Open lunch and dinner Tue-Sun. Access, Visa, Amex. Set price two-course lunch £10, dinner approx £25 per head
If I had to live on restaurant food, I would live at the Union Caf, 96 Marylebone Lane, W1 (071-486 4860). It helps that it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That breakfast starts at 10am is okay by me. That eggs are free-range and fresh shows on the plate. This means they stand up proud in huevos rancheros, or will be slowly and lovingly cooked in the best scrambled eggs outside of an Irish B&B. Much of the baking is done in-house, so a Danish pastry is a treat and the muffins are superb. A sort of indulgent sense of wholesomeness prevails at lunch and dinner as well. A meal proper might include melting osso bucco with risotto, or grilled sausages from Heal Farm, a rare-breed farm in the West Country whose pork is some of the best in the UK. Salad leaves have the texture and earthy pungency that supermarket buyers and Dutch hydroponics are so busy eradicating; the Union Caf gets the real thing, farm to restaurant, from Frances Smith, a specialist grower in Kent. The service is nimble and friendly - the waiters appear to enjoy their jobs. As for the cooking, the ingredients dictate the menu. So chef Caroline Brett will give seabass the simplest treatment - grilling or roasting - while rather more work goes into, say, meltingly good mushroom pierogi. Their uncommon good sense flatters with its understatement.
Open 10am-10pm Mon-Fri. Access, Visa. Breakfast approx £5, lunch £15, dinner £20
The Alba, 107 Whitecross Street, EC1 (071-588 1798) is a mildly pricey, very slightly swank Italian restaurant near the Barbican, which for some years was the "local" for our offices. Its owner has become a friend who taught me to mushroom hunt. Although our office has moved, I remain a regular customer. Ordering risotto here is a ritual: risotto with porcini, with asparagus, with radicchio, with whatever is seasonal. And I always drink their Piedmontese wines, which have intense fruit and the tannin to stand up to food. The Alba is the only place in the UK I know to import the wines of Rocca Albino, whose barbaresco is one of the better arguments against the Australianisation of European wines. Work to expand the dining room means that presently it is not at its most elegant. It also points up the beautiful phlegmaticism of the waiters, who, I do believe, could gracefully serve dinner in a hurricane.
Open lunch and dinner Mon-Fri. Approx £30-£40. Major credit cards
A friend rang up the last time I recommended Chez Gerard, 8 Charlotte Street, W1 (071-636 4975) to tell me she had some sort of fish there, and that it was disgusting. This is unfortunate, and, alas, all too believable. Given her experience, it occurs to me I could have been more specific in stressing that Chez Gerard is, in all but name, a steakhouse: no place to eat fish, and just the place to share a chateaubriand (£27.50 for two) with bearnaise, perfect chips, salty spinach and good 1990 Rhone. And sit downstairs in the designated smoking area - even if you don't smoke. It's livelier.
Open lunch Sun-Fri, nightly dinner. Major credit cards
The wrong table on the wrong night at the Brackenbury, 129-131 Brackenbury Road, W6 (081-748 0107) can induce despair. This is no fault of the restaurant, but a curious by-product of its proximity to BBC offices and thousands of one-bedroomed flats owned by media-types. The man to your right might be a radio producer reflecting as he polishes his lenses that the angle of his glasses to his nose for some reason reminds him of the Mekong Delta. To your left might be lacquered telly people, squawking about how their trip to Guatemala was, like, last year's thing, even though the colours were amazing and the people really sweet, yah? Well, tough. I would brave lunch next to the entire production team of The Clothes Show for a good meal at the Brackenbury. When the owner, Adam Robinson, is cooking, the food is sensational: one might find lightly battered and fried sweetbreads, or perfectly poached capon with kitchen-made mayonnaise, or a perfect rib of beef with thick chips and an excellent bearnaise sauce. Salads are a weak point, service is swinging, cheerful and apt. A short wine list is written with verve and originality, and prices are democratic: £15-£20.
Open lunch Tue-Fri and Sun; dinner Mon-Sat. Major credit cardsReuse content