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The Independent Culture
DUBLIN

Quite why an Irish brasserie would be named after an Italian newspaper is anyone's guess, but such is the case with La Stampa, 35 Dawson Street (00-3531-6778611). This showboat of a restaurant is set in a fine old room like a former guildhall. Staff dash around in corporate-issue waistcoats and name tags. But there is real glamour, not least because of the cocky charm of the greeter, Declan Maxwell, and just maybe because the food is good. The chef is Paul Flynn, an Irishman who did enough years with Nico Ladenis to have a chestful of medals. His fish is cooked to perfection, meat is melting, sauces are just right. The menu lists Japanese-style noodle soup of pork, spring onion and ginger; croustade of Gorgonzola with beetroot, chive and walnut vinaigrette; roast quail with potato and shallot salad. Open lunch Mon-Fri, 12.30-2.15pm; dinner daily, 6.30pm-11.15pm weekdays, 6.30-11.30pm weekends. About pounds 30 all in. Vegetarian meals. Visa, Access

NEWCASTLE

The fanciest restaurant in Newcastle, 21 Queen Street, at 21 Queen Street, Princes Wharf, Quayside (0191-222 0755), recently let its hair down. The owners ripped out the plush reception, gave away the padded sofas and lowered the prices. They worried that they might lose their Michelin star. They didn't, and their custom went up by 20 per cent. Not that it was ever down: this restaurant has an explosive quality. It is a favourite haunt of barristers from the nearby courts; at lunchtime the window panes tend to rattle with laughter, cigars are smoked between courses and drink is quaffed. It would be snooty to describe the cooking as some of the best in the northeast. It is some of the best in the country. Mussel soup in a saffron and cream liquor will be given punch by dill pesto. But there is a northern edge. It may be the only place in the UK where foie gras and pease pudding can figure on the same menu. Very cheery staff who, among their plus points, did not recognise Michael Winner. Open lunch Mon-Fri 12noon-1.45pm; dinner Mon-Sat 7-10.30pm. About pounds 20 lunch, from pounds 30 dinner. Vegetarian meals. Access, Amex, Visa

NORFOLK

The permanently disgruntled should steer clear of Rococo, 11 Saturday Market Place, King's Lynn (01553-771483). Last year, the young proprietors made national news after they sued a ridiculously belligerent customer - and won. However, for ordinary folk it is a splendid place: a bright, elegant restaurant in an ancient, beamed building. One of the owners, Anne Anderson, is a former art student; the bold decorations are her doing. Her husband, Nick, cooks. His interests range from the gutsy and homely, say kedgeree, to warm salads one equates with French holidays. The wine list changes to suit the food. Open Tues-Sat lunch, weekdays 12-2pm, 12noon- 3pm Sat; Mon-Sat dinner, 7-9pm Mon-Thurs, 7-10pm Fri-Sat. Lunch pounds 15-pounds 20 all in, dinner pounds 30. Major credit and debit cards. No smoking in dining room

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