Eating out: Far-out dining

Grano; 162 Thames Rd, Chiswick, London W4, 0181 995 0120. Lunch Tues-Fri noon- 3pm, dinner Mon-Sat 7-10.30pm. Three-course dinner pounds 26. Service added at 12.5%
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The Independent Culture
I HAVE frequently been reminded that a restaurant column in a national newspaper should avoid the pitfall of London-centricity, and take the gastronomic temperature (or should that be blood pressure?) of the entire nation. Having recently returned to this page after nearly a year's leave of absence, I am even more mindful of this duty, and determined to bring you tales of culinary excellence (and occasionally despair) from all over the country.

(I promise also not to fudge this issue by reviewing reams of restaurants and pubs in west Dorset, where I spend a lot of time at the moment. In fact, in order to remove the temptation, I will tell you right here and now that the classiest food around is to be had at The Summer Lodge Hotel in Evershot, that the Riverside Restaurant in West Bay serves excellent fresh fish and shellfish, and the two best pubs for grub are The Fox in Corscombe and The Three Horseshoes Inn in Powerstock.)

Since my first column this year was set slap bang in the middle of SW1, I feel I should address the geography issue right away with a piece from the provinces. And so it is with some pride that I tell you that last week, at considerable expense and inconvenience, with my readers' interests at heart, I headed out of town for dinner, travelling all the way to ... Chiswick.

No apologies for the wind-up - and not so much because Chiswick, taken in isolation, would be as provincial as any town in Britain. More because Grano really is a find.

I went there with Marie, on the recommendation of my sister's boyfriend, who said: "I'll be amazed if you don't love it." A dangerous statement that, as it removes the option of mere indifference, and opens the door to the very real possibility of deep loathing.

But even as we sat down, to crisp linen above a floor of stripped and varnished boards, in a converted corner terrace house overlooking the river - all very intimate, all very provincial - I had a hunch that Nick's hunch was right, and that we were indeed in for a good time.

We liked the menu (which isn't always a good omen), and genuinely struggled with such starter choices as monkfish carpaccio with caponata and agnolotti with crab and vegetable tagliatelle, before I settled on pheasant ravioli with creamed potatoes and truffle oil, and Marie plumped for the highly original cream of cannelini with celery and sole.

I loved my dish: in this country the combination of potato and pasta is unsung, but heroic (if you don't believe me, try smothering plainly buttered spaghetti with creamy mashed potato one suppertime). In the context of the ravioli, with its lightly gamey filling, and with the addition of truffle oil to the mash, this became a very grown-up dish indeed.

Marie's starter, by contrast, was an exercise in blandness. I don't mean that as an insult. I could equally say (if I dared) that it was a symphony in subtlety. The soft creamy beans, the delicate fillets of just-cooked sole, and the mild but distinctly savoury celery were unlikely bedfellows, which just happened to touch each other up in all the right places. In other words, they came together.

My main course, veal medallions with Taleggio, lard (sic) and potatoes was, apart from the unfortunate translation of lardoni (a kind of fat bacon), outstanding. This was not crate veal, I ascertained before ordering, but Scottish "bobby" veal from free-roaming milk calves. It was so much tastier, juicier and more tender than any veal I can remember that one wonders in whose supposed interests and by whose alleged authority calves anywhere are still boxed up for the meat trade.

With its topping of cheese and bacon, this dish was really a version of what might have been called, in the Seventies, veal cordon bleu. But this was anything but passe. The Taleggio had melted to a tangy dream, the bacon was sweet and deliciously smokey, and the combination ranked as the best thing I have eaten in a restaurant so far this year. While I got over-excited about my veal, Marie was satisfied with a plate of fresh taglioni (ribbon pasta), simply dressed with Sicilian cherry tomatoes, sweet and buttery, and a scattering of tangy Pecorino shavings. She's fussy about her pasta, but this easily passed muster.

Our shared pudding, mandarin mousse, sounded amazing, and was indeed pretty good, but would benefit from a rethink: overset (perhaps from too much gelatine), it was not quite zesty enough (needs more juice) and was accompanied by a sorbet which was just slightly too bitter (I would guess that too much pith found its way into the syrup).

I could pick other nits besides the pudding. My ravioli should have been fuller, and the accompanying mash hotter - a cold plate had put an unfortunate chill on it. The deep-fried sage leaf on my veal medallions worked, but the deep-fried basil on Marie's pasta didn't: real fresh leaves would have been much more welcome. I save such criticism to the end, because these minor errors in no way detracted from a delightful restaurant experience. Indeed, I include the negatives at all only because Grano must already be a contender for best new restaurant in west London (or should that be the provinces), and the thought that it might get even better is very exciting indeed.


Richard Ehrlich's selection

Pinot Bianco `Jermann' 1996, pounds 29

This list is 99.9 per cent Italian, and 100 per cent appealing. Start with this fresh, lively wine from one of the modern stars of the Friuli

Aglianico del Vulture `De'Angelo', 1995, Basilicaa, pounds 15.50

Young, so it may be a bit rough around the edges, but one of the best examples of a very peculiar grape. A treat if you like large-scale richness of flavour

Vin Santo `Brolio', Toscana pounds 24

The desserts at Grano are delicious, but I'd be just as happy with a glass of this stuff, Tuscany's answer to vin de paille at a fraction of the cost. Sip slowly