Evans's odyssey

Restaurant: The latest stage in a talented chef's voyage of discoveries
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The Independent Culture
This is as much about the trials of a chef, Dan Evans, as a review of the Anglesea Arms, a pub restaurant in a suburb of west London that is not quite Hammersmith and not quite Shepherd's Bush. Estate agents all too resourcefully describe the area as "Brackenbury Village".

Sixteen of Mr Evans's 36 years have been spent in professional kitchens, not all of them happy. He trained for four years with Alastair Little before becoming head chef at Odette's, near Primrose Hill, to which he brought acclaim in the Good Food Guide. He moved to 192, in Notting Hill, where he perversely offered rustic faggots, gravy and mashed parsnips to dieting ladies who liked to lunch there on "seasonal salads" and elderflower spritzers. This was unhappy for chef and proprietor alike. He then handed success on a plate to the owners of the Fire Station in Waterloo, with a jazzy, frenetic kitchen serving (briefly) great food in a heaving bar. Here he received praise for the cooking and howls of protest over the long waits. He worked dangerously long hours, cooking in an open-plan kitchen on a raised platform. It was all very rock 'n' roll and hit 'n' miss. One night, he might serve overloaded mezze platters on which sardines tangled with hummus and smoked aubergines. The next night, leaving the kitchen would be the best jambon persille outside France. Head ringing, he left the Fire Station, and spent at least a year in the shadows, part of it cooking at the Chelsea Arts Club.

Mr Evans approaches food in such a singular, moody way, it merits describing him. He has the fine, gaunt features of a medieval ascetic, once he takes off his motorcycle helmet. When he talks food, it is never quite clear whether he is spinning you a line. He remarks, for example, that it was the space-age, shiny metal of professional kitchens that attracted him to restaurants. "All that stainless steel, the noise, those big stockpots and unpleasant chefs." He says he started cooking on a farm in Kenya, catering for hungry tourists who came to watch the leopards that ate the monkeys.

I suspect this is just polite blether. He doesn't expect journalists, or most restaurateurs, to know what he is on about when he cooks. I doubt he has quite decided himself. I've eaten his food at 192, the Fire Station, and now the Anglesea Arms; he seems to be too serious about it: he can't cheerfully produce cheap expertise. He'd rather feed you monkeys.

Meanwhile, he proceeds with his voyage of discoveries: ah, that's how mayonnaise works; that's how hot a batter should be for a crispy crust. Like a teenage mechanic who wants to build a car from scratch, Mr Evans wants to know every nut and bolt there is to food.

In theory, he opened the Anglesea Arms, with his wife, Fiona, in order to pursue this odyssey with the right mixture of public clamour and time: time to cook well and time in between to fiddle around with recipes.

The pub itself is a decent size, with a handsome corner frontage, but it is no gin palace. It is dark, and agreeably womb-like. There is a bar, with sofa and fire, and a good-sized dining room which is perfect for affordable meals with gangs of friends. In style it is a distant relation to the clutch of modern pub-restaurants, whose founder member was the Eagle in Farringdon Road. Thanks to Fiona, a skilled floor manager, service is good-natured and efficient. It is open seven days a week. This is public- spirited, but may prove too idealistic unless Mr Evans overcomes his single greatest weakness as a chef: the inability to take time off, to pace himself.

A recent Sunday lunch service produced entirely respectable, occasionally startlingly good, food. There was no attempt at delicacy in the listing of one of the starters: "lamb's balls". These came piping hot and perfectly fried, served on a moist and beautifully seasoned couscous salad. The yeasty, grilled pitta bread on top is, at a guess, supposed to make it a fatoush salad. Fatoush, schmatoush. It was no good. The balls and couscous were delicious; we ordered a second portion. Equally satisfying was potted shrimp and toast. The flavour was smorgasbordy - the sweet freshness of the shrimp countered by dill. A fennel and cream soup spiced with rosemary and finished with olive oil was better in theory than in practice.

A Sunday lunch may list two roasts: lamb and beef. Almost everyone at our table wanted roast beef and would have sulked otherwise. It was fine - and the Anglesea serves great horseradish cream. It would take a trencherman to consume a third course here. One in our party ordered a prune tart with vanilla ice-cream. The tart was good, the ice-cream very good. The house wine is pounds 8; at the top of the list, there is an excellent Australian chardonnay at pounds 18: Shaw & Smith Reserve.

Residents of Brackenbury Village may already have tasted Mr Evans's cooking. A shareholder in the nearby Brackenbury restaurant, he occasionally cooked there. It serves some of the best food of its class, with some of the lowest mark-ups in London. The Evanses' new pub is cast in the same mould, a simple local, serving robust, occasionally exceptional, food. This may not be the British norm yet, but, with luck, it will become so

DORSET

In the lush, southwesterly corner of Dorset, it seems everything is thatched. The thatching is around the bar at The Three Horseshoes at Powerstock (01308-485328). This village is hidden in the lanes, but customers pour in from Bridport for simply prepared fish and well-poured pints of local ale. Rooms for visitors: B&B with bath, pounds 50 for two, single pounds 24. Oct-Mar, three nights for price of two if you eat there. Lunch and dinner daily, 12noon-2pm, and 7-10pm. About pounds l5-pounds 20. Vegetarian meals. Major credit and debit cards

SUFFOLK

Ruth Watson used to be a proprietor of Hintlesham Hall, a country house hotel with helipad, until she decamped to The Fox and Goose in Fressingfield, near Diss (01379-586247). She grew her own lettuces and herbs, provided an impressive wine list and hired a sharp young chef, Brendan Ansbro. Open fires roar, and there is an elbows-on-table joyousness. In season, the salads are fantastic. Fish may be served lightly battered, with searing hot chips, wrapped in newspaper. Lunch pounds l5-pounds 20, dinner pounds 20-pounds 30. Lunch and dinner, Wed-Sun, 12noon-2pm, and 7-9pm. Vegetarian meals

Anglesea Arms, 35 Wingate Road, W6 (0181-749 1291). Vegetarian meals. No music. Two-course Sunday lunch pounds 12; weekdays light meals pounds 10, three courses including wine pounds 15-pounds 20. Cash and cheques only. Mon-Sat 12.30-2.30pm, Sun, 1-4pm. Dinner daily 7.30-10.30pm

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