There's been much chatter on Twitter by foodies about restaurant critics in the past couple of weeks. Should they concentrate on new openings or stick to established places? Also, should their verdict be the result of multiple visits rather than one quick meal (often, with new restaurants, when the paint's barely dry on the feature wall)?
I'd be very interested to know what readers think (please tweet me on @lisamarkwell or email me at email@example.com). Do you want to hear about what's new, or what's good and might have been forgotten or lost in the melee of haute burger joints?
This week, a rare instance of a new restaurant that feels old, which I visited twice before scoring. Parlour is an all-day restaurant/bar/café that should bring some happiness to the residents of north-west London, where there are plenty of middling (age, income) people puzzlingly underserved for restaurants.
There's a brilliant newish pizza place in Kensal Rise, Sacro Cuore, and a couple of gastropubs, but somewhere to take the family and settle in for a few hours? Not likely. And, slightly dispiritingly, a Nando's just opened round the corner.
So Parlour has the audience and it has the licensing hours (Saturdays 8am-2am should cover everyone's needs). But it's tucked away down a road to nowhere and rubbing shoulders with the better-known, more visible Paradise. Happily it has one very good selling point: it's operated by the same team behind the excellent Mall Tavern up at Notting Hill, and shares the pull-up-a-chair warmth of that pub. It is, however, as owner Jesse Dunford Wood puts it, not a pub or a restaurant. It is "an all-day and late-night serving parlour". Hence the name.
It's actually two rooms – one more bar-like, the other banquettes, wood panelling and refectory chairs for dining. On my late Friday-night visit, the bar is buzzing and several gaggles of diners look happily settled next door. It feels established, convivial. Our chatty Italian waiter rustles up a pint for Mr M from a very good "beeropedia" (10 on tap, and a further 14 bottled, from Hackney to Hawaii) and for me, a Wife Beet-er from an inventive cocktail list. This monstrously named drink is a concoction of gin, beetroot juice, lemon, port and maple syrup. A sort of Bloody Mary for earthy types – only the name leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Rename it, please. How about "Beets Working"?
Meanwhile, the menu. There's pâtés & pickles, cow pie, fishcake, ham with parsley potatoes and liquor, macaroni cheese. Over two visits (the second with my niece, her toddler and my daughter –the latter two demolish the scaled-down kids' menu), I eat all the above. And after a spate of cool, clever tasting menus, this is as welcoming as an open-log fire.
Those on restrictive January regimens should look away now: a hunk of smoky gammon, a thick cake of herb-spiked salmon and potato, a heap of bubbling, burnished mac'n'cheese and, best of all, a vast meltingly soft beef pie with a bone-marrow chimney, all dark-brown pastry and juices escaping at the edges. These are crowd-pleasers, just right for a neighbourhood place. Oh, and there's smoked mash on the side just in case your cholesterol level is still languishing in single figures.
The delicious array of pâtés and pickles – chicken liver, mushroom and chestnut, smoked fish, and ribbons of just-soused heritage carrots, gherkins – with some good soda bread and a pitcher of wine has my name on it for a repeat visit for a New Year's catch-up with my local girlfriends.
At the end of my second visit – when I feel I really must lay off the carbs just a little – I'm advised to try the toasted marshmallow "wagon wheel". Oh… go on then. Two huge biscuits drenched in chocolate arrive, one covered in marshmallows. The chef brandishes a blowtorch (to the kids' delight), char-melts the sweets and instructs us to wodge the sides together. We end up with chocolate-and-fluff Joker smiles.
If I'd been the one to breathe new life into this tired old pub, I'd put thick velvet curtains round the door and at the windows – the dining-room can feel a little chilly away from the fire. And I'd lose the "chucklesome" puns and punctuation on the menu. Parlour doesn't need trends and tricks: at its best, it already feels like coming home.
SCORES 1-3 STAY AT HOME AND COOK 4 NEEDS HELP 5 DOES THE JOB 6 FLASHES OF PROMISE 7 GOOD 8 CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK 9-10 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Parlour 5 Regent Street, London NW10, tel: 020 8969 2184 Lunch and dinner daily. £60 for two, including drinks
More family affairs
The Brown Dog
28 Cross Street, London SW13, tel: 020 8392 2200
In Barnes's super-cute Little Chelsea, this charming pub offers simple, reliably good food, extending a warm welcome to adults, children and dogs alike; the outside tables are lovely
The Cricket Inn
Penny Lane, Totley, Sheffield, tel: 0114 236 5256
Superb pub grub at this great local next to the cricket ground makes a relaxed destination for all the family
The Beach Bistro
Gallivant Hotel, New Lydd Road, Camber, Rye, East Sussex, tel: 01797 225 057
This New England-style hotel, by Camber Beach, is a friendly destination, well suited to those with kids in tow; fresh fish is a feature, and they treat it well