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The Independent Culture
DEVON

Paul Henderson, proprietor of Gidleigh Park, Chagford (01647-432367) has a worrying sartorial habit: he wears ridiculous bow ties. Otherwise, he is a man of great taste. His mock-Tudor pile in lushest Devon is furnished for comfort. Fires crackle in the public rooms. Laid out where most establishments display copies of Country Life is a lifetime supply of Private Eye. The wine list is possibly the best in the country, with the lowest mark-ups on posh quaff. And the cooking, by young chef Michael Caines, is accomplished. This is haute cuisine, served without terrible hauteur. And not all of it is as dauntingly rich as the house speciality, foie gras and lentil soup. There are pigeon terrines, or roast partridge with cabbage and Gewurztraminer sauce. Open daily, lunch 12.30-2pm and dinner 7-9pm. Reservations advisable. Mon-Thur, a set two-course lunch starts at pounds 15 (going up to pounds 17.50 after the New Year), three courses for pounds 24. Fri-Sun and holidays: pounds 26.50 for two courses. Eat off the carte or dinner, and prices rise sharply. Major credit cards

HERTFORDSHIRE

Mims, 63 East Barnet Road, Barnet (0181-449 2974) is anything but glamorous. Set in a suburban parade, it is a shop conversion with bog standard pot plants and bistro fittings. To lend a special edge, the proprietors are not above piping Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto into the dining room. It is not so much loud as oddly compelling: one might propose marriage to a stranger. It is the food, a French-Egyptian hybrid, that draws diners together in satisfied huddles: stuffed peppers, aubergine purees and creamy, French-style soups can be first class. Open Sun noon-10.30pm, lunch Tue- Fri noon-3pm, dinner Tue-Sat 6.30-11pm. Fixed price lunch, pounds 9.50; dinner, two-courses pounds 15, dessert pounds 4. Access, Visa, Switch

LONDON

Braying film directors who loudly carry on about how they much prefer London to Los Angeles and have homes in each place might sit next to you in The Sugar Club, 33a All Saints Road, W11 (0171-221 3844). Dirty looks don't work. Best to clout them before ordering your meal. But do stay. It is a very cool, sleek restaurant with charming owners, cheery staff and a notably talented chef, Peter Gordon. His braised oxtail will be melting and rich, various fritters crisp and well-spiced. The saffron mash is out of this world. The food is eclectic, yet Mr Gordon is one of the few chefs with an intuitive sense of balance and flavour that makes rootlessness a boon rather than a penalty. That said, he is just artistic enough to be a shade inconsistent. The Firesteed pinot noir is delicious. Open daily, lunch 12.30-3.30pm and dinner 6.30-11.30pm. Set-price lunches pounds 10.50 and pounds 13.50, about pounds 25- pounds 30 dinner. Major credit and debit cards except Diner's

NEWCASTLE

What to name a restaurant in a converted barn? The wonderfully affable people who run Barn Again Bistro, 21a Leazes Park Road (0191-230 3338) may have been laughing too hard at their own joke when they made their choice. Still, the place itself is a find: small bar, simple kitchen furniture in a cottagey setting; blackboard menus. The kitchen produces stylish gear, bruschettas, prawn tempuras and the like, yet best to my mind are the hearty staples, such as carrot and dill soup or lamb's liver with a good rasher of salty bacon. Very decent wines, perhaps an Oxford Landing sauvignon blanc, might cost pounds 9.75. Open lunch, Mon-Fri noon-2pm; dinner, Mon-Sat 6.30-10pm. Two-course lunch, pounds 7.95; three courses, pounds 8.95; dinner, about pounds 20. Access, Visa

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