Restaurants: Bites: Thai, gastropubs, Italian, Indian. North of Soho you're spoilt for choice
Saturday 24 April 1999
Malabar Junction, 107 Great Russell Street, London WC1 (0171-580 5230). Daily lunch and dinner. Indian cooking of higher-than-usual calibre concentrates on Kerala, the south-western province that's becoming the new Goa. Seafood is a speciality, and subtle but persuasive and distinctive spicing plus cooling coconut distinguishes dishes here. The restaurant is spacious and comfortable with well-spaced tables, cane chairs and a glass roof giving natural light. And with Cobra to drink there's no sting in the tail when the bill comes: pounds 15 to pounds 20 a head.
The Mortimer, 37-40 Berners Street, W1 (0171-436 0451). Mon-Sat lunch and dinner. This new bar and restaurant, on the ground floor of an office block, has an interior that could pass as a gutted pub - but for the expanse of windows. The food and drink format is gastropub too, with an unusually good range of wines chalked up, as well as Adnams ale on the bar. You order and pay there; food is brought to your table, and cooking has a very high strike rate. Duck livers on pureed Jerusalem artichoke with crunchy runner beans on top was a truly, unexpectedly great starter portion that could just as well satisfy as a main course; lamb shank on mashed roots couldn't be bettered; skate on potato salad was deliberately cooked crisp and none the worse for it. If you book a table they seem surprised. Since it's right opposite the Middlesex Hospital, customer catchment must be heavily medical, so how come there are so many smokers?
Museum Street Cafe, 47 Museum Street, London WC2 (0171-405 3211). Mon- Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 9am-6pm. Too good to leave for lost tourists to find, this pleasant and plain daytime cafe, a marble's throw from the British Museum, serves simply good food, pure, but not puritan, although it's all vegetarian and smoking is not allowed. Open from breakfast to tea, they're big on baking, and make much of their Earl Grey fruitcake which can be bought whole in a tin or delivered abroad. But the dark, devilishly rich Valrhona chocolate cake is a wickeder alternative. Lunches of, say, roast red pepper soup with saffron mayonnaise, and leek and goat's cheese tart come to around pounds 12.
Noho, 32 Charlotte Street, London W1 (0171-636 4445). Lunch and dinner daily. Everything's up to speed at this fast-track Oriental diner, which takes its name from the re-christened area north of Oxford Street from Soho (shouldn't it be Noxo?). Looks good thanks to the Softroom design consultancy, with shafts of light in the streamlined refectory of Formica- topped tables, beige against the white walls. Food's not bad, either. Dishes whiz round the East at a lip-smacking lick, taking in Thai vegetable green curry, udon noodle soup and superior versions of other soup-shop stalwarts with serviceable starters too. Around pounds 12 a head.
Silks & Spice, 23 Foley Street, London W1 (0171-636 2718). Mon-Fri lunch and dinner, Sat, Sun dinner. The first of a growing group of restaurants to offer a combination of Thai and Malaysian food. Silks & Spice is popular with a loyal crowd for consistency, decent prices and on-the-button service. Try the curries - Thai green or dark Malaysian - or, if time is especially pressing, pounds 5 or so dishes with rice or noodles on the Oriental Express list which arrive double quick. A full meal will be about pounds 15. Not plush; it's painted a parchmenty shade with appropriate artefacts. Caroline Stacey
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