Food and Drink: Look who's turning the tables: Restaurants come and restaurants go. Emily Green visits two that may stay - if the food improves

GUIDE BOOKS classify restaurants by cuisine, mood, amenities, district and price. Yet the most telling breakdown is never done, even though most of the restaurant-going public must be acutely aware of it. Restaurants fall into two basic categories: solid and ephemeral.

Solid restaurants run and run. The chef is a chef, not a bass player between gigs, nor a showman in monogrammed whites. The waitress is a waitress, not an aspiring film producer. There is a tangible spirit of dedication, which the French sum up with a card in the window stating, 'Le patron mange ici.'

No prizes for spotting the ephemeral. Shopfitters are at them with dismal regularity. They go from sushi to Cajun, to new wave Italian, to modern British, to Californian pizza, to French bistro in a series of quick changes. The more incarnations a place goes through, the more difficult for an incoming restaurateur to turn it around, to make it solid. Two new places are trying to do just that: Beth's in Hampstead, north London, and Palio in Westbourne Grove, west London.

The premises now occupied by Beth's have undergone some abrupt changes of late. Formerly it was the Hungry Hussar, and not long before that, Keats. Beth's, however, looks as if it means to stick around. It is as pretty as any in London: tall airy rooms, acoustics softened by drapes. A playful gingham motif runs through the place. The fittings have grace and wit and an understated, accessible sense of chic.

Service is so good it is as if Beth's has always been there. A silver-haired gent greets and appears to manage. Young waitresses are efficient and sunny. Bread is good and crusty. And prices respect the purse: Sunday lunch is pounds 8.50, a three-course dinner with wine starts at about pounds 25 per person.

If Beth's is to run and run, however, judging from a dinner for four last Saturday night, the food needs to improve. Of starters, an almond and fennel soup was porridge-like and bland. Devilled mushrooms, served on toast, were sour and school-dinnerish. Smoked haddock came with a dull lentil salad. The fish was a mound of chunks, as if it had been crudely hacked, then pickled (or ceviched). Its two cures, smoke and pickle, jarred with one another. One dish was good, however. Chicken liver pate was served with toasted brioche and a red onion compote, this last slightly heavy on cloves.

Of the main courses, a chicken breast was dry from overcooking, yet its skin was flaccid and caked with what tasted like packet chilli powder. A rough tomato salsa to the side gave little relief to the chilli burn. A bog-standard ratatouille came with a dry bulgar wheat salad. Lemon sole, spinach and a spoonful or two of lemon grass beurre blanc tasted of almost nothing. Only calf's liver, with a slightly glutinous but enjoyably garlicky mash, was sound.

Puddings were better, if uneven. Marmalade and Grand Marnier ice-cream was extremely rich, but fresh-tasting and good. A steamed chocolate pudding was dull and dry, served in cream that, at a guess, had been given a quick shot of vanilla essence. A lemon tart had excellent flavour and a sturdy crust, but it was skulking in syrup and its pudding was splitting, probably from having spent the night in a fridge. Banana fritters were cloyingly sweet.

How many of the meal's flaws were due to mere teething pains will become obvious with time. Right now it seems clear that Beth's ambitions and style are solid. I hope the food will follow suit.

Palio did not change its name in its last transformation seven weeks ago; it changed management. Formerly it was a stab by Whitbread, the brewer, at a modern Italian restaurant; before that it was a pub-cum-wine bar. The new proprietor is Antony Worrall Thompson, a magpie when it comes to food fads.

Typical of the bright and shiny ideas that he collects, then gives a playful spin, is a dish recently listed at his central London restaurant Zoe (formerly one of the Zen chain): confit of duck with macaroni cheese.

The food is just as weird and, to my mind, unpalatable at the new Palio. Something called 'charred steak tartare' was a contradiction in terms: basically a very rare hamburger with greasy chips and, for some reason, croutons with tapenade.

Another dish was sent back and served again, every bit as inedible as the first time: 'steamed mussels with greens, lentil and coriander broth' consisted of mussels so drastically undercooked that only a third of them opened; a salty broth, lentils swimming around; and leaves of frisee lettuce going lank on the surface of the bowl.

A white burgundy, Clos de Chenoves, cost pounds 15.25 and was delicious. The barman, a fleet fellow, is ace; the same goes for a charming manageress. Mr Worrall Thompson says a new chef is due in next week.

Beth's, 3a Downshire Hill, London NW3 (071-435 3544). Children welcome; special portions. Limited vegetarian options. Open 12.30-2.30pm, 7-11.30pm Mon-Sat; 12.30- 3.30pm, 7-11pm Sun. Switch and major credit cards except Diner's.

Palio, 175 Westbourne Grove, London W11 (071-221 6624). Vegetarian meals. Children welcome; special portions. Loud music. Open 12 noon- 11.30pm Mon-Sat; 11am-11pm Sun. Switch and major credit cards.

(Photograph omitted)

Sport
Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone