Restaurants: Where shall we meet in Highgate?

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The Independent Culture
The success of the Montana group of American restaurants - Montana, Dakota and Canyon - is based around some marketing ploys that you would have thought were pretty obvious: open up in areas where there's not much for grown-ups, serve American cuisine without attracting hordes of bored teens, and apply the sort of design criteria - spare, light and calm - you usually get up West and vaguely similar (about pounds 30 a head) prices.

The latest baby of the chain is Idaho, which has made a 142-seat restaurant and generous bar out of one of those foursquare villas that dominate the skyline of Highgate. Its garden is especially attractive, with high-backed, curvy benches forming walls cutting diners off from the street, heaters for later in the year, and a big canopy for unfortunate changes in the weather.

Sitting down with a magnificent mojito, we felt content enough not to mind our fellow diners, an odd lot, strangely uncomfortable at finding such elegance in their own backyards. They had long conversations with people in Hampstead, they showed off about the wine list, they shouted about where they were going to go "next". It was like falling through a time warp and finding oneself back in the days when the mobile phone had just been invented. Still, it was a magnificent mojito.

Dinner was a curate's egg. My corn blinis with chargrilled prawns, chipotle butter and tomato- lime salsa was splendid, though I did think three prawns for pounds 7 was possibly taking the mick a bit. Chargrilled marinated squid was excellent, but the soft-shell crab would have been almost entirely flavourless without a powerful mango and mint mojo and a cabbage and coriander slaw. A spatchcocked chook with black-eyed beans, meanwhile, justified their existence, and crunchy Idaho potato wedges were the sort of thing you believe you had in childhood but probably never did. Choose wisely, then, and you will be rewarded. And the mojitos were magnificent.

13 North Hill, Highgate, London N6 (0181-341 6633)



Highgate Wood, Muswell Hill Rd, N10 (0181-444 1505) Old cricket pavilion serving calming veg food

The Raj Room

67 Highgate High St, N6 (0181-348 8760) Adorable, eccentric, arty, Anglo- Indian cafe

The Village Bistro 38 Highgate High St, N6 (0181-340 0257) Quality French-Med, top puds