Carnevale is tiny but chic, so smart that a good number of diners never realise it is a vegetarian restaurant. The prices are low: pounds 7.50 for two courses, pounds 9.50 for three. Cooking capable of excellence, such as hearty celeriac and horseradish soup or a spicy risotto with dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Short list of reasonably priced wines includes a 1990 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage for pounds 14. Sandwiches, salads, cheeses from Neal's Yard sold to take-away. Open weekdays 10am-7pm (to 9pm Thurs). Cash and cheques only.
135 Whitecross Street, EC1
Eating at the Quality Chop House would be twice the price were the French chef not devoted to salt and pepper bistro cooking (and some English spinoffs). The premises could not be more English: a tiny listed Victorian caff with burnished settles, creamy wallpaper and softly glowing ceiling lamps. Popular staples include fresh anchovy and tomato salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, a perfect confit of duck with potato salad and a deftly seasoned steak tartare. A short wine list might include a fruity, fresh Morgon for pounds 15.75. Average spend pounds 15-pounds 20. Open lunch Mon-Fri and for Sun brunch from noon-4pm; open nightly for dinner. Cash and cheques only.
94 Farringdon Road, London EC1 (071-837 5093)
The Brackenbury is a dream of a local. At its best, the food cooked by Alastair Little protege Adam Robinson (say, peppered onglet and chips) is every bit as good as his teacher's and a third of the price. That said, salads and desserts are relative weak spots and quality may slip to perfectly acceptable during his days off. Service, led by Kate Robinson, is always cheery and perfect. A short wine list might turn up a beautifully fruity white 1992 Auxerre for pounds 15.40. Average spend: pounds 15-pounds 20. Open lunch Tue-Fri and Sun, dinner Tue-Sat. Major credit cards. By popular demand, the Robinsons this week opened a spin-off, the Chiswick Restaurant, 131 Chiswick High Road (081-994 6887), whose chef is Ian Bates, veteran of the Brackenbury and Bibendum.
129-131 Brackenbury Road, London W6 (081-748 0107)
Alfred is a cleverly contrived new restaurant decorated as an elegant update on the basic British caff. Depending how one looks at it, the kitchen takes traditional English food upmarket, or roughs up French food sufficiently for us to recognise it. So there might be toad-in-the-hole, delicate crab salads, or bubble 'n' squeak. Starters from pounds 3.95 to pounds 6.95 for a hot game salad. Main courses pounds 7.95-pounds 11.50. Excellent list of ciders and beers, sold in quarter pints for 55p. Open noon-4pm, 6pm-midnight Mon-Sat. Major credit cards.
245 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2 (071-240 2566)
Big Night Out is a cool, modern restaurant with terrible acoustics, a playful but very decent wine list and surprisingly good food. The owners, Hugh O'Boyle and Richard Coates, trained at the Ritz, before forming a catering company (victim of another silly name: A la Kart). At BNO, a set-price two-course lunch costing pounds 8.50 might produce mussels in saffron cream and duck with ginger and cucumber. Prices rise in the evening, but there are still set price menus: pounds 15.50 for two courses, pounds 18.50 for three. Open lunch Tue-Sun and dinner Mon-Sat. Major credit cards except Diner's.
148 Regent's Park Road, NW1
Belgo is not the first theme version of a Belgian mussels and chips bar in London, it is simply the first to succeed. The tricksy touches (chairs fashioned from axe-handles) are silly, but the basic formula unbeatable: it offers mussels many ways, good chips, steaks and 38 artisans' beers. Low prices don't hurt, either. A set lunch of mussels, chips and a beer or meaty alternative of wild boar sausages, mash and lager will cost pounds 5. Half a grilled lobster and fries pounds 10. Open weekdays noon-3pm, 6-11.30pm, Sat from noon-11.30pm; Sun from noon-10.30pm. Major credit cards. Reservations advisable.
72 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 (071-267 0718)
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