Charles Fontaine, a stocky French Savoyard, worked in any number of London restaurants, most notably the Caprice, before opening The Quality Chop House, 94 Farringdon Road, EC1 (0171-837 5093). He bought the kitchen copper on his credit card while juggling payments on the restoration of this tiny caff, originally built more than a century ago for the workers on the Farringdon railway. The restoration is sensitive: the original settles have a soft burnished glow, which is just as well, for they are rather hard on the bum. The lighting is romantic and flattering, and the ceiling fan (imported from the States) matches the period. Fontaine could have made the Chop House into a snob joint, and would have got away with it, but he himself is too much of a steak and potatoes type: make that T-bone and crispy chips. The duck confit here is superb and there was a small riot recently when ox tongue with capers went off the menu. The Eggs Benny is a Sunday brunch delight, and there are always good ales and spritely French country wines. The staff are delightful. My favourite restaurant (though, please don't write, by no means perfect). Average spend £15-£20. Open lunch Mon-Fri and for Sun brunch from 12noon-4pm; open nightly for dinner. Cash and cheques only.
If Fontaine is not in his place, chances are he will be across the street in The Eagle, 159 Farringdon Road, EC1 (0171-837 1353). And so will half of Clerkenwell. Some pubs manage to tame the pleasures of boozing and eating when they decide to serve food. The owners of the Eagle had the nous to turn cooking into a sort of performance art, so much of the bar has been converted into an open kitchen producing mainly rough but good, Iberian-influenced grills. So the smell of onions frying mingles with cigarette smoke and old-beer fumes. Those who eat jostle for space with those who drink. The upshot is electric, singular and requires a certain stamina from the customer. House wine includes the good rough red Salice Salentino. Approx £12-£15 to eat and drink enough for a hangover. Open 12noon-11pm Mon-Fri, food served 12.30-2.30pm and 6.30-10.30pm
The structure of No 55 Britton Street, EC1, dates from 1705, the front from about 1782, the ground floor shop caf from last January. It is The Jerusalem Coffee House (right) (0171-253 3490), a tiny caf-cum-restaurant serving coffees, tarts and stodgy but honest lunches. The restoration, by a young Anglo-Irishman named Julian Humphries, who has a passion for old-style food in old buildings, is so low key that the place is openly ancient, down to the warped panelling. New aspects, such as the beautiful Delft-blue and white tile work, stay in tone. It is worth noting that these tiles are by the late local artist Simon Petit, who died two years ago from Aids. Open 8am-6pm Mon-Fri. Lunches from £5-£8. Unlicensed. Cash and cheques only
There are no nut-bakes, no stodgy bread, no revolting odour of hotplate tomato sauce, no stripped pine park benches, no chipped stoneware, yet Carnevale, 135 Whitecross Street, EC1 (0171-250 3452) is a vegetarian restaurant. Sandwiches and Neal's Yard cheeses are sold from the front. To the rear there is a small dining room and tiny garden, where one might find seasonal risottos, spicy chickpea salads, good quiches and so on. There is a short wine list and freshly made lemonade. The olives are superb, coffees good, but not consumed together. Two courses £8.50, three courses £10.50. Open 10am-10.30pm Mon-Fri. Cash and cheques only
ST JOHN STREET
Smithfield butchers must wonder at St John Street's transformation these last four years into a sort of restaurant row.
Stephen Bull's Bar and Bistro, 71 St John Street, EC1 (0171-490 1750) aims for the City pinstripe trade, and is about as modern and jazzy as a restaurant aimed at company directors dares: a bright, lean room, waiters in T-shirts, no table-cloths. The feeling of space owes to double-height ceilings: lean over for your handbag, and you might come up with your neighbour's shoe. The food can be very good: perfectly cooked trout in a rich red wine sauce, with more lady-like salads and such on offer. The wine list is excellent, with, for example, a buttery little burgundy at £16. However, service can be lax, and gin and tonics flat, a silly mistake in an area frequented by connoisseurs of the G&T. Open lunch Mon-Fri and dinner Mon-Sat. Approx £30 for three courses, wine, coffee, service and VAT. Visa, Mastercard, Amex.
So much praise has been heaped on the large whitewashed refectory, St John, 26 St John Street, EC1 (0171-251 0848) in these pages recently, I shall content myself to pointing out that it is across the street. And to add that the food is great, but watch out for the jokier items, such as mince and new potatoes. Open lunch and dinner Mon-Sat, lunch only Sun. Bar open 11am-11pm Mon-Sat, 12noon-3pm Sun. Bar meals from £10, approx £20-£30 in restaurant. Major credit cardsReuse content