little tables in dark nooks and romantic corners and I have yet to ever get a table there.  Outdoors, though, is just as lovely - a stone's throw from the river and lots of wrought iron tables under awning.  Definitely one to try.

Half a bottle of wine and a ploughmans to share: £11 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 29/40

Gordon's Wine Bar, 47 Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NE.  Tel: 020 79301408.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Crazy Homies, Westbourne Grove

Delicious, delicious food in Crazy Homies.  We booked for 7 on a Friday night and the place was rammed.  A table for three consisted of a small round affair, more like a cafe than a restaurant, with two on a booth and me perched on stool.  It wasn't the most comfortable restaurant experience - when I went to the loos I decided I would much rather have been downstairs which was way bigger and had more party-esque music.

However, we ordered margharitas, both original and strawberry, and shared chicken nachos to begin which was a generous portion with jalapeno, black olives and coriander as well as the usual cheese, salsa and sour cream combo.  

Continuing the chicken vibe we also shared mains - enchiladas, burritos and quesadilla.  They all tasted really hot and fresh, not like they had been sitting somewhere and getting soggy for ages, which is sometimes the case.  The chicken was beautifully marinated, too.

The service was friendly, although they were pushed to the limit as it was so busy.  A fun night out and worth a try.

Two courses and two cocktails: £30 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 29/40

Crazy Homies, 125 Westbourne Park Road, London, W2 5QL.  Tel: 020 77276771.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Walmer Castle, Notting Hill

The Walmer Castle has an almost entirely Thai menu, as so many pubs seem to these days.  There are about 10 of us from the office having lunch together and so we choose to sit in the raised area at the back, with a sofa and two tables where we can all squeeze in.

You order and pay at the bar; the service is efficient although it could be a little friendlier.  The meals are all generous in size but arrive so quickly that they are obviously all sitting waiting to be served up.  My nasi goreng (fried rice with chicken, prawns, vegetables and egg) has quite a good amount of meat and veg but is a little too much on the greasy side.  Despite this it is tasty and I can't pretend I didn't eat it all.  A colleague's laksa looks appealing: the rice is served in a ball on the side and there are big chunks of chicken.  Sing chow mei is a big portion of noodles with various accompaniments including some nice spicy pork.  Two of our party have burgers but they are disappointed - they don't like the patties and the bun is a bit sad.  The chips are good though - hot and crispy.

The Walmer is a quick, good value lunch option and definitely a useful alternative to the burgers and wraps served ad infinitum in other pubs in the area.

One course and a soft drink: £8.50 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 25/40

The Walmer Castle, 58 Ledbury Road, London, W11 2AJ.  Tel: 020 72294620.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Big Easy, Chelsea

Another visit to The Big Easy was requested when my friend returned from working at the Olympics in Beijing.  We booked for a Tuesday night and went to catch up.  It is a good job we booked.  The Big Easy is rammed every single time I go.

The service was lovely as always, smiley and ready with a recommendation or a joke.  We sat at the front this time next to the window with a good view of the whole restaurant. Sipping frozen margheritas we couldn't resist the golden chicken tenders to start with again.  The strips of chicken are so tender they literally fall off the skewers and are coated in light crunchy breadcrumbs.  The honey mustard sauce has a delicate flavour - divine.

For main course this time I had the Chicken "Lux" burger... wow.  A huge piece of chicken breast with streaky bacon, home made guacamole, farmhouse cheddar and mayo.  Everything was great, even the ubiquitous lettuce was fresh and added to the experience.  The French fries and home made coleslaw were beautiful and the focaccia was soft and tasty.  The Big Easy and Gourmet Burger Kitchen truly do the best burgers.  James's chophouse burger delivered similar results - a simpler affair with big juicy beef tomato, red onion and dill pickles.

I always wish I could fit in a pudding but never can here - next time I am skipping on the starter on purpose.

Two courses and two cocktails: £30 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 32/40

The Big Easy Bar B. Q. & Crabshack, 332-334 Kings Road, London, SW3 5UR.  Tel: 020 73524071.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Bellstone, Shrewsbury

The Bellstone is somewhat of an institution amongst me and my friends.  Ever since we first discovered 'going for a coffee' or meeting for lunch on a Saturday we have been frequenting The Bellstone, which is right in the heart of Shrewsbury, and a stone's throw from our old school.

Unfortunately, the standard of food and service has slipped so much over the years that were it not for so many fond memories I would certainly have stopped going there a long time ago.  However, I haven't and one Saturday while on a trip home over the August bank holiday I met with my best friend to discuss her wedding plans and to dissuade her from putting me in a peach taffeta bridemaid's dress.  We were seated immediately in the restaurant section at the back, which is a very nice room with black marble-esque tables and sturdy metal framed wicker chairs.  It has light wood floors and lots of natural light making a very nice atmosphere for a chat and a glass of wine.  We didn't want a huge meal and both chose a jacket potato - mine with tuna mayonnaise and sweetcorn and Hannah's with coronation chicken.

