1 Perrers Road, London W6 0EY (081-748 1902)
Open every day from noon to 11pm. Lunch (three courses): pounds 9.50; dinner: average
price per head pounds 15. All credit cards accepted
FIRST impressions may not be good; Number One Bar Bistro looks a little too like the set of Cheers to be called elegant, but you get used to it quickly enough. Nowadays I'd like to call it cosy. Very nice. Some genius out there sent a press release to my home address (it's the only one I've received since beginning this column, which seems odd, but I haven't taken offence). I read the whole thing very carefully because doing that was more enjoyable than working, and because the restaurant happened to be not far from where I live.
And what a discovery it turned out to be. The first time I went there (as a genuine restaurant-goer, not a reviewer - I still do that sometimes) the two of us were feeling slightly too overdrawn. So we tightened our belts and made the unusual sacrifice of not ordering a main course. We ordered a bottle of house red, four excellent first courses and a couple of espresso coffees. Exotically flavoured, fresh and delicious bread came free. We were both full, though not bloated (a rare delight for an end-of-restaurant experience), and only pounds 12 more overdrawn each than we had been before dinner began.
I remember some of what we ate that time. Number One changes its menu every week and I've never had a dud course there yet. I'm now something of a regular. But I still think the first time was the best. My companion ordered a fish soup from paradise. Actually it was fish stock, I suppose. I mean it was thin and watery. It came with shellfish and there was fresh coriander on top. It was perfect. I long for them to put it on the menu again. I ate something to do with ravioli and oysters, I think. Can't remember much more about it, except that the portion was small because it was a first course and it tasted delicious.
I've persuaded a few people to go there since I first discovered Number One at the beginning of the autumn. They all looked disappointed when they first arrived. To the left and facing you when you walk through the door is a pub bar. The establishment is divided into two rooms: one for drinking, the other for eating well. The restaurant is small; if you arrive there at eight it's usually empty. At nine it's full but not crowded. People talk in ordinary voices, there is rarely any shouting and certainly no whispering. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.
Number One is set in something estate agents call the 'Brackenbury Village', an expensive corner of Hammersmith, west London. It's quite pretty, and quite stultifyingly middle class. There's a very good deli over the road, etc, etc, and a more famous restaurant which I've yet to visit, called the Brackenbury, three minutes away. The place seems to be full of locals, by which I mean rich professionals. Some of them must work at the BBC, I think, because the TV studios are just around the corner. But if they're not BBC then they're lawyers, journalists. People like that. Call me a body fascist if you will, but the nice thing about the people who hang out at the Number One is that they all seem to be quite good- looking. They're not frumpy yuppies; they're delicate ones. Don't you know?
I'm sure that they all read the Independent on Sunday. And I think most of them talk about art galleries and that sort of thing. I dare say one or two of them also talk about babysitters. I couldn't see anybody wearing ugly clothes and nobody seemed to be showing off.
The tables are covered in brightly patterned toile ciree. I've only ever been there for dinner, when the lights are low and there are candles on the tables. Floors are uncarpeted. It may be coincidence, but I don't think I've ever seen the same waitress there twice. But she is always friendly, professional, unintrusive and deserving of a sensible tip (that's at least 10 per cent, as if you didn't know - and if you're a bore, and you demand conversation from your waitress on top of everything else, you should tip her much, much more). It's amazing how many people get away with being stingy in this area; and I think you can judge a lot from someone's character by the amount they tip their waiters. Small or no tips, unless there is a reasonable excuse, usually mean the diner is a bully. Waiters can't say anything when you refuse, but often tips make up a large proportion of their salary.
Where was I? The time I visited Number One on your behalf we didn't try so hard - I'm ashamed to admit - to keep the belts tight. We had a couple of drinks before dinner (which always pushes the price up), two first courses, two main courses, a pudding, a bottle of house white and a couple of cups of coffee. The bill was nearly double what it had been the first time I ate there. It came to pounds 47.50, which I suppose is what one would expect to pay for a bottle of wine and an excellent dinner.
The menu is always short. There was a choice of four first courses that night; I chose the elegantly presented, not at all filling but delicious leeks vinaigrette with scallops and garlic. My friend chose the elegantly presented, not at all filling but delicious salad of Parma ham, Gruyere and honey vinaigrette. I think his was slightly better. But both, his at pounds 4.50, mine at pounds 4.95, were a delight.
Battling over who has which main course is becoming a recurring theme during our dinners for this column: last time we'd been unable to reach a compromise and had both ordered the sausage and mash, but I didn't think I could get away with this kind of unprofessional behaviour twice running. There was a choice of six main courses and we both wanted the same one, although all of them were bound to be delicious. We both wanted the roast duck with plum and ginger sauce.
I'm not telling you who won, because it's none of your business. The chicken was good, served on a bed of leeks and very delicate. But whoever got the duck did better. The description on the menu is self- explanatory. It was excellent. Luckily they gave us a very generous portion and it was very rich. So we ended up sharing it, as good friends ought, and then everybody lived happily ever after.