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Berkeley-Square-Café  W1

 Last year I very much enjoyed Stephen Black's cooking at 179 Shaftesbury Avenue. He had taken over from the flamboyant Irish chef Conrad Gallagher. I found Black's cooking to be more approachable than that of his ex-boss - less fiddly, more honest, but with some nicely judged twists and well thought out combinations. My only real criticism had been that in spite of the money thrown at the venue, it was a bit over designed and too far down the wrong end of the Avenue. Such a large space needed seriously populating and that didn't seem to happen. Now, right on the corner of Berkeley Square in the heart of Mayfair, Black has his own premises at last and can carve out his own particular niche. Very sensibly he has brought with him some key staff, notably his pretty wife Merete who looks after front of house with Joe McColgan, thus ensuring a neat touch of the Irish about the atmosphere. The dining room is light and airy with various tones of mauve, from lilac walls to aubergine drapes and a dark mulberry carpets. There's an understated touch of luxury with the chocolate brown leather chairs and immaculate napery.

Also from 179 come a few of Black's signature dishes, so you'll still find starters like the marvellous crab risotto or the scallop and foie gras combination that I so admired last year. Indeed, the menu items are so descriptive that I've put in a link to the whole menu for you to peruse at your leisure. Each of us was first offered a different and well crafted amuse, then we tried the Spinach soup with goat's cheese mousse decorated with a strip of crispy bacon. The brilliant emerald green colour was striking, and the mild goat's cheese flavour perfectly balanced the spinach. I had the Caramelised Sweetbreads, which were absolutely delicious, this time set off with a grilled artichoke and some Cumbrian ham - another combination that worked so well.

It's interesting to look at the variety of bases upon which Stephen Black sets his main ingredients. It's become a bit of a jokey cliché that's easily sent up: "pan fried hippo toes on a bed of lightly crushed water lily corms". But here are some really appetising foundations - a casserole of broad beans and fennel to go with the braised cod; creamed celeriac and wild mushrooms with the Aberdeen Angus fillet; a Tian of aubergine with cous cous for the herb-crusted lamb. 

My steamed halibut came on a bed of creamy risotto flavoured with spring onions and with a sauce made from mussels infused with saffron. I think I enjoyed the accompaniments almost more than the fish itself. My friend had the duck, done two ways, the breast roasted to caramelise the skin, and the confit of leg wrapped in filo pastry to make a North African pastilla - a further Magreb touch came in the form of a hazelnut and fig sauce.  The base for this dish was an equally creamy risotto made from buckwheat - an idea I can't wait to try.

It goes without saying these days that the presentations were lovely to look at, none being elaborate for its own sake. A variety of china and glassware of different shapes and styles has been chosen to show off a particular dish. No more so than for the puddings. We had to have a signature dish from 179 days - the Citrus Plate featuring a mouth watering trio of lemon tart, orange sorbet and citrus fruit salad in a tuille basket. For those who crave chocolate, Black's fondant is almost as dark as his name - and the pistachio ice cream made a wonderful contrast of texture, temperature and refreshing flavour.

There! I couldn't find a thing to criticise - for my particular taste this is a restaurant I could return to time and time again. Don't be put off by the name - it's not a café at all. The service was excellent, but hardly under severe pressure yet, except perhaps at lunch time, where two courses for £14.95 or three for £18.95 seems very fair for such stylish cooking. 

The Berkeley Square Café  7 Davies Street, Mayfair, London W1K 3DD
Tel: 020 7629 6993 
email: info@berkeleysquarecafe.com    website:  www.berkeleysquarecafe.com

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