I was so very disappointed.  The potato was pretty small and seemed to have been baked in the microwave as the skin was not at all browned or crispy.  The filling was fine but basic and needed a lot of seasoning.  Hannah's was of a similar quality with a bland sauce.  Neither came with anything - not even a meagre side salad.  For the price (£6.25) this seems stingy.

The service was fine, not particularly friendly or attentive.  The staff seem to constantly be talking amongst themselves and you do not get the impression that they welcome an interruption.

Will I be coming back?  Hmm... perhaps not.

One course, a soft drink and a glass of wine: £14 per head

Value: 4/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 5/10

SCORE: 22/40

The Bellstone, Bellstone Road, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 1HU.  Tel: 01743 242100.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Angel on the Bridge, Henley on Thames

It's a funny thing but there is only one place, really, to eat on the river in Henley.  On a soggy turned sunny Sunday three of us out for a birthday out of London entered the beer garden of The Angel on the Bridge in the hope of securing a table.

The last picnic bench beckoned and we sat with pinot grigio watching boats cruise by.  There are a lot of outdoor tables which all share one big blackboard style menu.  To order you must weave your way into a very small inside bar and carry sauces and cutlery back with you.  But this is, I remind myself, a pub and not of the gastro variety.  In fact for this we were quite glad as we cheerfully tucked into Brakspear beer battered cod, chips and peas, roast beef and Cajun chicken with salsa (not all at once).  The food was as you might expect.  Served respectively with a mound of chips, veg and chips, it was of a pretty good quality - nothing remarkable but we managed it all and the service was with a smile - the guy who brought over the food brought us extra condiments without request, just in case we needed them.

One course and a third of a bottle of wine: £15 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 27/40

The Angel on the Bridge, Thameside, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 1BH.  Tel: 01491 410768.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

L'Antipasto, Battersea

Its location, midway between all our homes, and the fact that it offers 50% off main courses on a Thursday (among other nights) led us to select L'Antipasto for a friend's leaving meal.  She was off on a nine month trip to Australia, via Japan and China, and then later visiting New Zealand and Thailand to finish in the US.  We didn't, therefore, mind sending her off with some simple European fare.

I booked about ten days earlier as I suspected it might be busy.  I was right - the queue was out of the door when we got there.  They don't allow bookings for smaller parties - I don't know what the cut off size is but as a party of 8 we were able to reserve.  Another suspicion of mine that was also proved correct was that this is not a place for posh nosh.  This is a neighbourhood trattoria serving traditional Italian dishes at fair prices.  We began by sharing garlic bread, which came as a slim pizza base cut into around 10 slices.  We had ordered two but only one came and as it was more than enough we didn't mention it.  It was very tasty and light but if I had a complaint it would be that it was a little bit greasy.

For main courses we all stuck with firm favourites as this seemed the sort of place where that would serve you well.  My lasagne came in a white dish with no sides or salad etc.  It was very nice - nothing remarkable but the rich tomato sauce tasted fresh, the meat was flavoursome and there was a generous cheese topping.  Other choices such as the bolognese and the seafood spaghetti prompted a similar reception - good value, nothing to write home about but certainly nothing to complain about.

The portion size is generous and we couldn't force a pudding, although I was sorely tempted by a tiramisu.  The house wine was more than drinkable and we weren't rushed at all, despite the fact that it was heaving and the queue still snaked out into the rain.

Two courses and a third of a bottle of wine: £15 per head (with 50% off main courses)

Value: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 28/40

L'Antipasto, 511 Battersea Park Road, London, SW11 3BW.  Tel: 020 72239765.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Leon, Strand

Another friend was staying (August was busy) and we found ourselves on The Strand on a Thursday lunchtime.  I wasn't tempted by the usual options of Pret, McDonalds or Starbucks and so was happy when I remembered that there was a branch of the Leon chain in the locality and I had been wanting to give it a try.

The outside is kitsch and eye-catching, inside there is ample seating and a large counter where you order your food and take it away to your table.  There was so much delicious choice that we dithered for a while before Alex chose the roasted sweet potato falafel and I chose the Moroccan chicken tagine, both served with organic pilaff rice and slaw.  The food is served to you in a cardboard b0x - a little like how Chinese food is delivered in America.  It surprised me, though, that they didn't serve food on plates if you are eating in - is that not more environmentally friendly?  

At any rate the food was very good - tasty and filling with lots of flavour.  My only complaint would be that I didn't have a huge amount of chicken. Both of us washed lunch down with a fresh Leon-made lemonade which was big and a nice combo of sweet sugar and lemony zing.

Post-lunch we were full and satisfied - not something you can often say after a quick bite at a sandwich/salad chain.

One course and a soft drink: £6.50 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 27/40

Leon, 73-76 The Strand, London, WC2R 0DE.  Tel: 020 72403070.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Chutney, Wandsworth Town

Another visit from my cousin meant another request to visit The Chutney.  This time we didn't book and got the last table for two.

Again, the service was exemplary.  You are never rushed but can always attract someone's attention when you would like to.  The poppadoms were crisp and freshly made, the chutneys were so tasty.

