But few independent restaurateurs have had the impact of a beginner named Adrian Forsyth. He is the architect-turned-restaurateur who, in the spring of 1989, set off the craze for wrought-iron candlesticks; who piled on the carved wooden screens, the velveteen drapes and rope-pulls with big, fat tassels. He is the man who made the original Market Bar in Portobello Road, west London, resemble Dracula's dressing-room.
Whether or not one appreciates this look is another matter. I preferred the Market Bar when it was a good, dishonest pub called the Golden Cross. This will take explaining, for if the Golden Cross was not the prototype for the pub from hell in Martin Amis's London Fields, it could have been.
Its refit by Mr Forsyth vaulted it from squalor to camp absurdity, and proved the catalyst that transformed a once shaggy block into a round-the-clock playground. It attracted the rich and flash, which in turn attracted businesses aimed at whimsical money, such as emporia selling Indian beds to use as coffee tables and mortars and pestles to place on mantelpieces.
I am one of a minority that finds all this distasteful. Perhaps I should view it more favourably through heavily masacared eyelashes. The Market Bar and its many imitators (Beach Blanket Babylon, the First Floor, the Soho club Blacks) have been hugely successful, and I doubt if that is thanks to the food they serve. Nor could it be put down to Mr Forsyth's business sense. Even though it was packed out, the Market Bar had, by 2 August 1991, managed to go into receivership.
This is because it attempted to open a sister restaurant in Hampstead, north London, whose residents proved resistant to its expensive brand of kitsch. Now Mr Forsyth and his wife, Patsy Monahan, have wisely returned to the original neighbourhood - London W11 - where, it would seem, people will buy anything.
They have even named it W11. He designed the new restaurant; she runs it with two partners. Oddly, they have chosen the least W11 part of the area, near where the tinkers' camp and the Italianate villas end and the red-brick council blocks begin.
Perhaps to slot in, or from hard- won maturity, Mr Forsyth has exercised unfamiliar restraint. The room - in strong, dusty pastels - is a great deal simpler and cleaner-looking than the Market Bar. There is some sort of absurd artwork that looks like organ pipes sprouting flowers, and romantic wrought-iron chairs just dying to snag a pair of tights. The whole, however, is unfussy.
Also vastly improved, to my mind, is the food. The cook is a young man named Ricky Gibbs. He is news to me, but a select group may know his cooking from the Chelsea Arts Club. His menu reads appetisingly in spite of dodgy spelling, and the food is plain good.
Risotto with asparagus and parmesan is a classic dish, served well here with tender baby spears. The carving of roast leg of lamb was frenzied, but the meat was delicious, perfectly seasoned with garlic and rosemary, and served with roast potatoes and emerald-green spinach. Pasta came in a robust tomato sauce studded with bits of paprika sausage and chopped olives; roast black bream with new potatoes and a pungent salsa verde. Only a dead-tasting tarte tatin failed to please.
The wine list is short, sensibly laid out by region, and produced a delicious 1990 Crozes Hermitage for pounds 14. Music plays, sometimes loudly. (It will be a din when the place is full.) Our waitress was sunnily easy-going, and the charming woman who waves guests around the side of the building when they try to enter through the wrong door is, I suspect, Ms Monahan. I wish her venture well as long as it does not set junky trends.
Bar Central, a short walk from Waterloo Station and the Old Vic, is an old idea, dusted down and polished up. It was opened a month ago by four refugees from the Joe Allen organisation: three from Joe Allen itself, and one from its Italian-style sister restaurant, Orso.
This new place appears to be more bar than restaurant, more a place to catch a quick drink after work than attempt a serious lunch. The room is bright, clean and presentable, with an unusual view across a traffic-choked street to a small park. One can tell it has not been open long from the smell of fresh paint which undercuts acrid smoke from an open-plan kitchen. The smoke problem, I am assured, will disappear (the fan was not working). Food is basic and basically edible: new potatoes with fondue cheese melted over them; decent ribeye steak with greasy but flavoursome chips; watery baked leeks with oriental seasonings; a warm seafood salad of grilled squid, salmon steak and mussels.
My companion pointed out that too many of the offerings were meaty and greasy: a proprietor agreed, and said some salads and the like would be listed. Espressos were good. Staff are nice. And pounds 10 easily buys lunch.
W11, 123a Clarendon Road, London W11 (071-229 8889). Open lunch and dinner daily. Children welcome. Access, Visa.
Bar Central, 131 Waterloo Road, London SE1 (071-928 5086). Open noon-midnight (11.30pm Sun). Taped music. Children welcome. No credit cards.
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