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Clifford Mould goes down The Crown

Recent surveys of London's diners have revealed that high prices and poor service are the main bugbear. For value for money and cheerful, friendly staff rather than supercilious maitres d', pubs are coming into their own. There's a new breed of pub where food has become one of the main attractions, though the landlords are quick to point out that keeping and serving good beer is still a very high priority. So-called gastro-pubs - what an indigestible term! - are cropping up all over the country, and a small but enthusiastic group called Geronimo Inns is one of the leaders of the pack. Two of their pubs are amongst the very select list of inns rated in the Michelin Guide, and one of them, the Duke of Cambridge in Battersea won the 1998 Evening Standard Pub of the Year.

Their newest venture is at The Crown, just off the posh end of the Fulham Road in Dovehouse Street. It won't be the newest for long as The Coat and Badge in Putney is scheduled for opening at the end of October. Dovehouse Street is rather a quiet residential backwater so you might miss it. That would be a pity, because after our visit last week we can thoroughly recommend that you give it a whirl. The bar is cosy and hasn't lost its comfortable neighbourhood feel; further along the narrow space is a motley collection of honest wooden domestic dining tables with bottom-friendly seating.

The menu is not too long, but caters for those wanting a good quality snack as well as for the serious foodie. We tried the home made soup of the day (£2.95), tomato and basil, made with a good stock, comfortingly thickened with potato and served with nice plain bread. As a starter, chargrilled vegetables with cous cous (£4.95) sounded interesting but I plumped for a well made puff pastry tart filled with smoked salmon topped with very piquant goat's cheese (£5.95). My friend, a chef from Philadelphia, was impressed by his salad of duck livers with caramelised onions (£5.95). The liver could have been a little softer, but it tasted terrific and the onions and the salad were perfect.

He continued with braised lamb shank (£8.95) which bore all the hallmarks of slow and careful cooking, the meat was tender and juicy and the glazed butter onion jus very intense if a touch over seasoned. I had smoked haddock and shrimp fishcakes (£8.95) - no trace of the dreaded yellow colouring here, but a very light fluffy cake which got the balance of fish to potato just right, both with respect to flavour and texture - full marks.

There are good vegetable dishes ranging from salads, like a Caesar's at £4.95, to a risotto of of chestnuts and celery with Swiss cheese and basil oil (£6.95). I saw some excellent looking "traditional" pub grub in the form of Cumberland sausages and chicken and leek pie, going out to next door tables. Even these dishes are cooked to order; there's nothing sitting on the counter under lights. The chef is a talented young man called Luke Wilson. At least, he's young by my standards, but in present-day chef terms he's seen a good few stoves already. He's undoubtedly conjuring up some culinary magic from a fairly tiny kitchen.

Decent wines are offered at affordable prices ranging from £8.95 for Baron Philippe's house wines from the Vin de Pays d'Oc, now France's most well known region, to the top whack of £16.20 for a domaine bottled Sancerre. But we began by drinking some delicious Belgian cloudy beer. Cloudy Beer? Doesn't that ring a bell somewhere down under?

Dine Online recommends The Crown for great value for money.

153 The Crown, Dovehouse Street, Chelsea SW3 6LB
Tel: 020 7352 9505

Also worth visiting:

The Duke of Cambridge, 228 Battersea Bridge Road SW11
The Queens, 49 Regent's Park Road, Primrose Hill, NW1
The Coat and Badge, 8 Lacey Road, Putney SW15

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