Just yards from the restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made history lies another, more modest, eating place

Tartuf 88 Upper Street London, N1 ONP tel: 020 7288 0954

Tartuf 88 Upper Street London, N1 ONP tel: 020 7288 0954

Remember that fateful dinner in Islington on 31 May 1994? No? Oh, come on. There was a Bulgarian salad of roasted red pepper on the menu that night, as well as seared yellowfin tuna, and pan-roasted barbary duck with an aubergine compote, grilled pak choi, ginger soy, coriander and green onion dipping sauce.

Still clueless? What if I say that the next six years for each and every one of us was shaped over that very meal? What if I say that it was at Granita, on Upper Street?

Well done. The great Blair-Brown summit. The night the PM and Chancellor, then mere shadow-cabinet journeyman, locked horns over a bed of wilted spinach, eyeball to hungry eyeball, and waited until one of them blinked.

And Gordon was the one who blinked. And he stood down. And the next morning we knew what the future would look like. Islingtonperson was born. New Labour was given its leader, its postcode, and - by dint of that meal - its image: media, trendy, new money, Europhile, sun-dried tomatoes.

It was the dawn of a New Age, one which was to be fed and cosseted and plumped for the kill by the man who that night accepted Number 11 as his glass ceiling. Did he know, then, that he would keep a lid on interest rates at all costs, and hang the risk of a too-strong pound? Did he envisage a boom as big as this one, which would see plush restaurants like Granita become two-a-penny on the high streets of Britain? Did he see how the boom would be fuelled by the e-revolution, how national wealth would swell to undreamed-of fatness on the back of hypothetical valuations of businesses nobody really understood?

And has he foreseen the bust? For allow me to use the Upper Street restaurant scene as a socio-economic yardstick once again, and point out that when it all goes arse-over-tit, we are going to be eating not in Granita, but in Tartuf, a few doors down, on the same side. A meal with wine for less than a tenner a head is going to be a much-prized thing in the days after the bubble bursts.

The look is simple and cottagey with broad hardwood floorboards, checked cushions, bench-seating along a bow-window, artworks consisting of hay collages and "potteries trouvés", and lampshades made from cheese graters.

The menus are written on chopping boards, as are the daily specials on the wall, and the staff wear chef's aprons. All of which contributes to a feeling of being, oneself, involved in the bustle of the kitchen.

This is no pan-Oceanic-cum-SinoCalifornian purveyor of wok-flipped koala steak with banyan puree and a thrice-reduced jus of moon cactus. Oh no. No DKNY V-necks on the waiters, no Starck spotlights illuminating the latest interior-design quip from Emily Todhunter.

The concept (to use a very Nineties boom word) is Alsatian. More specifically, the tartes flambées of the region. These, indeed, are the "tartufs" from which the place gets its name. (Thankfully, it has nothing to do with the dreary play of the same name by Moliÿre - a man whose oeuvre is living proof that the national skills of play writing and cooking are mutually exclusive.)

The tartes are wafer-slim dough bases, somewhere between matzos and thin crust pizza, baked in a rectangle and topped with fromage blanc. Traditional toppings involve permutations of lardons, onion, mushroom, emmental, and garlic, and Tartuf also offers specials topped with such things as goat's cheese, chorizo, Munster, spinach and chicken.

Each tarte, about the size of an Asterix book, arrives on a wooden chopping board and is eighted (the eight-piece equivalent of quartered, in case you were wondering) at your table by a man with a pizza knife. What Alsatians do, I gather, is to roll them up and biff them down with a slug of something out of a rutscherle, which is a tiny traditional glass and the only type available at Tartuf. They have plenty of Alsatian beers and the house white is perfectly suited to the food - though it would take an awful lot of rutscherle-fuls to get truly loaded.

The value is immense. A set lunch at £4.90 a head will give you two eight-piece savoury tartes. Each one can be divided into two sections, topping-wise, (which shows a versatility Pizza Express would never allow) so that you share the first, then order the second. The food is at its best straight from the oven, and is cooked so fast that you just order as you go.

Pudding, as tradition dictates, is yet another tarte, on which the fromage blanc is sweetened, and you have chocolate and bananas and plums and stuff instead of ham and cheese.

Now, they make the lads big in Alsace. A combination of French foodiness, Germanic heartiness, and Swiss tendency to eat a lot because there's nothing else to do, has made the Alsatian a giant amongst men. And so I decided to play ball and, after my set lunch, which, at seven quid including a nice glass of wine was more than enough food, I had a sauerkraut as well. But only for research purposes, as you don't find it much in London.

As I expected, it was very generous: heaps of cabbage, three kinds of cured pork - salt, smoked, and the classic kasser - and two kinds of sausage. With strong mustard and lashings of nose-blasting home-made horseradish it all made for a fantastic Alsatian sensation.

When the dot.com bubble bursts, you lose your job, your mortgage rockets, house prices plummet and you spiral into negative equity - all because of that dinner in Islington six years ago - take solace, and shelter in Tartuf.

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