Main courses didn't disappoint either.  You always get a decent amount of meat and rice, sometimes a factor that lets an Indian meal down, and the naan was warm, fluffy and not greasy.  

The Chutney is such a popular local favourite and now it's one of mine.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £20 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 30/40

The Chutney, 11 Alma Road, London, SW18 1AA.  Tel: 020 88704588.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Konnigans, Wandsworth Town

I have never had a good experience in Konnigans: from noone coming to take even a drinks order or bring a menu after half an hour to soggy Thai food and draughty tables, there always seems to be something wrong.  Unfortunately, last time I ate at Global that was bad too and with my friend still down, and not wanting to stray far, I thought we would give Konnigans one last chance (they are owned by the same guy anyway so he wasn't losing out either way).

I will not be going again.  It should be a lovely restaurant - it's front windows open fully onto the pretty and quiet Old York Road, their chairs are reclaimed from a church, the menu is modern but with old favourites.  This time it wasn't the service but the food that let it down.  Their lunchtime menu has a sandwiches section and that was the kind of thing we wanted - two of us went for a tuna cheese melt and another of us for a steak baguette.  The cokes we ordered came in glasses that were slightly scratched and the noise and smell from the open kitchen made us feel like we were in a cheap cafe.

The food arrived exactly as described on the menu-there was zero presentation effort, just a greasy ciabatta and chips on a coloured plate.  It wasn't a particularly nice ciabatta - not dreadful but certainly not in keeping with the style of the place.  Another to be struck off the list...

One course and a soft drink: £7 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 5/10

SCORE: 24/40

Konnigans, 344-346 Old York Road, Wandsworth, London, SW18 1SS.  Tel: 020 88711496.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Thai, Wandsworth Town

Having lived in the area for a long time I cannot believe that I have never eaten in The Thai before.  We had a takeaway from there once, years ago, and I remember the green Thai curry being very hot - perhaps it put me off.

But anyway, I had a friend staying for the weekend and we decided to try it.  At 8 on a Friday night we went down, having booked, and were delighted at how pretty it was inside.  Dark wood and twinkling fairylights create a very romantic atmosphere, and indeed a lovely setting for two old friends to catch up.  The staff are very friendly and attentive.  We had the platter for two to start, accompanied by a really good Rioja.  There was no greasy batter or chewy meat to be had - everything was superbly cooked and good quality from the prawn toast to the chicken skewers.  A chicken massaman curry for main course was just delicious, too, with light fluffy rice.

It's a good job this restaurant is in Wandsworth Town because if it were anywhere more central you would never ever get a table there.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £28 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 31/40

The Thai, 362 Old York Road, London, SW18 1SP.  Tel:  020 88772725.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Fulham Broadway

We turned up at Gourmet Burger Kitchen at 8pm on a Wednesday evening and were seated immediately.  The inside is fairly plainly decorated with plenty of wooden tables and chairs.

A waiter brought over menus and took our order of a bottle of house white, telling us we need to order food at the counter.  I am still surprised by the fact that GBK does not offer table service and in fact it caused a bit of confusion because we wanted to pay separately, not all of us having cash, and when my friend placed her order they asked her to pay for our wine.  A system that needs tweaking I think.

However, we ordered a variety of mains: a beef burger with cheese and bacon for me, a chicken burger, small 'children's' burger with salad and vegetable stack with melted cheese for the others.  They arrived together and were absolutely delicious.  I cannot fault their burgers, they are simply the best I have had.  The patties are thick and juicy, buns and salad fresh and the chips (although charged separately) are not greasy and are very filling.  

The atmosphere and fact that you must order at the counter doesn't encourage you to linger here, and with there often being a queue I can see why they encourage this vibe.  We'll be back again though - the food was universally praised by our group.

One course and a glass of wine: £15 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 28/40

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, 49 Fulham Broadway, London, SW6 1AE.  Tel: 020 73814242.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Horse and Groom, Upper Oddington

I must admit that I was a bit disappointed by The Horse and Groom.  It should be good, it seemed like it would be.  A simple dining room off the bar, neutrally but cosily decorated, and a big chalk board of specials supplemented a good, fairly short menu of local produce.  So far so good.

To rewind a little, we had booked a good six weeks in advance as we were staying at the hotel for the night.  Even so, 8.30pm was the earliest we could have dinner.  We decided to skip starters and go straight for mains.  I chose pave of salmon from the specials, which came with a cream sauce and pureed carrot.  My ma had lamb, which came with a selection of vegetables.  The problem was just that it was all a bit bland.  The fish was nicely cooked but the sauce added very little and the carrots were more tasteless than baby food.  A similar scenario occurred with the meat.  We hoped to have better luck with puddings but both the chocolate mousse that my mum had and my poached fruit with ice cream were just ok.  We rounded off with coffee.  I desperately wanted to have a fantastic evening but in the end it was just ok.  Staff were friendly, although one didn't speak English.  One minor complaint about the atmosphere was the big light directly over our table which was a bit headache-inducing (I did in fact leave with one).

