Your usual table? Who eats where

HILARY RUBENSTEIN HOTEL CRITIC
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The Independent Culture
I generally eat out for prosaic reasons, nothing in the house, surprise guests and so forth. Nevertheless, I value the total eating out experience; a comfortable atmosphere, a warm welcome and good conversation. I prefer the more democratic flavours of classic cooking to supermodern cuisine, full of whatever trendy flavour is in at the time.

Ballymaloe House (Shanagarry, Co Cork, Ireland, 00 353 21 65 2531) fulfils all my criteria for a good restaurant. The presiding genius is Myrtle Allen, whose daughter, Darina, is the Delia Smith of Ireland. It is a family hotel, run with intense enthusiasm. Ballymaloe House had a Michelin star, but lost it one foul night during a wedding celebration. Everyone had got a little merry, and unfortunately that was the night that the Michelin Guide turned up. But the food is wonderful; fresh fish is delivered daily from nearby Ballycotton.

Browns (24 Quay Street, Worcester, 01905 26263) impresses me with its sheen of professionalism and quality of service. On our last visit my wife had a large portion of langoustines in bacon. She was treated with great grace when she asked for a doggy bag, which is more than some well known restaurants will offer you. The ambience is enhanced by good lighting and interior decoration. An important point, for a meal may be marvellous, but the effect ruined if you have to shut your eyes to grim decor. Successful eating-out depends greatly on the sympathetic qualities a restaurant has to offer the diner.

Professionally, I concentrate on restaurants in hotels. It was once the case that one would have to go out to eat if staying in a hotel. There are more good hotel restaurants now than there were 20 years ago, and many at the top end have hired good chefs. If you can afford it, Chez Nico at 90 (Grosvenor House Hotel, 90 Park Lane, London, 0171 409 1290) is excellent. Nico has a reputation for being fearsome to guests he doesn't like. Especially those who add salt to food. He is a charming man though, and his food is totally deserving of its three Michelin stars.

! Hilary Rubenstein is the author of The Good Hotel Guide

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