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My first impressions of Pug, having arrived horribly late, thanks to London Underground's supreme inefficiency, was of the clean, bright and brand spanking newness of the interior, as from the outside it had looked nothing like as inviting.
A large bar at the front extended to the dining room, which had been painted a pleasing combination of dark olive and apple green. The light and airy room gave a feeling of space between the tables, even though they were actually quite close together.
My fellow gourmet enthusiast, being an ultra punctual individual, had been waiting quite a while by now and had sensibly ordered herself one of the wines by the glass, a '99 Pinot Grigio Pasqua, which was crisp, light and refreshing. Deciding to continue with the wine by the glass theme (at around the £3.50 mark), I followed suit, but did make the observation that there was quite a limited choice if one drank that way. As for half bottles, they were not available at all, except for some dessert wines. Restaurateurs might do well to remember that often there can be more than one driver per table!
Having been offered an interesting selection of bread rolls, including a delicious looking baguette, we settled down to peruse the menu. There was a fixed price menu a la Francaise, (such a good idea for those keeping an eye on the cost), which at £14.50 seemed very reasonable. It included a good selection from the main menu, but it wouldn't be for vegetarians as the choices were all meat and fish based.
My editor reminds me from time to time that it is the duty of the restaurant critic to try anything at all unusual or adventurous, so I bravely ordered the crispy pigs' trotters terrine with cauliflower purée, our other choice being crab fritters with marinated cucumber, chilli and mint sauce.
When my terrine arrived it was not what I had been expecting at all! It almost had a look of something that should have been an accompaniment to bacon and eggs, such as hash browns. But wait - it turned out to be pure comfort food on a plate, warm and of an unctuous consistency - it was also extremely flavoursome and totally more-ish. We sat in reverend silence and ate it between us, only pausing for sighs of pleasure! Underneath the terrine was a base of cauliflower purée, which accompanied the flavours most admirably. Here's encouragement to those of you who hesitate to try something that you don't like the sound of - you could be in for a great gastronomic surprise!
The crab fritters were served with a delicious sauce flavoured with mint and chilli. The marinated cucumber was shown off to its full potential and was full of spices and flavour. However, compared to the terrine, this wasn't really in the same league and it was a little on the salty side. Among other starter choices, there was duck egg salad with crispy duck and parmesan croutons, and Jerusalem artichoke tart with mushroom compote, all around the £4.50 mark.
In the main course department there was plenty of choice for everybody, with an interesting roasted butternut pumpkin seed risotto, and two other dishes for veggies (or anyone esle come to that). We decided on Moroccan lamb with lime and herb couscous with yoghurt dressing, and a steamed John Dory with aubergine purée, crushed olives and potato galette. These dishes were all around the £10.50 bracket.
My overall impression of the fish was OK but rather bland. It would have been nice to have been offered some lemon with it and although the olive purée had a lovely dense flavour, the whole thing was nothing to write home about. Whereas, the lamb came cooked just as we'd asked for it, and was tender, nicely spiced but not too strong, although the accompanying cous-cous was rather tasteless. But to make up for it, we had some excellent spinach and a very generous rocket and parmesan salad.
Onto puddings, of which there was a choice of six, or an English cheese plate, with chutney and oatcakes. My friend ordered the rum and raisin crème brulée, which was very rich, creamy and full of flavour. I resisted the chocolate and cherry pudding with crème fraiche, and the banoffee cheesecake with mocha sauce, and decided on something light - apple tart with its own ice and apple balsamic. The ice was very apply and sharp, and made a delicious ending to a very pleasant evening. We left feeling very content. I think it's a sign of good, cooking when one can leave after a meal and feel light, and not horribly over-stuffed. Obviously Elton John must have the same philosophy, because Pug's chef/patron Brian Baker spent two years as Elton's private chef.
With Chiswick having the most amazing selection of places to eat out, Pug will have to concentrate on making sure it maintains its already high standards to pull in the regulars,. But considering how busy it was on a Tuesday night, I think this little dog is well on his way to making his mark.
Louise Elgin - December 2000
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