Two courses, half a bottle of wine and a coffee: £35 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 26/40

The Horse and Groom Village Inn, Upper Oddington, Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire, GL56 0XH.  Tel: 01451 830584.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Daylesford Organic, Daylesford

Having had such beautiful food at the Daylesford Organic in Pimlico I was very excited at the prospect of treating my mother at the one in Gloucestershire.  We weren't disappointed.

We had to wait twenty minutes for a table which didn't seem too bad for a heaving Saturday lunchtime.  Our table, when it was ready, was in a great spot - upstairs at the edge of a mezzanine floor overlooking the busy farm shop below.
The interior is very chic and minimal, with comfortable wooden chairs and a clean, fresh vibe.

We had a glass of their featured rose and requested some nuts to nibble on before our main meals arrived.  I say main meals but, in fact, we both chose starters as we were having treatments at the spa and didn't want to feel too full and bloated.  The drinks arrived but the nuts did not.  When we reminded the waiter he scurried off and then another guy brought us some, seconds before the rest of the food turned up.  Then the other waiter brought more nuts.  Once that had been sorted I noticed our side order of bread had been forgotten but by this point there were no staff to be seen.

However, the food was divine.  My chicken liver and foie gras parfait was smooth, creamy and filling - a huge chunk served with two thin, crispy slices of toast and some salad.  Ma's beef carpaccio was fabulous as well and she raved about the beans she had ordered as a side dish.  We eventually managed to request more bread again and we shared the remainder of the parfait with this (that's how much there was!).

For pudding I had a big chocolate mousse - very rich but not too sickly and served in a big chunky glass.  Mum had poached apricots with ice cream which she enjoyed but not as much as the savoury course.

The scatty service, although annoying, at least meant that they forgot to charge us for the bread.

Two courses and a glass of wine: £23 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 28/40

Daylesford Organic, Daylesford, Near Kingham, Gloucestershire, GL56 0YG.  Tel: 01608 731300.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Out Of The Blue, Battersea

Out of the Blue is one of the closest restaurants to my flat and I have always been happy that it is so.  My parents are of the same opinion and when they were down they took me and my cousin for dinner.

I booked the day before for 8.30pm and we were seated at a good table but whilst I think of it I feel I must mention the lighting here.  Above some tables hang large lampshades, very low and very bright - intended for use as a main light.  Hence by the end of the evening it was giving us a bit of a headache and casting a horrible light over our table.

Anyway, we ordered tap water and rose when we were seated which came promptly.  To start we selected breads with olive oil and balsamic and some fried Spanish beans (apparently  broad beans).  Well, it took ages.  I think our waitress was new because she appeared to be serving several tables very scattily and not really apologising for the fact that it was 9.30 and our starters had only just arrived.  And they brought a side order of green beans in pesto instead of the Spanish beans.  We pointed out the error and she looked flustered and confused.  Then she offered to bring the right thing but we reassured her we would eat these as they were here and we were starving by now.  Luckily another waitress, I think probably an owner/manager, noticed the situation and brought the correct order free of charge.  When they did arrive the beans were interesting - very dry but had an unusual flavour.  They were very obviously butter beans though and not broad beans at all.

And so the wait continued - it was 10.15pm when our main courses (our very easy main courses I might point out) of a beef burger, a chicken burger, a vegetarian pasta dish and a risotto arrived.  The food was very good except that the burgers came in the most pathetic buns I have ever seen - literally from a pack and you could see where they had been ripped apart.  Far too small for the burger.  It made me a quite cross that this was what they deemed acceptable - this isn't, after all, a particularly cheap restaurant.  My chicken was good quality though and tasty.  My dad enjoyed his beef burger (although they didn't ask how it should be cooked) and apparently the risotto and pasta were good.  I didn't hear any rapturous praise but we were hungry and tired by now.  As the clock crept towards 11 we headed home and I, for one, was disappointed.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £25 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 24/40

Out Of The Blue Bar and Kitchen, 140 St John's Hill, London, SW11 1SL.  Tel: 020 72078548.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All Bar One, Battersea

I would never generally choose to eat or drink in an All Bar One.  This isn't because they are unattractive, quite the opposite in fact they often have some of the best locations and buildings around.  It is mainly down to the fact that they are overpriced and full of people who haven't got enough imagination to go anywhere more original.

But now I am going to have to eat my words - literally.  I had a very excellent burger in All Bar One on Northcote Road.  I eat out on this road often and its restaurants are far superior to its bars hence we met here for drinks and then couldn't be bothered to move.  Our seats were low leather stools, the table one at the archways.  It was a warm night and it was a good spot, watching the world go by outside.

We ordered from the bar food menu and it didn't take long to arrive.  The staff are friendly enough here but they are slow and fairly incompetent when it comes to making drinks, knowing their menu and processing cards etc.  The burger, though, made up for this - it was a tasty bread bun, a big juicy burger and plain fresh salad.  It wasn't the most adventurous meal I have ever had but it was competent and the chips were good too - skinny fries, actually, and a generous portion.

I stick to my guns about the chain in general though - here it is a pleasant bar and setting but spilt drinks and old napkins are left on tables and a beggar was allowed to wander around and pester customers.  Still, I have had worse nights.

