The 10 Cases, 16 Endell Street, London WC2

Enter stage left: A high-concept venture with minimalist menu in the heart of Theatreland

Edited choice is one of those ideas that sounds brilliant in theory, but not so terrific in reality. That "capsule collection" of five white shirts, or "manager's special book offer" often doesn't contain the one thing you want.

But when it comes to food, a little editing is a good thing. Who isn't suspicious of a menu that goes on and on, with everything from sausage and mash to Thai curry? It rather smacks of boil-in-the-bag or some other culinary dark arts.

Which brings me to The 10 Cases, a new arrival in London's Covent Garden. My theatre-going friend Alice alerted me to it – finding somewhere good on the doorstep of the big shows has been a problem until now unless you're happy with a churn-'em-out chain. I promised to be an advance party for her.

The 10 Cases has as its concept an extremely limited choice in both food and wine. Its name derives from owners Ian Campbell and Will Palmer's determination to offer a very tightly edited wine list, with 10 cases each of 10 reds and 10 whites. Everything's by the bottle, carafe or glass and once the cases are gone, they're gone.

This is a lovely idea for regulars who like to try new wines – and the keen pricing is most appealing too.

At least one of the biscuity sounding duo of Campbell and Palmer is in on the night I visit, but since I'm incognito, I can't find out which, so instead just watch an enthusiastic young man at the tiny bar keeping a close eye on the brand-new operation. And it needs a close eye.

The small, slightly spartan room holds a handful of tables and a few stools at the bar. The only real adornments are railway-style racks above the wall seats and small blackboards. These display the menu, such as it is. Because The 10 Cases is also The 9 Dishes – there are just three starters, three mains and three puds.

I've taken Mr M, and M Jr, so that we can eat everything – not possible at most restaurants. A cover charge of £1.50 a head covers good baguette and olives, but we pimp them with some pungent roasted garlic and slices of saucisson sec (£3 each from the frugal bar menu) before our meal – great with wine and conversation, not so great for the dating classes or those due to be in the confined space of a theatre afterwards...

Mr M chooses a 2008 St Joseph from Domaine du Monteillet at £32, which is complex and fruity, a good foil, particularly for his line-up of hot smoked-salmon salad and roast saddle of lamb. I have cold beef salad (which is fridge-cold and a little not-in-a-good-way fatty) and then poussin, which is gloriously tender and flavoursome, with a crisp, well-seasoned skin. M Jr has watercress soup and a whole sea bass with a vibrant salsa verde. Both are very good – he definitely has the best combo.

And getting that combo right (all starters around £5, all mains about £15) is a slight glitch for this place; with so little choice, one has to be careful not to end up with two meaty dishes, and not to get crushed potatoes with both starter and main, as Mr M did. The side dishes definitely need work – bubble and squeak and mash are two of the three, the other's a salad. Hmm.

I'm getting a slight chilly feeling, and not just because I'm sitting just inside the door. Meanwhile, puddings are plum tart, apple tart and blueberry tart (£4.50 each). I think it must be because the kitchen's been caught short, but the website indicates that the choice will always be from three tarts. Why not one lighter option, and something indulgent and chocolate-y?

I don't want to be negative. The chef, Juliette Shallow, late of Coq d'Argent in the City, can certainly cook with confidence, because the fish and the main meat dishes are perfectly judged. I applaud new ventures and love the concept, the location and the unadorned décor. So without wishing to offend, Messrs Campbell and Palmer, please could you have a bit more variation in the veggies and the puddings?

The brevity of the menu has another side-effect – we sit down at 7.30pm and have polished off our tarts by 8.30pm, and we didn't bolt anything. If you're planning – like Alice, no doubt – to pop in either before or after the theatre, it's an excellent little arrival. Let's hope it's more Mousetrap than Love Never Dies.

6/10

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

The 10 cases 16 Endell Street, London WC2, tel: 020 7836 6801 Lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat. About £80 for two, including wine

Stripped-down specials

Rochelle Canteen

Arnold Circus, London E2, tel: 020 7729 5677

This unlicensed canteen – tucked away in a former school bike shed – is a hidden gem, serving simple but perfect cuisine at low prices

River Cottage Canteen

Trinity Square, Axminster, Devon, tel: 01297 631 715

The homely canteen annexe of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's food store is nothing special in service or ambience, but the rustic food is honest and comes in massive portions

Canton Arms

177 South Lambeth Road, London SW8, tel: 020 7582 8710

Just how a gastropub should be. This Anchor & Hope sibling's rough-and-ready style adds only to the ambience, as does the hearty cuisine

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2011' www.hardens.com

VIDEO
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents