London is outrageously expensive if you insist on sticking to West End chain places. But it's amazing how quickly after you leave Zone One that provincial prices start to kick in without you having to suffer the rush- covered bottles of the provincial trattoria. Small and Beautiful, for instance, is a euro-bistro on the Kilburn High Road, three minutes' walk from Kilburn Tube and under the arches at Brondesbury BR station.
This place isn't particularly small - it takes up two shop-fronts and must be able to seat 50 - but it is, in its own way, quite beautiful: one of those pared-down brick-and-timber establishments with a half-mosaic, half-stripped-board floor and leavening for the eye in the form of Botticellis and gigantic Rococo-framed mirrors.
It's friendly enough, too, even repelling local winos with an element of good manners. It's also constantly bursting at the seams - the arty- studenty types who drop in off the street tend to be quoted an hour's wait for a table.
When you see the menu, you understand why. Despite having something close to a monopoly on non-ethnic/non-caff food in the area, their low, low prices are breathtaking. The day I was there, they had Dover sole as a special at pounds 8.75 (I haven't seen it under pounds 15 since the early Eighties). And that was the most costly thing there: starters (fresh soup, grilled chevre, aubergine and red pepper pate) range between pounds 1.65 and pounds 2.75; mains are pounds 3.85 to pounds 5.95. A barge-sized bowl of seafood rigatoni stuffed with tiger prawns, mussels, squid and cockles costs pounds 4.75. Sea bass is pounds 5.95; a chicken breast stuffed with mint, lamb mince and port sauce goes for pounds 3.95. House plonk is an off-licence-style pounds 7.65 a litre: okay, so it's not Pouilly Fume, but it slides down. We were too full to even countenance puddings (pounds 1.65-pounds 2.45), but they looked lovely.
Two excellent courses, two glasses of wine each, a bottle of mineral water and coffee, and the bill, once we'd put in a reasonable tip, still only came to pounds 14 each. Take that, Hull.
Small and Beautiful, 351 Kilburn High Rd, NW6 (0171-328 2637)
CENTRAL LONDON TREATS ON THE CHEAP
The Chelsea Kitchen 98 King's Rd, SW3 (0171-589 1330) If you secretly enjoyed school meals, this long-established diner gives you the whole experience without the teachers. Fried food, tinned vegetables, crumble and custard. You'll never walk again.
Hamine 84 Brewer St, W1 (0171-439 0785) Classy noodle bar, popular with the Japanese and open to 3am. Huge bowls of noodle soup containing everything but the kitchen sink for between pounds 5 and pounds 7.
Lahore Kebab House 2 Umberston St, E1 (0171-488 2551) Bring-a-bottle that's more caff than restaurant, where you share tables, wonder about how nice Lahore must be and enjoy some of the most splendid curry you'll ever eat. Anything with spinach recommended, avoid students if you can.
Chuen Cheng Ku 17 Wardour St, W1 (0171-437 1398) Actually, you could eat for a tenner pretty much anywhere in Chinatown, but this cavernous restaurant has particularly good daytime Dim Sum brought round on trolleys. Steamed and deep-fried delicacies at around pounds 2 a plate.