Two gin and tonics and a main course: £17 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 25/40

All Bar One, 32-34 Northcote Road, London, SW11 1NZ.  Tel: 020 78019951.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cafe Kaslik, Battersea

 We had a hot Sunday a couple of weeks ago and so four of us decided to wander to Battersea Square to the Lebanese cafe there, for lunch.

We selected a table at Cafe Kaslik which has an enviable location with plenty of outdoor seating.
Menus were brought over and orders taken.  We all opted for a diet coke and a minced chicken wrap.

Much as we enjoyed basking in the sun and taking our time we rather wished our food wouldn't.  The service was scatty and our food took about forty minutes but when we eventually tucked in it was delicious and came with some complimentary pickles.  If you are in the area this place does provide a cheap, tasty meal.

Soft drink and a wrap: £8 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 26/40

Cafe Kaslik, 11-12 Battersea Square, London, SW11 3RA.  Tel: 020 79785374.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Il Pagliaccio, Fulham

Il Pagliaccio, or Paggs to those in the know, is a firm locals' favourite.  We booked on Saturday for two people to eat the same day which wasn't a problem and when we arrived we were seated outside under the canopy, as requested.  The outside area is large - probably 15 pavement side tables, adorned with bunting, overlooked by a naked statue of a man - his modesty preserved with a napkin.

The service is a special mix of over-friendly waiters and attention to detail.  Shy and retiring types should probably steer clear as they will fuss over you and your food, complimenting you and helping you with your chair and napkin.  If you are celebrating a birthday a gaggle of waiters will serenade you with happy birthday, brandishing a huge cucumber for girls, fashioned into a shape (you can imagine what) surrounded by two tomatoes and topped with whipped cream, which the 'lucky' recipient must take a bite of.  For men, a similar situation but with melons and glace cherries...

But I digress.  Claire and I began with garlic bread and bruschetta to share, with a lovely bottle of red.  It is beautiful bread - homemade - and the toppings are fresh.

For main course we both go for pizza.  You don't come to a restaurant like this for haute cuisine, you come for good Italian food, prepared by Italians.  I love the pizza, cooked in a big open pizza oven in the middle of the restaurant.  A margherita with mushrooms went down very well with my friend, and my choice - served with chicken and mozzarella was really very good.  Thin bases with lots of topping - so tasty.

We know we will be back, we've been a million times before - but book, this place is always heaving.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £23 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 30/40

Il Pagliaccio, 182-184 Wandsworth Bridge Road, London, SW6 2UF.  Tel: 020 73715253.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fish in a Tie, Clapham Junction

I don't think you would stumble across Fish in a Tie if you didn't know of it.  Pass under Clapham Junction's railway bridge, with the sound of trains rumbling in the distance and down a distinctly average looking road, enter a corner restaurant which has an interior belying its odd facade.  It is eccentric - jam packed with tables, chandeliers hang casting light over old church chairs.

The service is very friendly, we have been before and found it so then as well.  We are offered a choice of tables and are offered a drink immediately.  Throughout the meal tap water is refreshed and more wine offered.  A 7pm it is already half full and has a lovely buzzy atmosphere.

To begin my friend has the beef carpaccio which is a beautiful slim translucent piece of meat, served with crisp salad.  My goats cheese is deep fried and a generous portion.  It is delicious and again comes with salad.  In fact, everything here is generous, from portions to pricing to service.  

My swordfish is a large piece of fish which is really flavoursome and light.  I squeeze lemon over it but it has been left undressed which I like.  It sits on a bed of slightly warm vegetables/salad which I am less keen on (warm lettuce is revolting) and leave.  Abby's red snapper is similarly well cooked and she likes her veg.  We are also served a dish of very soft boiled potatoes which are topped with a peppery seasoning and are delicious, if a little cold.

Fish in a Tie is a scatty and friendly operation - you have a hit and miss experience with food but smiley service, friendly atmosphere and reasonable prices more than make up for it.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £20 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 29/40

Fish in a Tie, 105 Falcon Road, London, SW11 2PF.  Tel: 020 79241913.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Prince Bonaparte, Westbourne Grove

Another Friday and another lunch with colleagues at the Bonaparte.  There's not much more to say about here so I'll do a quick round up.

We were a bit squashed on our table - there are only really a couple that accommodate ten people and they were both taken but we didn't book so it wasn't their fault.  Down at the end of the restaurant area it is quite hot and quiet compared to the light, airy front bar.

Only one man was serving at the bar and with our party, and two other large groups in, service was extremely slow with him having to dash away from the bar to serve food to tables.

However, when it all arrived it was good as it usually is and from the sausages to the club sandwich all were pleased.

One course and a soft drink £8 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 28/40

The Prince Bonaparte, 80 Chepstow Road, London, W2 5BE.  Tel: 020 73139491.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Big Easy, Chelsea

I love The Big Easy and it had been far too long since my last visit.  The opportunity to take someone who had never been was perfect.

