Restaurant Digest

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The Independent Culture
BRISTOL

There is a timeless, almost art-directed quality about Hunt's, 26 Broad Street (0117-926 5580). And it is very British. The windows glisten with steam, woodwork gleams, and the cheeks of suited businessmen redden with their midday rations of claret. Sure, there may be some crass estate agent barking into a mobile phone. However, so suggestive is the setting that you seem just as likely to encounter the innocuous-looking spooks of Conrad and Greene novels, the sort who tuck their napkins over their waistcoats and ties before calmly taking instruction for some ghastly bit of espionage. The cooking is suitably conservative, but touched by real talent. A signature dish is guinea fowl with Calvados. Open lunch Tues-Fri, 12noon-2pm; dinner Tues-Sat, 7-10pm. Set lunch pounds 10.95-pounds 12.95, all in about pounds 20-pounds 30. Access, Amex, Visa, Switch

DEVON

Like a kitten that thinks it's a Great Dane, Popham's, Castle Street, Winkleigh (01837-83767), is a tiny village shop that thinks it's a restaurant. And the conviction is so great, it convinces us, too. Tables are jammed in by the window. Dennis Hawkes is host while, behind a deli counter, Melvyn Popham runs up the food. As for cuisine, let's say it's Modern Devon, a singular hybrid of new-wave California cooking and Lakeland stodge, sort of Jeremiah Tower meets Connie Spry. Anyone for a goats' cheese salad followed by a sticky toffee pudding? Unlicensed. BYOB. No corkage. Open 9-11am for coffees; lunch Mon-Sat, 12noon-3.30pm. Access, Visa

LANCASHIRE

Heathcote's Brasserie, 23 Winckley Square, Preston (01772-252732), means to be the Kensington Place of the North: it's large, loud and glamorous. The owner, Paul Heathcote, is something of a local hero, and runs a Michelin two-star down the road. The grub is still good at this new place, if cheaper. Oysters and light meals are served downstairs, hearty Lancashire hotpots upstairs. Service is cheery and able, cooking far better than the spelling on the menu might suggest. There are well chosen wines, including good Alsatian whites, or a pint of ale for them that wants. Open daily, lunch 11.45am-2.15pm, dinner 6-10.30pm. About pounds 20-pounds 30

LONDON

Some places are dead handy. The Union Cafe, Marylebone Lane, London W1 (0171-486 4860) is one. Outwardly, the large, modern room, genial staff and easy swing all seem very relaxed. Food and drink amount to a pleasing mix of wholesomeness and sybaritism: a long list of juices and soft drinks bravely - and considerately - offers customers options to well chosen wines. The breads, shortbreads and pastries are all home-made. The eggs, say, in huevos rancheros, are pert and fresh. The salad leaves - watercress, or the explosively hot Fordhook mustard - are garden fresh from a specialist farmer in Kent. Peach sorbet will somehow taste more peachy than peaches themselves. Vegetarians are well served, not least by mushroom pierogi. And the bill will not confound: about pounds 15 lunch, pounds 20-pounds 30 for dinner. Open Mon-Fri 10am-10pm (last orders). Access, Visa

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