Restaurants: Where shall we meet in Soho? by Serena Mackesy

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The Independent Culture
The venerable Leith's restaurant - 30 years old this year - foaled on 1 May last year and put it out to race in Soho under the care of Alex Floyd.

Although one can usually put on a good bet in a maiden stakes on the basis of a restaurant's parentage, one can't always guarantee that the progeny will have the class of the dam.

Fortunately, the bloodline seems to be holding true. Although they do a roaring lunchtime trade, this 50-seater turns altogether gentler in the evenings. The tranquillity of these simple surroundings is rarely interrupted by the shrill of a mobile phone; a polite note on the menu suggests that phone calls be forwarded to the main restaurant number.

The staff are gentle in their ways, which I guess you can be in a small establishment: you see them checking over plates so as not to have to bark out the name of the dish as they approach the tables.

And the food has a ring of the old-fashioned - I don't think I'd consider ordering prawn cocktail anywhere else, but here it was just right. Subtlety seems to be the order of the day in Floyd's menage: one, maybe two keynote flavours rather than the jangle that often hits the palate around here.

Tender scallop wontons had a batter that cracked on the tongue then floated off, and were accompanied by a sweet chilli and coconut vinaigrette. My poached breast of guinea fowl actually tasted of guinea fowl, and came in a chive broth with dumplings of sweetbread wrapped in cabbage leaf and made to look like dear little sprouts, and a Gressingham duck breast and leg had a spiced orange and kumquat jus that tasted like Christmas. A bitter chocolate souffle took 20 minutes to make and was memorable: flavoured with cardamom, crusty on the outside, frothy, gorgeous and rich inside. You couldn't call this pudding: it was more like foreplay.

Leith's Soho, 41 Beak Street, W1 (0171-287 2057) Approx pounds 25 per head