Restaurants: Where shall we meet in Covent Garden?

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The Independent Culture
The cult of the celebrity restaurateur is probably here to stay. Now that a few have their names above the door, there'll be no stopping the rest of them.

At the moment, it's usually a sign that you've got a good chance of getting a decent meal inside; there's something rather comforting about knowing who's ultimately responsible for the meal you're about to eat. This assurance will, no doubt, be dashed in the near future, thanks to the current craze for awarding celebrity to anyone who sparks up a barbie on television. In the meantime, however, Stephen Bull will continue to have his name in lights.

Bull's theatreland restaurant is one of those Tardis-like affairs that looks, from its ever-so-discreet shaded-glass exterior, like it's going to contain about five tables; it actually has room for much of the audience at the Coliseum. The first word that springs to mind as one comes in is "buff". Everything here is in shades of the colour, aside from the rather amusing food-themed artworks on the walls: polished buff wood, extraordinary padded buff-leather banquettes that reach almost to the ceiling, and a golden-buff woven-wicker screen along the back wall that occasionally flings open to reveal staff working.

Bull is, as he would have to be with a name like that, famous for meat dishes, but chef John Bentham is also doing wonderful things with vegetables, bringing out their individual characters and flavours. My foie-gras terrine was eclipsed by a sweet and succulent beetroot tart, with a pastry that simply vanished in the mouth. My scallops were - I never thought I'd say this - actually a little too rich, but a vegetable platter, a mixture of five very different flavours and textures, wrung praise from all.

This is a good place to come for dessert after curtain call; a white- chocolate mousse, chocolate marshmallow brownie and chocolate ice-cream were high enough in cocoa content to wake one right up, and a florentine ice-cream confection was a wonderful combination of melt and crunch.

Don't expect change from pounds 40, and don't come here for a romantic assignation - that requires rather dimmer lighting. But Stephen Bull is great for waking you up and leaving you happy after a evening propping your eyelids open during a performance of modern opera.

Stephen Bull, 12 Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2 (0171-379 7811)

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