Excuse me, do I come here often?: It's good, and it's cheap. But Granita didn't make a great impression on Emily Green because, she says, it's lacking in character

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Indy Lifestyle Online
GRANITA, a six-week-old restaurant on Upper Street in Islington, north London, is in many ways just the type of place that London badly needs. It is owned by independent restaurateurs and it is obvious that they care. The place gleams. The smell of garlic hangs in the air. The staff are terrific. The pricing is not only fair, it is keen.

However, Granita's owners have a subtle, but important task ahead of them. They must rub some personality into the place. Otherwise they may find themselves with the restaurant equivalent of Kylie Minogue dressed up as Madonna.

It means to be chic. It is, to a degree. The glass-fronted room is long, austere and modern. The chairs are unadorned wood. Lighting is high. Along one side, the walls are painted in bright hues. It aims to be good-taste Modern, but just now it is more like bland Modern.

Granita, I presume, refers to the grainy Italian sorbet of the same name. This, along with the decorations (or lack of them), signals a Californian-Italian bias.

The short menu revolves around char-grills, with a modish, Mediterranean slant. This seems less likely to be the inspiration of the proprietor or chef, and more likely to be a case of outright subscription to trend.

That said, it is a successful follower of the fashion. For instance, in a flavoursome if rather greasy dish, char-grilled aubergine comes with a plentiful helping of garlic mayonnaise.

Butternut squash ravioli came in a creamy, garlicky sauce with pine nuts. The flavours were agreeable, the textures less so. Tender, tasty char-grilled chicken came with potatoes dressed in pesto sauce. This dressing served merely to make the spuds look alarmingly green, as if chlorophyll had got the upper hand.

The management gracefully warned us that the grilled squid we had ordered was the last one, and a bit small. Did we want it? We wanted it then, and would happily want it again. The flesh was tender. It was meant to be accompanied by chips and rocket. My companion asked for puy lentils and a sharp green salad instead. It was good of the management to comply, and very good to eat. The lentils were beautifully stewed and earthy, the greens invigorating.

Granita had intended to serve the lentils and salad with a fillet of Scotch salmon - a dish that turned out to be less successful. The fish tasted slightly flabby and was a little overcooked.

The wine list is short and, as far as price goes, just about as approachable as any I have seen. It is particularly strong on New World wines, offering many of the labels you would go for in a wine shop, but rarely find on a menu.

Puddings are rather more complicated. Floating Islands, a dish which I am told is of Portuguese origin, consisted chiefly of sweetened poached egg whites in a creme anglaise with some bruised raspberries. A good bittersweet chocolate torte sat in a pool of prettily laced coffee sauce topped with chocolate shavings.

There was a loaf of olive bread for sale on the counter, but nobody offered it around. It just sat there looking a bit stale and wearing a price tag. When the waiters did the rounds with the bread basket, it was to offer pre-sliced baguettes. They were fine, and the generous French-style basket of sweet, fresh butter that accompanied it was a nice touch.

On Fridays, Granita closes at midnight. The staff will warn you if you book a late table that the restaurant closes promptly. And they were as good as their word. After some ostentatious wiping of the table and 'ahems' on their part, at midnight we turned into pumpkins.

Granita, 127 Upper Street (071- 226 3222). Approx pounds 20-pounds 25 per person with 3 courses, wine, coffee, service and VAT. Set 2-course lunch pounds 10.50. Vegetarian meals. Open Wed-Sun lunch, Tue-Sun dinner. Access, Visa.

(Photograph omitted)

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