Bill's Produce Store, 28 St Martin's Courtyard, London

Ah, what could be more comforting on a January day than eating in a cosy farm shop? The higgledy-piggledy piles of produce, the chalked-up daily specials, the benches nailed together out of old planks, the locally-sourced ingredients. All of these attractions are abundantly on offer in the latest branch of Bill's Produce Store. Apart from the last. Because – weirdly, for a business which is all about localness and authenticity – this rustic idyll is situated in a new-build development in London's Covent Garden, around the corner from The Ivy.

The Ivy reference is relevant. Bill's, which started as a store-front café in a Lewes grocery, shares ownership with London's starriest restaurant, after the Sussex-based business was acquired in 2008 by restaurant mogul Richard Caring, who also owns Caprice Holdings and the Soho House group.

In the quirky authenticity of the original Bill's, and its sister café in Brighton, Caring clearly saw the opportunity to isolate the DNA of the ideal farm shop café – laid-back, community-based and picturesquely ramshackle – and to clone it. A town-centre opening in Reading is followed by this London branch, which joins businesses like Laura Ashley and Daylesford Organic in offering thesis material to future social historians charting the marketing of rural authenticity to jaded urbanites.

Crossing the threshold into Bill's after a hellish session at the Oxford Street sales was like moving from grim social realism into the soft-focus embrace of a Meryl Streep romantic comedy. Outside, a concrete and glass arcade; inside, a glowing Aladdin's Cave of foodie treasures, with vertiginous shelves lined with bulging bags of rice, own-label preserves and artisan olive oils. Even the smiley young woman who greeted us came accessorised with her own fresh produce, juggling an armful of oranges as she directed us to our table .

It's undeniably picturesque, this rus-in-urbe idyll, apparently created in some old light-industrial building. Until you realise that the whitewashed brick walls, reclaimed furnishings and exposed ducting all appear to have been imported on to an empty site and painstakingly reconstructed from a designer's look book. All the homely touches – candles guttering in jam jars, cutlery stuffed into porridge tins, newspapers scattered around battered leather armchairs – are similarly ersatz. So pervasive is the illusion that I began to peer at the signage which covers every flat surface, to see if it was genuinely hand-written or printed off in that special font called "Arty Manageress".

With towers of spotlit produce dominating the room, Bill's comes over as a foodie paradise. And then you look at the menu. Tomato soup; avocado and bacon salad; salmon with hollandaise; hamburger; minute steak and chips. Special of the day: T-bone steak. The stuff of every bog-standard brasserie, in other words, with no particular focus on seasonality or provenance, unlike the original Bill's, which built its menus around produce from local farms.

Surrounded by esoteric food-stuffs, we worked our way through a pretty average meal. Fried calamari rings, under-seasoned and served with a garlic dip that put the "meh" into mayo. A mulch of chorizo and tomato on chargrilled bread which called to mind pasta sauce on toast. A prawn curry that was no more than curry sauce on rice, topped with a few chargrilled prawns; chicken paillard with spring onion mash, and a burger distinguished only by its glossy brioche bun. All perfectly OK, and not unreasonably priced, with starters around £5, and mains £8-£11.50, but nothing special.

The staff are lovely, and our twinkly waitress seemed intuitively child-friendly, offering to bring out our younger child's meal when it was ready, as she saw a tantrum unfolding. But the kitchen didn't comply, and all our dishes came to the table before the crying child's fishfinger sandwich, which followed after a gap of a few minutes that seemed to last hours.

Desserts come from the same usual-suspects recipe book – sundae, cheesecake, chocolate brownie, tiramisu. Vanilla panacotta and fresh fruit pavlova were both served with a coulis on an icing-sugar-dusted plate, a flourish at odds with the vintage crates and flour-bags around us.

With a couple of bottles of Bill's Beer, a golden ale brewed at Harvey's Brewery in Lewes ("two local family businesses working together," as the menu disingenuously puts it), Bill's bill came to around £25 a head. The displayed produce can also be bought to take home, so you can stock up on mandarin oil and Dulce de Leche while eating your fishcakes.

Despite an unfavourable location, Bill's was busy on a Bank Holiday Monday evening. Just why so many young people, in one of the most exciting cities in the world, would opt to eat in a fantasy farm shop is something of a mystery. Bill's – no doubt coming soon to a high street near you – is friendly, warm, bustling and golden. And I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there.

Bill's Produce Store, 28 St Martin's Courtyard London WC2 (020-7240 8183)

Food 2 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 3 stars

Around £25 a head including drinks and service for three courses

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Down on the farm

The Goods Shed

Station Road West, Canterbury, Kent (01227 459 153)

Try the Kentish Ranger chicken and cobnuts, sourced from the nearby market, in this charming old railway building.

Frizzante

1a Goldsmiths Row, London E2 (020-7729 6381)

This café at Hackney City Farm uses seasonal produce to create delicious dishes like red snapper spaghetti.

River Cottage Canteen

Trinity Square, Axminster, Devon (01297 631862)

All the food on the daily-changing menu here is locally sourced from the finest fishermen and farms in the south-west.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
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

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick