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City Café Westminster, London SW1

Hotel dining rooms used to be rather anonymous affairs, serving insipid, overpriced food that left an awful lot to be desired. Certainly in the Capital, things have changed for the better, and some of Dine Online's favourite restaurants are now located in hotels. City Café Westminster, which is the dining room at the City Inn Westminster is a very contemporary and impressive establishment. It has an uncluttered, modern feel, with glass walls, elegant and tasteful furnishings, low lighting and partitioned seating areas - creating a feeling of both space and intimacy. What I also didn’t expect was that the place would be packed on a Monday night - but then again, this is a part of town where the residents must be rejoicing that, at last, there is somewhere decent to dine out! Also, this restaurant has become a favourite haunt of MPs and parliamentary pundits.

The kitchen is in the good hands of ex Bank head chef Peter Lloyd, who has reworked the menu, giving it a brasserie style theme. Split into several sections it includes an inspired Garden menu for vegetarians, a City Café classics and grills selection, an a la carte menu and seasonal menus the latest of which will be for Valentine's day.

After some deliberation we settled on the a la carte menu, I commenced with a Gloucester old spot pork and pistachio terrine with shallot and kumquat compote. This was superb, with a good pistachio and bacon flavour throughout, the compote adding a fruity kick. My guest’s chicken liver and foie gras parfait was deemed very autumnal in flavouring, the combination of meats being light on the palate with the chutney proving a fine complement, whilst an accompanying glass of Gewurztraminer provided theperfect match.

There were five different choices of main dishes - I had the orange braised lamb shank, served with creamed pearl barley and glazed root vegetables. This was tender and substantial, a rich and warming dish for a cold December evening. My guest had an incredibly tender, aged beef fillet. It arrived drenched in Roquefort butter and came served on a huge bed of spinach. She said it was beautifully cooked and tender, with a lovely flavour. From the side orders we had some buttered leeks, chestnuts and prunes, some red cabbage with a real taste of Christmas about it and hot and crisp French fries. We washed this down with a bottle New Zealand Pinot Noir, Pencarrow, 2002, the colour belying the taste as it appeared very light in the glass but was soft and silky on the nose with a heady hedgerow nose and a fullness on the palate - all for just under £30 a bottle.

For pudding, there were several choices, including a sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and whipped cream and an assiette of pear William which is served in three ways - a pear tart, a poached pear in brandy and a thick pear ice cream. My guest had the valhrona dark and white chocolate fondant with buffalo milk ice cream -  a wonderful fluffy cloud of amazing silken goo with a lovely bitterness about it - totally wicked! To lighten her palate she finished with a glass of orange Muscat desert wine, which proved a refreshing palate cleanser, the perfect end to the meal.

When we left around 10.30pm, replete and well sated, the dining room was still humming with life, proving that the right formula in the right part of town can only result in a sure-fire success.

Louise Elgin. Christmas 2005.

Dinner for two with water, wine and service is around £50 a head.

City Café Westminster, 30 John Islip Street London SW1 Tel: 020 7932 4701

www.citycafe.co.uk

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