And yet here - looking as if it's been airdropped in from Soho or Covent Garden - is Dylan's, which is chic, with its sage-green and plum frontage, clean, uncluttered dining rooms and modish patches of floral wallpaper. It looks like the cover of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and when restaurants look like the year's arty beach read, you know they've been pretty freshly turned out. There is an explanation. The décor in the Sweet Cherry and Tandoori Nights harks back to a homeland left behind, and in a different way, so does that of Dylan's, which is run by a team who emigrated here from One Aldwych, the hotel just off the Strand. They've made a new life in Zone Five but a bit of their hearts will always belong to Zone One.
There's a lot to like about Dylan's and on the night we went a lot of people were there liking it. It has the buzz of a place that people are glad to be in - a vibration of contentment that bounces back off the efficient front of house staff. All the same, I left a little disappointed.
What works is simple; the décor is crisp and attractive (though the Tardis effect of stepping directly from 1930s Metroland into 21st-century cool may amplify its virtues a little) and the eclectic menu falls on just the right side of the familiarity watershed - not dull, but reassuring. They even have a decent children's menu, offering smaller portions of the more child-friendly elements on the grown-up version, rather than chicken-slurry extrusions and freezer pizza.
Unfortunately not all the details are quite pinned down. Take for example my starter of organic smoked salmon with parsnip waffles and horseradish cream (£6.40) - a thoughtful twist on a standard blini, but let down by a flabby, slightly greasy waffle. And though the horseradish cream was delicious it was applied to the plate like filigree, there wasn't nearly enough of it to keep step with the generous turban of smoked salmon. My wife's seared scallops (£8.90) were perfectly cooked and the celeriac purée they sat on was an effective cushion for the flavour - but the beetroot crisp had relaxed at some point into a beetroot flap. True, my son's chicken caesar salad disappeared with great speed, but then he's about as discerning a gourmet as a garden-shredder. A Thai-style beef salad (£6.80) came with ribbons of nicely seared meat but had substituted radicchio and sweet pepper for the more conventional slivers of cucumber and spring onion and carrot, an alteration that didn't notably improve the dish.
Main courses were mixed too. A fillet of beef (£15.90) and a child's steak were fine - good meat, properly cooked - and the open ravioli of wild mushrooms and Jerusalem artichoke sauce (£12.50) had the right bosky richness to it. But my cod with smoked haddock and vegetable chowder (£13) was curiously bland, as if the cream overpowered the smoked fish entirely, and my wife's risotto of roast shallot and thyme was (I regret there is no other word) claggy.
Desserts were more consistent. Five spoons made short work of Malteser parfait with raspberry sorbet, crème brûlée with fresh raspberries and an unusually light sticky toffee pudding with banana ice-cream (all at £4.90). Which means we all leave in a good mood except me - fretting over how close Dylan's gets to being a great local restaurant and whether I can justify pretending that it's already there.
Dylan's, 21 Station Parade, Cockfosters Road, Barnet, Hertfordshire, 020-8275 1551
Three courses, without wine, £25-£30
SIDE ORDERS: SUBURBAN STARS
By Caroline Stacey
Lamb navarin with pea and bean fricassee - great Welsh meat and top French technique in Cardiff's chicest quartier. Not just a neighbourhood restaurant but one of the city's best.
8-10 Romilly Cres, Canton, Cardiff (029 2034 1264)
Innovative cooking of the highest order has given star status to this airy Victorian villa. A typical starter: goat's cheese, beet sorbet, watercress purée and beetroot crisps.
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The Lime Tree
With roast loin of lamb and sticky toffee pudding plus seasonal dishes, who needs faddish foods? The evergreen Lime Tree is loved for quality and consistency.
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What's not to like? Unthreateningly chic and with nicely behaved and priced dishes like ham hock terrine with pea panna cotta, this presses all the right buttons for Leeds' city-centre avoiders. 62 Street Lane,
Roundhay, Leeds (0113-288 8063)
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