BARNES: The scriptwriters, thesps and variously cultured suburbanites populating this leafy suburb have a suitably couth local in Sonny's, 94 Church Road, SW13 (081-748 0393).

That the food and service is top notch owes to the recession. Pippa and Redmond Hayward, manager and chef, went bust with a Michelin-starred restaurant in Cheltenham and are now the among the most knowledgeable (and able) staff in any London restaurant. Their food is modish, but good, particularly the fish cookery. One can drink a little or a lot: most wines on the short, modern list is available by the glass.

Next door, a deli sells various goodies,including extravagantly packaged Cipriani pasta from the Harry's Bar people in Venice. Two course set-meal pounds 12.75; blow out meals approx pounds 30; cafe lunches approx pounds 7. Mon-Fri.

COVENT GARDEN: Ask who owns Palais du Jardin, 136 Long Acre, WC2 (071-379 5353) and a manager will cheerfully answer: 'Investment capital.' Mr Capital is a pro, and, according to the manager, is Middle Eastern with French leanings. This establishment - part oyster bar, part brasserie, part tea room - is spanking clean.

Food (such as goat's cheese salad with good little croutons and Coquilles St Jacques) tends to be correct. Prices (from pounds 10-pounds 30 per person) are reasonable. Piped music palls. None of this would elicit special praise if it were not located in Covent Garden, where caterers find it is almost de rigueur to be a theme pub and/or overpriced. Open 10am-12midnight Mon-Sat, to 11pm Sun.

CROUCH END: Banner's, 21 Park Road, N8 (081-292 0001) is a cafe-restaurant that knows how to crib what it likes, but remain true to itself. There is a lot to thank the States for - all-day breakfasts (pounds 5), great taped music, Louisiana Hot Sauce ('one drop does it'), pecan pie and Jack Daniels. But its Budweiser is Czech (and better for it).

There are Russian wines, Cuban rums, Manx kippers and Creole cooking. The drink is better than the food, but to have the first, you must have some of the second. Snacks from pounds 1.50; light meals from pounds 5-pounds 15. Open 10am-11.30pm Mon-Sat, to 11pm Sun. Visa, Access.

FULHAM & KINGSTON: The best bistro cooking in England comes not from a Frenchman, but two ardent Francophiles from East Anglia: identical twins Max and Marc Renzland. They lapse into bogus French accents as they run shifts in their twin restaurants, Chez Max 168 Ifield Road, SW10 (071-835 0874) and Le Petit Max, 97a High Street, Hampton Wick, Kingston (081-977 0236). The Fulham place is creaky new: builders are still about.

The Kingston place is not so much a restaurant as a quick-change act: dinners and Sunday lunches are served on a strict time-share arrangement with a local cafe called Bonzos. Dishes might include cold poached salmon with sauce verte, roast leg of rabbit with fresh girolles and puy lentils in mustard cream. Cooking superb. Set 3-course meals pounds 19.50. BYOB. pounds 2 corkage in Kingston, pounds 3.50 in Fulham.

SHEPHERD'S BUSH: The locals are becoming peevish that they cannot get tables at the Brackenbury, 129-131 Brackenbury Road, W6 (081-748 0107). The Brackenbury, opened three years ago by Adam and Kate Robinson (proteges of Alastair Little) is rightly popular - and absurdly cheap. Perfectly cooked peppered steak with salad and fat delicious chips might cost pounds 6.50; a full meal with a half bottle of new world wine, coffee, service and VAT might cost as little as pounds 21. Fish is first class, say, seared tuna in Oriental spices, or a haricot bean salad with mussels, or roasted lemon sole with spinach and mash. Good pates might be accompanied by toast made from Poilane bread shipped from Paris. The room is pretty: dusty pink walls, bistro chairs, plain tables. Kate Robinson runs the dining room with efficiency and cheer. All this excellence is exhausting and the Robinsons have to rest occasionally. Standards can slip when they do. Open Tue-Fri and Sun lunch, Mon-Sat dinner. Access, Amex, Visa, Diner's.

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