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Lilly's, Wapping High Street EC1

Lilly's restaurant, bar and grill was opened four months ago, in London's Wapping High Street, by experienced operator Simon Binder, who, amongst other things, founded the Café Med chain and served time as Managing Director of Groupe Chez Gerard. "I really wanted to open a good, neighbourhood restaurant that would be the kind of place I would want to go to if I lived locally" he says.

Lilly's all-day menu includes grills , sandwiches and salads, but we went there to dine to see what the main restaurant menu had to offer. It is always a good start when you can park outside! First impressions on entering are of a typical 'honest' brasserie ( i.e warm colours, wooden floors, no table cloths!), with a bar area to one side with its own low tables for casual snacks and drinks, and the main dining area divided into cosy leather banquettes plus well spaced tables.

The décor is what Lilly's own publicity calls 'eclectic', but I would call somewhat confused, with a variety of lighting types, ranging from 1950's retro lights to full blown chandeliers - to no great effect and for no special reason that one could see. There was an additional disconcerting factor. With Lilly's being slightly below street level and on a corner, with floor to ceiling windows, it meant that at our table, we were regularly played over by the beams of car headlamps as they passed down Wapping High Street, over riding the otherwise flattering lighting inside! Service reflected the brasserie ambience - warm, friendly, quick and helpful -doubtless due to being overseen by manager Vanessa Sharp from South Africa - a country where they take a positive approach to service and are not afraid of hard work to achieve results.

A laudable nine starters were on offer, covering the expected basics - onion soup, smoked mackerel pate, Serrano ham and so on. We chose chargrilled leeks with poached egg and mustard sauce and marinated roasted quail with salad. The leeks were tender and the egg poached to perfection - just slightly runny - and the sharp mustard sauce was a great complement to the sweet leeks. My companions quail was tasty and tender but little evidence of the marinade came over. The accompanying salad was judged very dull and had no discernable dressing. Some of my mustard sauce was stolen to improve matters!

To drink, we tested a carafe of the house white - a Cote de Gascon - which was perfectly adequate if not quite cold enough. The quality of a restaurants house wines are a good measure of their respect for customers, and Lilly's was on the right side of 'very acceptable'. The main course - and time to test the grill. There were eight options and we chose the sirloin steak with béarnaise sauce and the marinated rump of lamb with rich gravy. Alternatives included salmon with braised flageolet beans, liver and bacon, fish of the day and poussin with fresh tomato relish. Lilly's also have a 'Dishes for Two' section on the menu with three options - whole roast chicken, roast beef rib and whole roast sea bass - all served with mash or chips and vegetables or salad.

The steak had a good flavour and was presented, exactly as requested, just short of medium. The béarnaise was well made - creamy and flavoursome and the accompanying grilled vegetables were excellent - tender and piping hot.

The rump of lamb was also cooked to perfection with just the right touch of garlic and was of trencherman proportions. Some of the rest was not so enjoyable - dry, tough peas, sad cold tomatoes and the small cup of 'rich' gravy seemed pure Bisto. The mash restored ones faith in the kitchen - smooth, hot and creamy - as did the roasted root vegetables already mentioned. To drink, our very helpful waitress - Natalie Wood - suggested a glass of a good full Shiraz to go with the Sirloin and a spicy, soft Merlot with the lamb. Both excellent recommendations.

What was lacking here, overall, was a more adventurous use of herbs and spices, and more attention to dressings and sauces. This could have lifted Lilly's good, 'straightforward ' offerings to a higher level with just a little extra effort. They are not alone. One often wonders why, in the 21st century, fresh herbs, interesting spices - and sometimes even salt and black pepper - seemingly fail to find there way into many restaurant kitchens! The result is an inexcusable, unnecessary, blandness.

Our desserts - lemon crème brulee with cranberries and schnapps and a chocolate and banana mousse, had a mixed reception. The crème brulee needed to be much creamier and as a result the promising combination - although interestingly delicate - just failed to come off. The visually unappealing mousse was not a success.

Lilly's is what it says it is - a jolly, local bar and grill, full of laughter, chatter and clatter with a busy, buzzy feel - ideal for a quick business lunch or an evening meal when you cant bring yourself to cook at home. Portions are generous and ingredients are of good quality. It is well placed in a bit of a wasteland for decent food, and a small amount of fine tuning could make its restaurant operation more in tune with what we have come to expect in London these days, but it has made a useful start.

Prices: Starters £4.25 - £6.20; Mains & grills £7.50 - £15.50; Desserts £3.75 - £4.50 Wines start at £10.50 for the house red and white and by the glass from £3.90.

Stephen Higginson

Lilly's Restaurant, Bar & Grill, 75 Wapping High Street, London EC1 

Reservations: 020 7702 2040 

Opening times; Monday -Friday 12 noon - 11 pm ( 10.30 pm on Sunday) Saturday & Sunday - open from 11 am for brunch

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