Restaurants: Sitting on their laurels

Daphne's offers a tantalising menu and unrivalled service, says Vivienne Heller
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The Independent Culture
A sporting misadventure has transformed me from working girl to sad homebody, and, boy, can four walls pall after five days. Hence I've summoned the services of Venetia, a professional lady-who-lunches, for a mercy mission to restore my sanity.

In a twinkle of her Triumph, I'm limping through the wrought-iron gates of Daphne's, across the flag-stoned entrance to a sunny window seat. The air is suffused with the scent of lilies from huge floral displays, and sunlight glints off the gold-leaf blocks on mustardy walls. Forget the invalid blues; my spirits are off surfing a Mediterranean dream.

Famed as a haunt of Princess Diana, Daphne's has been attracting the jet set for years. I'm not surprised she adored it: discreet waiters, beautifully-groomed diners, and a menu that suits everyone from Voyage waifs to bespoke businessmen.

I tucked my injured foot next to Venetia on her suede seat cushion, and considered the options. Starters (around pounds 7) included beef carpaccio, oysters, and an aubergine galette. Fish fiends, we decided to share the calamari fritti: lightly battered morsels in a linen-napkin nest. They proved too delicate for the cloying basil mayonnaise dip, but were moreish on their own.

Main courses were divided into three sections: salads (from pounds 6.50); pasta and risotto (from pounds 8.50), featuring squid and zucchini pasta, and hamhock and fava bean risotto; and roasts and grills (from pounds 12.50), including swordfish with pistachio, and lamb with artichoke mash. Venetia and I opted for salads. My lamb's lettuce affair was perfectly formed: fennel and shavings of pecorino were touched by truffle oil and crowned with a paper-thin aubergine crisp. Delicious, as was Venetia's succulent octopus salad. A glance at our neighbour's plates revealed gigantic portions of meat - not big enough for some, judging by the way one fellow feasted his eyes on my companion.

Puddings (from pounds 4.50) were seriously inviting: fig and pear tatin with marscapone, or blood orange with shortbread and custard - washed down with one of nine dessert wines.

We ordered coffee as Venetia smouldered over her umpteenth cigarette, and rejoiced in the fact that lunch had been entirely untainted by smoke thanks to high ceilings and good ventilation. Cheerful waiters had surreptitiously replaced ashtrays throughout our meal, and when I jogged the table with my ailing limb, they brought a clean coffee saucer within seconds: stunning service with an unintimidating smile.

Well, Daphne's was rather an expensive treat, but if I was hobbling when I came in, I left walking on air.

Daphne's, 112 Draycott Ave, SW3 (0171-589 4257) Approx pounds 30 per head



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