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Louise Elgin discovers a really good local that's so close she can totter home afterwards on foot!

The Vale - 99 Chippenham Road, Maida Vale, London W9

I haven't exactly been adventurous when it comes to my London address. Born in Little Venice - the posh part of W9 and one of the very nicest areas of London with its canal, barges and beautiful white stucco fronted houses - I have now moved down the road to Maida Vale, which has a rather different feel. It's cosmopolitan, with a dash of media darlings who favour it for its accessibility to their West End offices.

Surely there must be plenty of fat bank balances to be spent, yet curiously, there seems a genuine lack of decent restaurants. Sure, there is plenty of choice westwards to Notting Hill and north to Primrose Hill, but this little patch isn't exactly a gastronomes heaven. I was rather pleased when Dine Online asked me to review a restaurant actually within walking distance of my home, so I booked a table for dinner, curious to see what would be on offer.

The Vale borders on an area which has had its problems in the past but is now clearly on the upward turn, helped by this light and bright conservatory style dining room. Its stripped wooden floors and well spaced tables add to the mood of a relaxed local with a touch of the Kew Gardens. We were given a good welcome, a large comfortable table, space, and a glass of white wine, (what a good start), whilst we perused our menus.

I say menus as there was a choice of two: a set dinner at two courses for £10.50 and three for £13.50, or the a la carte with starters at around £4.50 and mains at around £10.00. Now I was really spoilt for choice which is something that doesn't happen too frequently to me when I eat out, being a fussy madam! I was sorely tempted to try the smoked haddock and spinach tart with poached egg and hollandaise, or the steamed mussels with Harria (not sure who or what Harria is but it/she sounded interesting!) I persuaded my eager companion to try the rabbit leg with bacon and polenta as he too, was in about three minds about what to have.

Whilst we were debating all this we were offered a most interesting selection of black and white bread, and I naughtily tried one of each piece before I'd even had a spoon of my starter, but what a mouthful! I had the chosen celeriac soup. It was rich and thick, very flavoursome, with a delicious Welsh Rarebit topping that must have been goats' cheese based and was absolute heaven! The rabbit, came wrapped in bacon and smelt very good. I was told it was tender and moist with gravy and a lovely pool of light and fluffy polenta. The only complaint was it could have been a fraction warmer.

Being somewhat of an adventurous nature, I decided to try something different for a main course that sounded rather interesting - Imam Bayeldi filo rolls, tomato sauce and raita. I hoped I would not live to regret my choice as there were several other temptations which I would have gladly chosen, had I not had my reviewer's hat on. Seabass with fennel purée and ink sauce, or stuffed saddle of lamb with salsa verde and roast garlic to name a couple. I shouldn't have worried, as my choice was perfect for my appetite which by now, after all the bread and soup was not quite so robust. The overall taste was of freshness and lightness, mint and cumin jostled for first place in my taste bud challenge, mingling with the tomato, aubergine and spices. Accompanied with a yoghurt raita and rocket salad, this would have gladdened the palate of any vegetarian, or someone like me who has issues around eating too much meat.

My companion Al, admiring my culinary courage, plumped for the Gloucester Old Spot pork loin, with apple tarte tatin, Savoy cabbage and juniper jus. He really enjoyed this dish which was very nicely presented. It had a lovely flavour, a rich dark gravy and a good combination of contrasting and balanced flavours. The cabbage which came stuffed with meat and vegetables was very good, the apple tarte tatin looked and tasted excellent and made a good accompaniment to the tender meat.

Our plates cleaned, we both felt very relaxed and well fed, the atmosphere of the room seemed to mellow as the evening progressed, possibly due to us having split a bottle of Baron Ramus '99 French house red wine. A mix of Grenache and Syrah grapes, at the very fair price of about £11.00, we found it a little on the thin side albeit had a lovely black fruit nose. Next time I would go up the price list a little higher as there was a good selection around the £16.00 mark including my favourite, Rioja, which I usually find goes with everything.

By now I was struggling to find room for pudding but battled valiantly on regardless. These ranged around the £4.75 bracket and there was an interesting choice from Seville orange curd tart to poached pear, caramel ice cream with chocolate sauce. Al chose the pannacotta which he said was light and had a very good flavour. It was speckled with vanilla seeds and had a very pleasant lemony taste. I had the rhubarb fool which was swirled beautifully with cream and attractively presented in a wine glass. It was very rhubarby and light, a perfect end to my dinner, I even ate the biscuits that came with it! A bill for two with water and coffee would be in the £60 bracket, but I realised later that I had inadvertently eaten the set menu which I had not meant to choose, which at three courses for £13.50 is extraordinarily good value, particularly in the evening. Next time I must try the Sunday brunch, which at three courses for £10.50 is also very affordable.

The joint chefs and owners Robin Tarver and his partner Francesca Melman, formally of The Cow Dining Rooms and The River Cafe deserve credit for enhancing the area with this relaxed, rather hip restaurant that the residents should be proud to call their local. But I have a feeling that others from further afield are already beating a path to its door!

Louise Elgin - April 1999

Dine Online specially recommends
The Vale for Good Cooking and Value for Money

The Vale 99 Chippenham Road London W9 Tel:020 7266-0990

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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