PICCADILLY The menu at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, 100 Strand, WC2 (071-836 9112) (top right) features a Bateman cartoon of "The Man Who Asked the Carver Whether the Meat was English or Foreign", and that pretty well defines the joint. It's been squatting there in the heart of theatreland like an English theme park since 1828, haunted by Dickens and generations of nursery-fixated brigadiers. Oak-panelling, vast chandeliers and (the house speciality) great wheeled silver wagons bearing huge slabs of roastedmeat to your table, all contribute to an atmosphere of Empire stolidity and, assuming there is such a term, clubland chic. Among the predictable potted shrimps and Cumberland sausage starters lurks the odd delight. Try the quails eggs with haddock and cheese sauce, or go for the plate-loads of beef and lamb, or for nothing at all. Vegetables are treated with old-fashioned English contempt and boiled to extinction. Puddings are tasty nightmares of carbohydrates 'n' custard. Open f or breakfast 7am-noon,Mon-Fri; lunch daily; dinner 6-11pm Mon-Sat, 6-9pm Sun. Set menu when available £10. Major credit cards.
SOUTHWARK The most recent of Sir Terence Conran's multiform Thameside restaurants is the Butler's Wharf Chop House, 36e Shad Thames, SE1 (071-403 3403), where umpteen City types have discovered a) the joys of its claret jugs and b) the wonder of its steak and kidney pie. Sitting in the shadow of Tower Bridge, one remarks the cool, Scots-baronial decor, the Habitat furniture, and the marvellously light and wholesome menu of soups, salads, asparagus and other such stuff freshly gathered on Albion's green fi elds. In the middle of this light fare, however, lurks the aforementioned pie, a spectacularly rich and steaming suet castle drenched in juice and Worcestershire sauce, the kind of thing Sir John Falstaff would have fought duels over and died from. Delic ious peach meringues, spectacular wine list, nice view. Open for lunch Mon-Fri & Sun; dinner Mon-Sat. Set-price lunch £22.75. Major credit cards.
SMITHFIELD "Englishness", when the word is applied to food, means unfussyness (none of that messed-about muck) and nothing could be less fussy than St John, 26 St John St, EC1 (071-251 0848) (top centre) where the kickoff dish - carrot, boiled egg and aioli - was photographed by the Evening Standard for an Are-They-Taking-The-Piss? feature (the constituents, you see, are a raw carrot with green fronds, a soft-boiled egg, shelled and lying on its side, a dribble of garlic sauce and, er, that's it). The menu announces dishes with disarming bluntness - "brawn", "tripe and butter beans", "boiled ham and swede" - but the results are almost invariably delicious. Their grilled lambs' tongues and Jerusalem artichoke is a revelation of weird textures. Their p ike quenelles are a dream. The whole thing is like having a whole harvest festival boiled up in a cauldron for you by a bowels-obsessed matron. (Don't miss the junket with prunes for pudding...) Open for lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat. Lunch and dinner approx £20. Major credit cards.
BLOOMSBURY Down at the Shaftesbury Theatre end of the Avenue, braving the traffic with an open-air piazza, is a retro-London dream of a place called Alfred, 245 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2 (071-240 2566) (above left). Fetchingly got up in brown and blue, accessorised with linoleum tablecloths, this is a hugely self-conscious attempt to take a working man's cafe and dude it up. There's nothing ersatz about the food, however. Classically English dishes, from salad of wood pigeon to saddle of venison, and stuffed Savoy cabbage to Trinity College burnt cream (none of this creme brulee wussiness), are dished up with hearty and justifiable pride. The cod and herb fish cakes have sent my colleagues into a tailspin. The beer list is spectacular - Shepherd Neame's Bishop's Finger, Old Growler Special Porter, Newquay Steam Lager and the speciality della casa, the head-exploding Douglas Scotch Ale. Try some after the gingerbread with lavender custard and take the rest of the day off... Open for lunch noon-4pm and dinner 6-12pm, Mon-Sat. Set-price lunch £11.95 for two courses, £15.90 for three. Major credit cards.
COVENT GARDEN Long marketed as "London's oldest restaurant", and full of slightly spurious historical lore, Rules, 35 Maiden Lane, WC2 (071-836 5314) is home to some of the most determined, napkin-stuffed-in-shirt-collar trenchermen in the metropolis. Ifyou're likely to find Kingsley Amis at Simpson's, you're as likely to get Jeremy Hanley or Lord Tebbit at Rules, complete with their bodyguards glumly trying the pheasant two tables away. Rules specialises in game, whole carcases of rarely-eaten birds (teal, widgeon, snipe, ptarmigan) hung for weeks in ancestral vaults, roasted to tiny perfection and dished up with pureed vegetables, stuffed cabbage, leek and potato gratin - real English soul food. The steaks are Aberdeen Angus prime, the revolt ingly categorised "furred game" (wild deer, rabbit, hare) is imaginatively prepared if you're keen on eating Bambi and Thumper, and the puddings are a treat. Try the hot poached fruits in eau de vie with elderflower ice cream. Rules's cuisine can at time s seem absurdly stodgy, but the restaurant's light, cheery, hedonistic atmosphere would melt the most suspicious heart. Open midday to midnight every day (last orders Sun 10.30pm). Pre-theatre special £12.95 Mon-Fri 3-6pm. Weekend three-course lunch, £16
.95. Major credit cards except Diners Club.
BATTERSEA If you wondered what happened to Martin Lam, the brains behind L'Escargot during its finest period, he's making a quiet splash near the Thames at Ransome's Dock Restaurant, 35 Parkgate Road, SW11 (071-223 1611), located between Battersea and Albert Bridge Roads, conveniently near the DHSS office where one used to sign on when one could not afford a pizza. Mr Lam and his demon pastrychef wife, Vanessa, co-own the joint with Paul Chadwick, formerly of the Archduke at Waterloo. They offer lots ofessentially English dishes with continental or exotic add-ons - steamed mussels with Thai spices, Scottish sirloin with Madeira sauce, pheasant wrapped in Serrano ham, duck with Spanish beans - daring you to try something new. Special dinner menus are tiny but cooked with care and imagination. Open noon-11pm Mon-Fri, noon-midnight Sat, Sun lunch. Set-price two-course lunch £11.50.
Major credit cards.
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