Bites: Tucked away above pubs and behind unprepossessing doors, Caroline Stacey discovers dining rooms of quality and style

Ard Ri Dining Room 88 Marylebone Lane, London W1 (0171-935 9311). Mon-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat dinner. Large windows give the restaurant above the O'Conor Don - a superior, family-run Irish pub - appropriately grand proportions, slightly shabby furnishings add to the uncontrived effect of faded country house dining room. Tables are set with stiff white linen and heavy cutlery, plates come well laden with good Irish-influenced cooking: salmon souffle with mussel and dill cream sauce or jellied ham shank. There is also monkfish with colcannon, lamb shank with root vegetables and champ, pot-roast pheasant, and, of course, Irish stew. And oysters. It's pounds 25 for three courses without wine from a world-wide list.

The Cow Dining Room 89 Westbourne Park Road, London W11 (0171-221 0021). Dinner daily, Sun brunch. The restaurant above Tom (son of) Conran's Notting Hill Irish bar serves some of the best pub food around at prices that correspondingly raise it way above pub dining levels, although the setting is simply rustic. Main courses start at pounds 12.90 for an open lasagne of wild mushrooms and courgettes, up to pounds 15-odd for seared tuna with chargrilled polenta, baked tomato, olive and parsley salad or John Dory with roast Jerusalem artichokes, which illustrate the emphasis on seafood echoing the bar downstairs where Guinness chases fruits de mer. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings there's a menu for pounds 18.95, the rest of the week three courses cost around pounds 25.

French House Dining Room 49 Dean Street, London W1 (0171-437 2477). Mon-Sat lunch and dinner. An intimate, smoky, slightly raffish air wafts up from the French House pub to the boxy, mottled-walled, first-floor dining room. It makes a comfortingly familiar habitat for a more genuinely old boho Soho crowd than slicker neighbours, and drawbacks such as the basement lavatories shared with the pub keep it that way. Which is not to say this isn't a tight little ship, with its splendidly to-the-point, generally English and offal-rich food at relatively keen prices. There might be sweetbread fritters with green sauce, smoked eel with beetroot and horseradish, then rabbit with chicory and mustard or baked plaice with samphire and parsley, with chunky veg priced separately. Puddings such as chocolate pot bring the bill up to pounds 20 for food.

The Dining Room 59A High Street, Reigate, Surrey (01737 226650). Mon- Fri lunch and dinner, Sat dinner. Anthony Tobin (from Ready Steady Cook) is executive chef at this Surrey restaurant that doesn't advertise itself with a flashy exterior - it's upstairs on the first floor, which gives an impression of exclusivity. The cooking has gone from strength to strength in a menu that fashionably and exuberantly mixes influences and bold flavours. Spicy marinated salmon with crisp popadoms, turmeric and caviare dressing, seared beef with mustard leaves and horseradish dressing or Moroccan spiced chicken with courgette and squash tagine. On the a la carte, starters are pounds 7.50, mains pounds 16.50, or there's a two-course menu for pounds 16.95 during the week, pounds 18.95 at weekends. Lunch is pounds 10 for two courses, pounds 13.50 for three.

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