Wednesday, March 15, 2006


An Italian chain, brought to you by the Sante team of Chez Gerard and Livebait fame. This is a city branch, handy for lunches, but generally a bit dead at night. You can sometimes takes advantage of good deals they offer to attract dinner-time visitors, or of the vouchers available via the Sante mailing list (sign up on The antipasto platter (£14.50) is huge, offering a varied selection of meats, cheeses and roasted vegetables. It's a plentiful starter for four or a light-ish lunch for two. The rest of the menu centres around meats, fish and pasta, with mains in the £10-15 price range. The food is competently executed but nothing special and on our last visit the service was a bit scatty.

Bertorelli, 1 Plough Place, Fetter Lane, London, EC4A; Tel. 0207 842 0515; Tube: Chancery Lane;; and other branches


A surprisingly good find on an Islington side street. Mem&Laz stands out thanks to a bright orange sign and promises a dauntingly long menu of mostly Mediterranean style dishes. But unlike a lot of other places, the food it delivers manages to be delicious as well as cheap. Inside it's cosy and charming, with candles and oldish furniture. It also stays open late, even on Sundays, which is handy. The menu includes tender fish dishes, olives to start, a wide selection of tempting vegetarian options, and meat too. Mains come in comfortably under the £10 mark and the house wine is perfectly drinkable. Well worth popping in to soak up the booze on a night out on Upper Street. Especially if you're propping up the lovely bar at the Bull across the road but want to avoid its abysmal food.

Mem & Laz Brasserie, 8 Theberton Street, London, N1 0XX


Rules claims to be the oldest restaurant in London and it is indeed a venerable insitution, somewhat reminiscent of the grand old Parisian brasseries. Despite being quite a large place, it does get booked, so book before you go. Inside, the walls are covered with pictures - from a somewhat disturbing caricature of Margaret Thatcher in knightley armour (the Iron Lady, geddit?) to certificates for cattle at Smithfield market from a century or more ago. The waiters are unfailing polite and dressed in those long white aprons they wear in France. The clientele is mixed - from tourists to businessmen to couples - and the atmosphere is posh but not snooty. They were happy to bring us tap water and refilled it unbidden, for example. Meat is the big thing on the menu, sourced from the restaurant's own Scottish estate. We started with duck salad (£9) and unbelievably tender, thin slivers of smoked venison (£10). For mains, I sampled my most expensive ever, 30-day hung sirloin steak for £18. It was worth it, and came with a mount of thin, crispy chips - just the way I like them. The roast partidge was also a success. Washed down with some perfecly quaffable house claret (£16 a bottle), and throwing in the service charge and a couple of aperetifs, the bill came to around £100. You could do it cheaper, but I recommend putting your self in treat mode, getting out the credit card and savouring every mouthful. You could always use some visiting foreigners as an excuse to come here and prove that there is such a thing as a traditional Endlish restuarant, and a good one at that. (They also have a late night two courses for £18 deal, which is well worth trying if you are hungry post-theatre).
Rules Restaurant, 35 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LB,, Tel. 0207 836 5314; Open noon-midnight, Mon-Sun; Tube: Covent Garden or Charing Cross

My Old Dutch Pancake House

May be my tastes have got more sophisticated with the years, or may be the pancakes have got worse, but my last trip to this one-time favourite didn't leave me with any great desire to return. The Holborn branch feels a bit like a canteen crossed with a wine bar, with its unfussy decor and wooden tables. The speciality is huge Dutch pancakes, covered in toppings, pizza-style, and served on huge Dutch plates with the traditional blue and white motifs (around£6-8). There are plenty of fillings to choose from as well as a pick your own section and the pancakes are very filling. But it's worth leaving a bit of pancake and trying the deep fried cheese balls for a starter. Wash it down with some Dutch (or Belgian) beers from a decent selection (£3-5). It's quite quick and friendly enough, and certainly eminently edible - and drinkable. But amid the hunderds and thousands of eateries in London it seems to lack that extra something that would draw you back. If you're hungry for pancakes, a more atmospheric bet would be the tiny and busy creperie near South Ken tube.

My Old Dutch Pancake House, 132 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6PS; Tube: Holborn. They have a branch on Kings Road too.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


This small, unpreposessing Vietnamese noodle cafe always seems busy, so we thought it worth a try. The menu focuses on traditional 'pho' - noodles in broth (around £6-7); stir-fried noodles served cold (this didn't sound too apetising on a winter's day) and Vietnamese pancakes. The latter were described as starter/side orders, but the £5 dish actually makes a filling main course. I thought it was the highlight of the meal - crispy deep fried pancake, full to birsting with tender bean sprouts, large prawns and pieces of chicken, served with chilli sauce. My traditional pho came with slices of fillet steak, which was well-stewed and hence in my opinion totally ruined, if probably very authentically Vietnamese. The pieces were quite well-hidden in a gigantic bowl of noodles in flavoursome beef broth and served with a side dish of herbs, chilli slices and lime wedges for you to add your own flavouring. It was nice enough, but the portion was far too big and I only managed about half. A prawn pho in chicken broth was deemed nicer by its orderer, though I though the broth tasted like chicken stock cubes. The daily special of curry was nicely spicy. They have a range of Vietnamese beers and some more unusual soft drinks too (though we were not convinced by the local take on home-made lemonade). There is also coffee which has been specially regurgitated by Vietnamese weasels - a bargain for a mere £5. We were not feeling very adventurous, so you'll have to go yourselves if you are curious.
The service was very friendly and the decor is simple, clean cafe style. It was an interesting meal, all told, but not really special enough to warrant a come-back. Especially given the limited selection of types of dishes on offer.

Pho, 86 St John Street, London, EC1M 4EH; Tel: 020 7253 7624; Tube: Farringdon