We arrived half an hour before the 7pm booking and sat at the tall wooden tables for a frozen margherita (2 for 1 during happy hour).  The staff are great in there - friendly and competent.  They led us to our table but there was another, tucked away in the corner on the raised platform, that we preferred.  Not a problem.

They came back for our order shortly and we chose to share a starter - golden chicken tenders - and for mains I chose surf and turf (8oz strip sirloin with four shrimp) and James the chicken lux - grilled chicken breast with bacon, cheese and guacamole in focaccia with fries.
The starter was beautiful - four skewers of chicken, breaded and crisp fried.  They weren't greasy and the chicken was falling off the stick it was so tender.  They also came with some tasty nachos and a honey mustard dip.  There was more than enough to share
The main courses were similarly good: James's burger was generous and delicious (I can vouch for the fries too!) and my steak was cooked exactly as requested, topped for four huge, juicy shrimps butterflied and skewered.  Homemade creamy coleslaw and big onion rings sealed the deal.  I would have loved a pudding but as too often is the case, I was just too full!
Throughout the evening the waiter enquired about the food and offered drinks.  A live singer provided a great background of country and western music.
Lovely lovely night.

Two courses and two cocktails: £28 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 33/40

The Big Easy Bar.B.Q and Crabshack, 332-334 Kings Road, London, SW3 5UR.  Tel: 020 73524071.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

L Restaurant, Kensington

I hadn't seen a friend of mine since she announced her engagement and, seeing a Toptable offer for 50% off food, I thought L Restaurant off High Street Kensington might be a nice place to celebrate.

It is an attractive place and, as it was a warm evening, they had set up tables outside on the pavement.  We asked to sit there which was no problem and sipped tap water whilst we chose from the menu.  Despite promising to give us a couple of moments to select wine, noone returned to take our order and eventually, after around twenty minutes, we gestured the waiter and ordered wine, sparkling water and food together.  The chicken breast I ordered would take about ten minutes he advised: 'Ok, well then may we have some bread and olives please?'.

The bread came (three pieces of average white loaf and some very hard butter) but no olives.  We asked again and then the most delicious olives I have ever had arrived: a mixture of black, green and a pale red variety arrived, marinated in lemon and garlic and so tender.  On top were three huge green olives, stuffed with warm goats cheese and breaded.  They were divine.  Still waiting for our main courses twenty minutes later Daisy asked if we could have some more of the goats cheese variety.

The main courses arrived before they did (I heard others complaining about the wait for food throughout the evening) and my friend had pan fried salmon - a fair sized portion, not huge, served with piquillo pepper sauce and normally with patata bravas but Daisy had requested to swap this for green beans.  Although this was done without fuss, I fear she may have taken away from the dish with her substitution - it was a bit dull she confessed.  My char-grilled chicken breast was in no way char-grilled at all and was two slices of breast and then a portion on the bone.  Sitting on a bed of very soft and sauteed leek and shitake mushrooms, it was surrounded by a grey thyme sauce that had a foamy appearance and tasted of very little.  When I ordered I asked if I needed any sides with it, to which the reply came "It's hard to say".  I was glad I decided on a salad of rocket with manchego cheese because this added some much needed variety of texture and flavour.  Mid way through the meal, our extra olives arrived.

We skipped puddings and had coffees, which were very nice.  The bill arrived without the discount applied, and I noticed we had been charged £6.00 for the olives - I think it's steep to charge twice when the second time we only had a few but once our offer had been applied the value wasn't too bad.

Bread and olives, one course, half a bottle of wine and half a bottle of mineral water: £27 per head with the Toptable offer

Value: 5/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 24/40

L Restaurant and Bar, 2 Abingdon Road, London, W8 6AF.  Tel: 020 77956969.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Numero Uno, Battersea

I met for a friend for lunch on Sunday and, no destination in mind, we wandered up Northcote Road in the sun.  Again, Lola Rojo caught my eye but she wasn't in the mood for Spanish food and further on, noticing Numero Uno, we both stopped.

It was a very traditional looking restaurant with small wooden tables, starchy white table linen and a selection of friends and families tucking into pasta and wine.  As if waiting for us, one table for two in the middle of the little outdoor terrace sat empty.  

The service here is traditional, old school Italian.  An older man, presumably the owner, walks the restaurant and makes sure everyone has drinks and is enjoying their food.  He is a real charmer.  We begin with the bread, provided under the £1.50 cover charge, which is soft French stick - fresh if a little boring.  It is, served, with a delicious paste that is a deep green and tastes of beautiful black olives and garlic.

Over tap water and a bottle of very decent house white Hannah and I indulge in 'Suzannah York', an apparently delicious pasta dish served with truffles and creamy sauce, and the homemade tagliatelle with clams, squid and prawns in a rich tomato sauce.  Often, I find pasta dishes with a tomato, as opposed to a cream base a little boring but this time it was utterly delicious.  The seafood was fresh and generous, too.

I was sad that we were far too full for a pudding as they were displayed inside on a dessert trolley - homemade apple pies, tiramisu, custard cream tart...

However, as the proprietor said, we were sweet enough as we were.

