Restaurant: Happy eater

A friendly Soho wine bar with great grub; It has the charm of a place where owners and staff have nothing aggressive or proud to prove, but are simply out to enjoy themselves
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The Independent Culture
Ask directory enquiries for Andrew Edmunds in Soho, and you're offered a choice of "wine bar or restaurant". Arrive at Andrew Edmunds, and you find a print shop with a tiny wine bar attached. I cannot speak for the print shop, but the wine bar (above) is a bit of all right.

There is a real, live, breathing Andrew Edmunds behind both businesses. He is a paid up member of the happy-go-lucky school of restaurateurs. Running the print shop, he says, is his "grown-up" occupation. He cheerfully describes the wine bar as "an accident, really". Certainly the print shop came first; it has been there for 21 years. Eight years ago the restaurant followed, when he took possession of the building next door.

There is a lot to be said for the happenstance quality with which the wine bar has evolved. It has the charm of a place where owners and staff have nothing aggressive or proud to prove, but are simply out to enjoy themselves. Notably for an Eighties-issue place, there is no chrome, no velvet banquettes, no whizzy, high-street shop fittings. Rather, it is a duffed-up bistro, cramped and candlelit. There is a cellar dining room which I didn't see. One has to start drinking and eating to notice that the wines are disarmingly good, and the food is prepared with a healthy mix of appetite and flair.

The wine list consists of two typed sheets, spill-proofed by Ryman's plastic slip folders. The menu is a photocopied list, which a waitress amends during service by quickly crossing off things as the kitchen runs out of them. The night we ate, there had been a run on Cajun salmon fillet with Puy lentils and avocado salsa (queer fish for the bayou salmon). Still, it is a safe bet that they could run out of most things and the remainders would be good.

On the drinks front, there is a sybarite's pick of champagne, sherry, vin santo, big Rhones and dead classy claret. Ah, Burgundy is done proud, and the rest of the world is given courteous nods with an Orvieto here and an Australian chardonnay there. Most drinking can be done for pounds 9 to pounds 15 a bottle. Mr Edmunds happily describes his champagnes as the most affordably drinkable in their class. There are three. The house bottle, Gallimard Pere & Fils, starts at pounds 19 a bottle: off-licence prices. Order a blanc de blancs and you're talking pounds 25. Moving on to whites, where we did our drinking, those with something special to celebrate will find a 1982 Puligny Montrachet by Louis Jadot. It costs pounds 37.50 (I wasn't paying), and tastes as heaven would do if it were in a bottle rather than our imaginations.

The cooking has more earthly appeal: it is fairly simple and very good. A roast fennel salad brought out the sweetness and slippery richness of the bulb. The anise perfume was there too. Serving it with tomato bruschetta (toast with tomato) and goat's cheese spun the whole affair into a great snack.

Another starter was thoroughly British-Mediterranean: roast Jerusalem artichokes with rocket leaves and shaved Parmesan. These are great, earthy flavours. Having recently made dark noises about British chefs who shave Parmesan instead of grating it, I should concede that on roast vegetables, as with charcuterie, they can be very good. (But, please note, they do not work in Caesar salads, risottos and weird garnishes.)

Main courses were gutsy and generous. Rabbit was tender if not particularly flavourful, but any danger of blandness was avoided by using mustard and bacon in the sauce. Lamb shank, probably braised, definitely tender, was served on a Middle Eastern-style cracked wheat salad, lent sweetness with raisins and pine nuts.

I am loath to insult this food with more flattery. It's good grub. As for puddings, we didn't have any. An emphatic slash ran through the name of the one I wanted: apple crumble. (They also had pear and almond tart, tiramisu and chocolate mousse cake.)

The staff at Andrew Edmunds all seemed familiar, and have an uncanny mixture of utterly correct and genuinely friendly. Our waitress was great - welcoming, funny and graceful. There is a tangible current of joy running through this place. It's happy with itself

Andrew Edmunds, 46 Lexington Street, W1 (0171- 437 5708). Open lunch 12.30pm-3pm and dinner 6pm-10.45pm daily. Vegetarian meals. Light meals pounds 15-pounds 20, blow-outs pounds 30-pounds 40. Major credit cards except Diner's

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