Within two or three minutes of the tube station there are quite a few restaurants offering a wide choice of culinary traditions and styles. None of them is particularly expensive, but the standard of food and cuisine varies greatly. Here we list a few that we've had a good look at, though not necessarily eaten a full meal in. After a very promising start, things get better again as we go down the Old Brompton Road...
Gilbert's, 2 Exhibition Road, SW7 Tel: 020 7589 8947
At Gilbert's there is one small but rather attractive dining room with an atmosphere that's calm but welcoming. The single set menu has different prices for lunch and dinner, but the home made breads, olives and vegetables are included in the price. Amongst the first courses, I noticed Pissaldière (one of my Provencal favourites), as well as Fillets of smoked eel with gooseberry and horseradish cream, or Black olive tapenade with crudités. Main courses included Provencal fish stew with aoïli, Steamed fillet of salmon with ginger and tarragon cream, and Susikakia - ground lamb with cumin, mint and tomato. Puddings and cheeses looked good; coffee (2.25) comes with Gilbert's home made fudge. The wine list is rather spectacular. We hope to bring a more detailed report before long. This restaurant recently won the well respected Decanter Magazine Restaurant of the Month award.
Lunch: Two courses 12.50, three for 17.00
Dinner: Two courses 17.00, three for 21.50
NB: During August, Gilbert's does not open for lunch, but there is a special Pre-Proms menu, two course dinner for Stg 10.50.
Tui Restaurant, 19 Exhibition Road, SW7 Tel: 020 7584 8359
This little Thai restaurant looks inviting, and the smell that wafts out is interesting. It's not that cheap, a collection of dishes can add up to a fair whack if you are not careful! Starters cost about a fiver each. There are some good fishy main courses such as poo goong ob - prawns and crab claws on a bed of clear noodles, or pla rad prig for seven or eight pounds each. But of course you'll need some vegetables as well!
Daquise, 20 Thurloe Street, SW7 Tel: 020 7589 6117
One of London's few Polish restaurants, this one is typical in that it eschews all fashion and prententiousness. Food writers love such places, they drop in to calm their nerves and palates with good home cooking of the comforting kind. I saw the biggest Golonka ever - a great ham knuckle with pink meat. There are traditional Schnitzels and of course there's Bigos - the stew with sauerkraut and various meats and sausages, and stuffed cabbage and paprika. Main dishes are in the range five to nine pounds and they all come with lashings of mashed potato. The atmosphere is relaxed, with quite a number of obvious regulars with their noses stuck into books or newspapers.
Diva, 43 Thurloe Street, SW7 Tel: 020 7584 2000
Diva is the kind of place where people go to have a lot of fun. Birthdays, anniversaries, hen nights, that sort of thing. The downstairs area is surprisingly large, the tables are pencil spotlit and there is a glitzy bar and dance floor. Upstairs looks more restrained, and you can eat out on the pavement in summer. The usual Italian standards: Pasta dishes around the six pound mark, main dishes such as frittura mista or entrecote steaks are twelve pounds. Vegetables are extra.
Piccola Venezia, 39 Thurloe Place SW7, Tel: 020 7589 3883
Another Italian, though rather less party orientated perhaps than Diva and with sub-Palladian decor. The restaurant was recently nominated for a 1996 London restaurant award by Carlton TV.
Bistro San Carlo, 9 Old Brompton Road SW7 Tel: 020 7584 0132
Yet another Italian restaurant, but this one is cosier and the decor shows more restraint. More Italian favourites, but at rather more sensible prices. Risotto Marinara 5.95, Vitello alla Crema e Funghi 6.95, Swordfish pizzaiola 7.50, Tiramisu 2.00. House wines from 6.95 a bottle.
Francofill, 1 Old Brompton Road SW7 Tel: 584 0087
This is a novel place: open, bright, airy, simple and striving for quality but a sensible price. It looks like a chain but it isn't - yet. For this is the seedling from which, one day, great oaks may spread. The concept is based around the eponymous Francofill - a light airy bap loaf filled with grilled meat, e.g. lamb, chicken, salmon plus one of a number of different sauces that you choose. There are a few good basic standard plats chauds such as ragout du jour (it was lamb in red wine with orange when I visited), and there isn't a microwave in the kitchen! Puddings are made before your very eyes in the open kitchen by the patissier. The Creme brulee is allegedly "richer than James Goldsmith", no Francophile he. A family run affair this, by siblings David and Sophie Behrens; I instantly recognised a fellow foodie in Sophie. Try it, it would be perfect for a mid museum lunch. Well behaved kids welcome.
La Bouchée, 56 Old Brompton Road SW7 Tel: 580 1929
It looks very French, complete with shrugging, pouting Gallic manners from the waiting staff. The prix fixée menus are cheap at 5.95 (2 courses) and 9.95 (3 courses), but the content is also quite different. I suspect you get what you pay for, and the more expensive of the two looked decidedly more interesting. On the a la carte, terrine of rabbit and sundried tomatoes on a coulis of shallots (4.65), snails in filo pastry with watercress (4.35), or Fish soup with rouille sounded promising and not overpriced. I saw some nice crisp slalads on big plates emerging from the kitchen. Main courses are nearly all under ten pounds. The classic edible French tarts looked terrific.
Hilaire, 68 Old Brompton Road SW7 Tel: 580 1929
Simple but serious: the tongue and groove walls of what must have been an old shop are painted a discreet yellow and hung with carefully chosen prints. The tables are simply but elegantly set; immediately you walk in you can sense that corners will not be cut in the effort to bring well cooked food to the table. Bryan Webb, the chef proprietor was more than happy to show me, completely unannounced by the way, around his spotless kitchen.
The two course supper menu for 16.50 available before 7.30pm and after 10.00 pm included amongst other starters, a Parfait of Foie Gras and chicken livers, a plate of sardines, or a salad of Italian ingredients: fennel, sundried tomatoes, artechokes and parmesan (nothing like that in any of the Italian restaurants). Main courses included a half lobster mayonnaise, grilled scallops with vegetable relish and rocket, and chargrilled wild salmon and asparagus salad. The dinner menu is 29.50 for three courses and includes some of the previous items plus fillet of lamb with tapenade and aubergine puree, or chargrilled turbot with pea mashed potato and dill and mustard sauce. Puddings looked yummy: how about cherry and almond tart with cherry ice cream? The a la carte menu is very impressive, although it is fairly expensive. This is a lovely restaurant for serious eating (and drinking). The menu is neatly handwritten and it changes daily, so you may not see any of the dishes I've listed.
Your comments on any of the restaurants in this roundup would be most welcome.
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