One course and half a bottle of wine: £20 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 31/40

Numero Uno, 139 Northcote Road, London, SW11 6PX.  Tel: 020 79785837.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Daylesford Organic, Pimlico

So often I intend to eat at one place yet end up at another and so it was on Saturday when my cousin and I planned to eat at The Ebury before she caught her train home.

Upon arriving though I felt that the gastro pub term had been stretched to the limit in describing this place: red rope on silver stands marked the entrance, which displayed a framed menu - the cheapest option being £12.50 for one course.  The interior looked austere and every table was laid up as a restaurant, which frankly is what it looks like.  It just looked too formal.  We moved on.

A short stroll down the road brought us to Daylesford Organics.  As it was a sunny day the tables outside were full of well heeled locals eating Eggs Benedict for brunch or sharing fabric baskets of rustic breads.  There was space for two at the long marble bench that runs the length of the window inside, affording a view of the lovely street outside.  A couple next to us chose expensive furniture from a brochure over coffee and further down another couple sipped champagne.  Despite this it did not have a snobby or overbearing atmosphere at all and we were brought menus by a very pleasant waiter.

We ordered drinks - a fruit juice and a sparkling water - and food.  I decided on a crab salad and Arabella went for a wild rice and quinoa salad.  The food arrived about ten minutes later and was beautifully presented.  The crab was shredded and mixed with thinly shaved vegetables and a light seafood sauce, moulded into a cylinder, drizzled with olive oil and served with a long slim slice of French toast and a side of green salad.  Arabella had a very large portion of her salad in a simple white bowl.  I had to try some and it had a lovely delicate flavour, hints of lemon and coriander contrasted with the earthy brown wild rice.  Mine too was so lovely - no flavour overwhelmed another and it was just enough.  I savoured every mouthful.  Whilst we were eating we realised we had no drinks.  I summoned the waitress and she hurried over with them.  No detail was overlooked here either - the glasses were chunky and tall with a blue rim.

Slightly distracting were the various complaints we could hear going on down the counter - one couple had been overcharged, another had things on their bill that they hadn't had.  Indeed, when our bill came we had been charged for a freshly squeezed juice, not the bottled one we had, and a larger size of water.  I pointed these out and the waitress said "Oh yes, the bill's wrong" in a very matter of fact way, as if it happens all the time, which I suspect it does, and she whisked it away without apology.  She returned with our amended bill, and the amended bill of our neighbouring diners, and I studied it again, noticing that the juice was now a different price again, slightly more expensive than it is listed on the menu.  Upon enquiring about this, she looked puzzled, looked at the bill, looked at the menu and then just looked at me.  "Erm... this price is right." she said.  "So the juice is actually more expensive than listed?" I said.
"Yes."  Again, no apology.
As it was only 25p more, and we were now in a rush for the train we left the cash and left the building, slightly irked about the 12.5% service charged.

Even so, we would both return - the building and food were stunning, and we will give the sporadically smiley staff another chance at good service.

One course and a soft drink: £11 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 4/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 28/40

Daylesford Organics, 44b Pimlico Road, London, SW1W 8LP.  Tel: 020 78818060.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Prince Bonaparte, Westbourne Grove

The Prince Bonaparte was the venue for another Friday lunch with my work colleagues. We chose a table and ordered at the bar. The staff were very friendly and smily, if a little scatty (forgot a couple of drinks and had to ask us to repeat a couple of orders).

The food this time was even better than the last. I had a club sandwich and chips which was beautifully done - toasted brown bread with generous smoked bacon and grilled chicken, lettuce and really fresh and flavoursome beef tomato. Everyone else had a burger - some the larger 10oz and some the 80z but everyone was more than happy. It's the details in the Bonaparte's food that give it the edge - corn on the cob and a pot of chutney, homemade onion rings and lots of oozing cheese. The Commander could take some tips.

Once course and a soft drink: £8 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 31/40

The Prince Bonaparte, 80 Chepstow Road, London, W2 5BE. Tel: 020 73139491.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Santa Lucia, Chelsea

An original plan to visit Sophie's Steakhouse had to be written off: it was just too busy and only had one vegetarian option.  Wine Gallery was similarly packed and again had limited veggie appeal (eating out as a vegetarian can be hard and boring I have noticed).  Therefore we wandered across Hollywood Road and into Santa Lucia.  What a happy chance.

The six of us were seated immediately at a great table, despite having no reservation.  It felt just like being on holiday on Italy - authentic and relaxed but with crisp starched linen and excellent service.  The friendly staff brought menus over and happily provided tap water in large jugs.  

To begin we had two portions of their delicious garlic bread - more than enough for us all.  It was made from a thin circular pizza base topped with a light garlicky oil - not greasy and incredibly moreish.  Two of my friends had pizza which was served as one long metre length - half for each diner and presented on a wooden stand.  It was thin crust with fabulous fresh toppings.  They were delighted.  The pasta dishes were divine.  My rigatoni mamma mia consisted of giant pasta tubes, cooked al dente with five big homemade meatballs in a simple tomato and garlic sauce.  It was fabulously simple.  The seafood linguine was a sight to behold - atop with huge mussels, the pasta was full of fat prawns and squid.  Diane declared it delicious.  Both vegetarians chose the same - penne with a tomato sauce with aubergine and mozzarella.  The mozzarella sat on top of the dish, the size of an egg and both diners said it was beautiful.
I have run out of adjectives for the food - it was just simple, well done Italian fare.

