Marco Pierre White's new venture is a great boost to hotel fare (but it isn't very pretty what a towel without pity can do)

I suppose I should be grateful to what was the Trust House Forte organisation. After all, they offered me my first paid employment, as a part-time chambermaid in the local Posthouse; (the wage was something like 30p an hour, as I recall). In that job, I glimpsed things that no 15-year-old girl should ever have to see, including a three-in-a-bed sex romp, a naked old man stuck on the loo, and the contents of Gene Pitney's wash bag.

I suppose I should be grateful to what was the Trust House Forte organisation. After all, they offered me my first paid employment, as a part-time chambermaid in the local Posthouse; (the wage was something like 30p an hour, as I recall). In that job, I glimpsed things that no 15-year-old girl should ever have to see, including a three-in-a-bed sex romp, a naked old man stuck on the loo, and the contents of Gene Pitney's wash bag.

One legacy of those days as a chambermaid is that I've never since used the tea and coffee-making facilities in a hotel room (back then it was accepted practice to wipe the crockery dry with the discarded towels of outgoing guests). On the plus side, my family didn't have to buy any soap for years, thanks to the endless supply of little pink bars that mysteriously kept disappearing from my trolley. If only I'd stolen the uniform too; that orange and brown nylon shift could have come straight from Prada.

My trip last week to the Hampstead Posthouse represented my first professional encounter with the hotel group since hanging up my uniform. I'm happy to report that they've come a long way and so have I - now I only pocket toiletries when I'm paying for the room.

Now part of Granada Compass, they've just launched several new initiatives to update their hotel dining facilities, the most high-profile being a link-up with Marco Pierre White to create a chain of contemporary brasseries, the first of which opened in Hampstead last week.

It's the first move Marco's made public since he renounced his Michelin stars and retired from the kitchen. He has installed a chef from within his empire, Tony Joseph, in the kitchen, and employed the ubiquitous designer David Collins to transform what used to be a notoriously dingy and run-down dive.

On the first Friday night after opening, MPW Brasserie had a buzz and bustle previously unknown on Haverstock Hill, where the restaurant scene is dominated by casual-dining pizza and pasta chains. Out front, there's a see-and-be-seen open-air terrace, featuring cedar decking and bay trees threaded with twinkling fairy lights. Only the view across the road into the windows of Kentucky Fried Chicken spoils the magical atmosphere.

Inside, the room is buffed to a glitzy Manhattan sheen, with shiny red banquettes, dark wood-veneered walls and lots of highly polished chrome and wood. Tables are bare, but such fittings as there are look expensive, including chunky silver salt and pepper pots which reawakened the sneak thief in me.

The crowd was the usual Hampstead mix - a few young things, some Americans, several people talking on mobile phones while their companions chewed silently. There was even a couple of celebs - Crimewatch's Nick Ross (surely it's far too late for them to do anything about those stolen soap bars...) and a genuine north London legend, DJ Nicky Horne, host of the long-running rock show Your Mother Wouldn't Like It.

Actually, I think my mother rather would like MPW. There's certainly nothing intimidating about the menu, which is constructed to please and reassure rather than to excite or intrigue. It's even simpler than the menu Marco created for Titanic, and certainly nothing like the fancified fare offered at the previous incarnation of MPW Brasserie, the short-lived branch in Canary Wharf.

"It's all a bit what you'd expect," said my partner, scanning the list of brasserie faves and Modern British classics. Usual suspect salads - Nicoise, Caesar and frisée - line up alongside French onion soup and escargots (which I didn't fancy, as it was a rainy night and we'd crunched a few underfoot on the walk over). Main courses include salmon fishcakes and grilled calf's liver, as well as resurrecting a joke from Titanic, by calling the hamburger "steak hache à la McDonald's" - presumably in ignorance of the furious local opposition which erupted when McDonald's planned to open a branch just up the road in Hampstead High Street. Prices, fair for the area at around £7 for starters, £11 for mains, are unlikely to provoke a similar riot.

Harry began with an endive, Roquefort and walnut salad, which was fresh and well-furnished with cheese. "It's like the Ronseal ad - it does exactly what it says on the tin," was his verdict. My gnocchi provençale was much better than expected, the pan-fried gnocchi really freshly cooked and served with sun-dried tomatoes and chunky wild mushrooms in a golden pool of herby olive-oil.

My main course of fish and chips was also outstanding, the cod lightly cooked and falling into big milky flakes, its batter light and crisp. Chip-shop size chips (rather than the behemoths served in Titanic) came arranged in a Jenga-style grid, and mushy peas were intense without being over-sweet.

Harry's roast chicken was described on the menu as "properly garnished"; (presumably an improperly garnished bird would be dressed up in stockings and suspenders). This turned out to mean a few oily and non-crisp roast potatoes, a chipolata protruding from a bacon blanket, and a pot of runny, clove-infused bread sauce. The chicken itself was flavoursome enough, but on the cool side, and red-wine gravy tasted too souped-up for a traditional chicken dinner. Harry summarised our main courses as "perfect basic food", though actually mine was a lot more perfect and basic than his.

Service was accomplished, with a professional snap and bustle from a well-drilled team of waiters and busboys (the group has obviously tightened up its hiring policy), creating a sense of occasion that you don't often get in restaurants outside the West End.

In fact, when you're in MPW Brasserie it's very easy to forget altogether that you're in a Posthouse. Until, that is, you go through to the loos, and find yourself passing into the hotel proper. The reception has been trendily refurbished in pale woods and op-art patterns, but the facelift stops at the staircase up to the rooms, where designer chic gives way to dismal carpeting and tatty magnolia paintwork.

The effect is a bit like Crossroads Motel, which used to boast a glamorous reception area and posh restaurant, where temperamental head chef Shughie McFee slaved to create elaborate dishes like his famous "game bird jumbo". But the sleeping quarters were miserable chalets; after gorgeous dinners, the guests would collect their keys and trudge off to spend the night in battery-hen style accommodation.

Still, Crossroads is being brought back by ITV. Now with MPW's help there's no reason the Hampstead Posthouse shouldn't establish itself as the most fashionable stop-off this side of King's Oak.

MPW Brasserie, Forte Posthouse, Haverstock Hill, London NW3 (020-7435 6080) Mon-Sat 9.30am-10.30pm, Sun 9.30am-3.30pm, 7-10.30pm. All cards accepted. Disabled access

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