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Clifford Mould visits AXIS, the smart new dining room at 1 Aldwych

Axis is the fine dining room of London's newest and smartest hotel One Aldwych, which has recently been opened by the hotelier and entrepreneur Gordon Campbell Gray. As we strolled over Waterloo Bridge to an early inspection dinner, my guest remarked that he thought the name Axis had rather a forbidding ring to it. I showed him how the site, once the offices of the Morning Post, stood Janus like, looking towards both the City and the West End. And how it also faces Waterloo Bridge on the axis of the Stand and the Aldwych, benefitting, as estate agents say, from extensive views over the river from its upper floors. He accepted this explanation with relief, though muttering something about anyone under fifty knowing little about 20th century European history.

He was relieved to find that the greeters on the door weren't wearing jackboots and leather greatcoats. Greeters are a peripatetic species found in and around the entrance lobbies of restaurants particularly during the first few weeks after opening. They become quickly bored and then they move on to the next glamorous location. The ones at Axis were particularly nice examples of the genus; perhaps they'll stay a little longer.

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Axis has its own pretigious entrance right on the corner of The Strand. You immediately descend a grand curved marble staircase to the bar which is located on a balcony overlooking the restaurant itself which is even lower. Given the hugely high ceilings, it's surprising the original builders didn't strike oil. The creamy stone and light walls prevent any feelings of subterranean gloom.

Mark Gregory is the head chef - from Brockett Hall in Hertfordshire where he was executive chef. In 1997 he won the coveted award of Meilleur Ouvrier de Grande Bretagne from the Académie Culinaire de France.

We tried his soup made from "Jersey Royal potatoes with smoked bacon". It was smooth, but a little bland. Much more interesting was a "Savoury summer pudding" with tomato and parsley. "Layered sweet potato crisps with smoked chicken, avocado and pine nuts" looked quite inpressive, but I was told that it tasted a bit like an upmarket sandwich filling. I enjoyed a "Devilled king prawn cocktail" which tasted very fresh and marine.

The "Butter poached salmon" turned out to be half cooked so we sent it back - something I always try to avoid doing as it always looks so unfriendly. But I do think that fish has to be either raw and served very cold and fresh indeed, or it needs to be cooked just enough to ensure that it isn't slimy in the middle. The dish also had some clever salmon skin crackling which was very strongly flavoured as well as a light and well executed potato soufflé.

We also had to send back the "Hay baked (2 hours) leg of Welsh lamb" which made us feel even more embarrassed, though I must say the waiter was sweet and did all she could to cheer us up. I thoroughly approve of slow cooking in a hay crust, as does my guest who rather likes his lamb well done. I was as surprised as he was to see how very rare it was after two hours in the oven. Corrections and adjustments were made and everyone was happy with the results. Meanwhile, I scored highly with my choice of a "West Country fish and scallop stew" (I thought scallops were fish?) with fennel and saffron. It came in a lovely puff pastry bento box which had locked all the flavours in admirably well.

Puddings are excellent and well differentiated. "An excellent trifle from 1880" was sumptuous, and you'd never have guessed from the vivid taste that it had remained preserved for so long. My lady guest described the "Iced chocolate Mallow Puff" as "very horny" which I presume means that it turned her on. Elderflower jelly with champagne sorbet is a must for those wimps who would otherwise refuse puddings because their tummies are so pathetically small, or large, depending on which way you look at it.

Axis has all the ingredients to be a very successful new destination once the initial wrinkles are ironed out. It's very well positioned, has excellent and friendly staff, a head chef with proven flair and a modern, sharp, smart ambience.

The cost of your meal: Starters £4.50 to £6.95; Mains £11.50 - £16.00; puddings £6.25.

Axis, One Aldwych London WC2
Tel: 020 7300 0400

We've heard great things about One Aldwych's second restaurant, Indigo which features many lighter style dishes. Indeed, my same guest as above, who's been twice, rated it highly horny.


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