The service too was great - I didn't notice it, yet wanted for nothing which is, of course, perfect.  Unusual requests such as removing the parmesan from the vegetarian mains and adding two extra toppings to a pizza were carried out without fuss.  Wine was refilled, as was water, without question.  The bill came with a complimentary biscotti.  I have made myself hungry again just writing this.  Needless to say, we will all go back.

One course, garlic bread and half a bottle of wine: £22 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 32/40

Santa Lucia, 2 Hollywood Road, London, SW10 9HY.  Tel: 020 73528484.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Chutney, Wandsworth Town

The tables were turned and my cousin and aunt were now visiting London.  A relaxed evening was in order and walking to the East Hill, a lovely pub on Alma Road, we passed The Chutney.  I have eaten here twice before, once with my cousin in fact, and have had an average experience each time.  She, however, raved about it and its great choice of vegetarian options.  As neither of my fellow diners eat meat I agreed to give it another go.  We popped our heads in and reserved a table for 8.30.

The interior is fresh and modern: blood red walls and leather chairs with crisp clean white tablecloths.  We were led to a circular table set for four and they hurriedly removed a setting.  'They could have done that before we arrived' remarked my aunt.  I agree: it is so easy for places to get the details right, I am always surprised at how many don't.  To start we had a poppadom each, served with very tasty chutneys and raita. I noticed we were the only table without a vase of sparse carnations.

It was only when we had finished these, and half a bottle of wine, that we noticed noone had yet taken our order for main courses.  When side plates were cleared a waiter appeared with a pad and we selected.  I went for chicken korma razala (I reasoned that if my previous more adventurous meals had not been excellent, perhaps this simpler dish would win me over), my aunt for handi subje (seasonal mixed vegetables cooked with pepper, tomato, ginger and ground spices) and my cousin for vegetable jalfrezi.  The korma was very good, the sauce was creamy and coconutty but didn't overwhelm the tender pieces of meat.  My only complaint would be that it was a bit too runny.  The pilau rice too was lovely and not too dry as it often is.  The handi subje was raved about - lots of gorgeous veg in a flavoursome sauce - and likewise the jalfrezi which was quite spicy but not too much so.  The vegetarian options on the menu were apparently the best they had ever seen in an Indian restaurant.  The naan was soft, fluffy and not at all greasy.

Our tap water was constantly refreshed and the service was very polite.  Despite a slow start we had a great evening and agreed it is always better to have a bit of chatting time than the courses arriving seconds apart (which was another previous experience of mine at The Chutney).  It has redeemed itself, and I'll be back.

Poppadoms, one course and half a bottle of wine: £17 a head

Value: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 29/40

The Chutney, 11 Alma Road, London, SW18 1AA.  Tel: 020 88704588.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rococo, Shrewsbury

My cousin booked for us to visit Rococo, in Shrewsbury, during a weekend visit to Shropshire.  It was once Owen's, a reliable and good quality option that I have frequented for many years, and so I was interested to see if it could be bettered.

We called on Tuesday for a Saturday reservation, which was no problem.  I was glad we did for, within half an hour of being seated at 7.30, the place was full.  It is a large room filled with dark wood furniture, large potted plants and mood lighting and is very attractive.  A long bar runs along the back.  

We chose a bottle of pinot grigio and a jug of tap water whilst we perused the menu and eventually decided upon a mezze platter to share for starter, a vegetarian option of linguine for my cousin (I'm afraid I forget the sauce but I know it came with wild mushrooms and was creamy) and for myself a special - the crab and cherry tomato risotto.

The platter was very good - lovely bread (although only one piece each), generous squares of feta, big juicy stuffed olives, homemade tzatziki and smooth garlicky houmous.  The main courses were good but not excellent.  Apparently the pasta dish was tasty but a little overfacing and Arabella couldn't finish - it looked a little bit greasy as well.  My risotto was a lovely texture and consistency but was just a bit bland - the crab was tasteless and the cherry tomatoes were cold and hard instead of soft and oozing into the rice as I imagined they would be.  It seemed that they had just been chopped on top of the dish straight from the fridge.

We were too full for puddings, although they looked appealing, and pressed on with two cocktails each from their attractive menu.  They were very fairly priced at £5-£6 each and really added to the fantastic atmosphere.  From 9pm a guy played guitar and sang a mixture of old classics and current chart hits which wasn't intrusive but made a lovely backdrop to the evening.

We stayed until gone midnight and were never made to feel like we should pay up or move on.
A great night and nice restaurant which could be made fantastic with a few tweaks.

Two courses, half a bottle of wine and two cocktails: £35 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 29/40

Rococo, 18 Butcher Row, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 1UW.  Tel: 01743 363633.