Castle, Church Hill, Hurst, Berkshire (0118 934 0034) Tue-Sat lunch and dinner, Sun lunch. Neither a castle nor the pub it used to be (as diners can tell from the amuse bouches and pre-dessert), this smart new restaurant is tipped by the The Good Food Guide as one of Berks' best. A well-informed young chef carries off original ideas with aplomb - pairing mackerel eschebeche with roast back pudding, producing thoughtful vegetarian main courses such as sage noodles with baby veg and fondant kohlrabi alongside meat and fish, and running to a honeycomb panna cotta with candied walnuts and lavender ice-cream for pudding. Three such courses are £34. Lunches are lighter and cheaper.

Castle, Church Hill, Hurst, Berkshire (0118 934 0034) Tue-Sat lunch and dinner, Sun lunch. Neither a castle nor the pub it used to be (as diners can tell from the amuse bouches and pre-dessert), this smart new restaurant is tipped by the The Good Food Guide as one of Berks' best. A well-informed young chef carries off original ideas with aplomb - pairing mackerel eschebeche with roast back pudding, producing thoughtful vegetarian main courses such as sage noodles with baby veg and fondant kohlrabi alongside meat and fish, and running to a honeycomb panna cotta with candied walnuts and lavender ice-cream for pudding. Three such courses are £34. Lunches are lighter and cheaper.

The House, 3 Milner Street, London SW3 (020-7584 3002) Mon-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat dinner. Townhouse in a Chelsea backwater somewhat floridly done up the way local residents like to live. Food combines comfort and class to very successful effect, with an underlying earthy Englishness. Smoked eel and potato terrine is paired with pan-fried mackerel and lavender vinaigrette as a starter, roast belly of Gloucester Old Spot, celeriac choucroute and quince is a main course from the £27 three-course dinner menu. Set lunch is a steal at £18 for three courses.

The Loft, 17 Lavington Street, London SE1 (020-7902 0800) Daily lunch and dinner. Not a Jamie Oliver wannabe's living space but the split-level, ground- floor dining room of a hotel which opened in buzzing Bermondsey six months ago. Food's fusion, school of the Sugar Club, from a pupil who has learnt well. Dishes such as the salad of chorizo, fig, sweet potato and poached egg with goat's cheese dressing (£6.50) come off very well; chocolate fondant with mandarin ripple ice-cream (£5) is a deliciously successful dessert. Around £25 without wines, or take advantage of the two-course lunch with a glass of wine for £12.

Old Vicarage, Ridgeway Moor, Ridgeway, Derbyshire (0114 247 5814) Tue-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat dinner, Sun lunch. Tessa Bramley's restaurant in a handsome stone house - just outside but a world away from Sheffield - is a treat for its wonderful, essentially English but broad-minded cooking. Most people have the four-course £43 lunch or dinner which might comprise pan-fried calves liver and avocado, fried sage and champ to start, roast beef with cinnamon, garlic, and beetroot and potato galette, then greengage and crÿme fraîche shortcake tart with black cherry brandy ice cream. Great British and Irish cheeses.

Pied à Terre, 34 Charlotte Street, London W1 (020 7636 1178) Mon-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat dinner. Outstanding cooking in the Michelin class with the attendant blandness of decor. Though the atmosphere's muted; the fun's on the plate. From the pre-starter nibbles to the petits fours expect thrilling flavours and technical accomplishment. Poached foie gras with Sauternes consommé; pigeon breast and confit with lentil sauce; fig tarte tatin with cinnamon ice-cream and port and rosewater syrup are current favourites on the £39.50 for two courses carte offered at lunch and dinner. Puddings or cheese are another £10.50 each. Wine by the glass. Set price lunch is £23.50.

Comments