192, Notting Hill, London

Notting Hill's 192 inspired a generation of local brasseries. Now under new ownership, a bohemian hang-out has lost none of its old sparkle
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When 192 opened as a neighbourhood wine bar in 1982, mobile phones hadn't yet been invented, and you were big in new media if you had a Betamax player and a Walkman. The media-arty-bohemian set who adopted 192 as their headquarters have stayed loyal over the intervening 20 years. Meanwhile Notting Hill has gone from being somewhere outsiders felt slightly scared about visiting to a glamorous fixture on the tourist map. In 1982, Londoners would talk nervously about The Front Line; these days they'd probably think The Front Line was a new café on All Saints Road.

When 192 opened as a neighbourhood wine bar in 1982, mobile phones hadn't yet been invented, and you were big in new media if you had a Betamax player and a Walkman. The media-arty-bohemian set who adopted 192 as their headquarters have stayed loyal over the intervening 20 years. Meanwhile Notting Hill has gone from being somewhere outsiders felt slightly scared about visiting to a glamorous fixture on the tourist map. In 1982, Londoners would talk nervously about The Front Line; these days they'd probably think The Front Line was a new café on All Saints Road.

192 was pioneering, not just in its location and championing of modern British cooking (Alastair Little and Rowley Leigh were two of its early chefs), but in its clean-lined, light-filled appearance, which inspired a new generation of stylish neighbourhood brasseries.

But 20 years down the line, what used to be a gleaming modern hub in a tatty stretch of road was itself beginning to look like a shabby hangover from a bygone age. 192's long-time owners (locals who also founded the Groucho Club) sold up, and amid much nervous speculation from the restaurant's loyal regulars, it closed for a six-month refurbishment programme.

The new owners have impeccable W11 credentials – Tom Byng also runs the Italian restaurant Zucca in Westbourne Grove, and John Summerill owns the kitchenware shop Summerill and Bishop – and, wisely, they have decided to make very few changes to Tchaik Chassay's original design.

There's a new bar, and vastly improved loos downstairs, but otherwise, it's as though an identical replica of the original interior has been fabricated out of brand-new materials. The look of relief on the faces of the regulars was unmistakable, as I watched them take up their usual positions on the red-velvet banquettes. Arty-looking staff? Check. Man with laptop and glass of Champagne at bar? Check. Table-hopping producers and agents? Check. And best of all, wherever you sit you can still see the passing show, thanks to an eye-level strip of mirrors which gives even inward-facers a chance to celebrity-spot (while simultaneously exposing a panorama of bald patches and unretouched roots).

The menu, from returning 192 graduate Stuart Kennedy, also feels familiar – indeed, anyone looking at its selection of modern British brasserie fare would wonder what the fuss was about. But then warm salads and calves liver with mash weren't clichés when 192 opened, and its kitchen has long since settled for offering the delectable rather than the directional.

With English asparagus and spring lamb appearing alongside pumpkin risotto and wild mushrooms, the menu's fast-forward approach to the seasons is reminiscent of Hugh Grant's walk through Portobello Market in the film Notting Hill. The daily date implies flexibility, but the line-up was more or less identical on my two sample visits, which were separated by five days.

To road-test the new 192 in authentic conditions, I went first for a networking lunch with a TV producer, then for a celebratory girls' night out. The restaurant performed impeccably in both cases. The staff still combine friendly individuality with the kind of stakeholder ethic which implies they care as much as you that you're having a good time. The room still heaves with movers and shakers, talking big and smoking bigger. Plenty of wines are available by the glass, from a wide-ranging list. And the food is as fresh and interesting as it ever was, and seems to arrive rather more quickly – the expanded kitchen obviously works efficiently.

Of the dishes I tried, crab ravioli with sauce vierge was a partial success, the delicate oriental flavouring of the crabmeat proving no match for a sharply vinegared sauce. Seared scallops were much more subtly paired with cauliflower purée and a flourish of mini-tomatoes roasted on the vine.

Main courses struck me as cheffier in presentation than before – a cappuccino-frothed sauce of indeterminate taste accompanied both the main course fish dishes I tried. A hefty tranche of roast cod looked fabulous in its vividly green herb crust, while wild seabass came with lightly-spiced Puy lentils and was so hot it might have jumped straight from pan to table.

A whole maple-roasted apple, filled with chopped figs and pecans, was good enough to overturn a lifetime's school-dinners-induced dread of the slithery baked apple.

192's prices were always a little lower than expected, and they don't seem to have been hiked; main courses range from £12 to £15, and the lunchtime set menu is £14.50 for three courses.

A note at the foot of the menu asks diners to "refrain from smoking pipes, cigars or cigarillos". Cigarillos! What could be more evocative of that loucher, more permissive age which 192 still epitomises? Notting Hill's ageing bohemians may be finding themselves eased out in their turn by the young, rich and fashionable, whose restaurant of choice, E&O, is just down the road. But for anyone old enough to know what a cigarillo is, let alone wanting to smoke one, 192 looks set to be around for some time to come.

192 Kensington Park Road, London W11 (020-7229 0482).

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