The wizardry of Woz

When no choice is a good choice; Be prepared for the presence of a genial host who looks like a Mexican bandit baptised in peroxide
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Woz, a nickname for Antony Worrall Thompson (henceforth to be known here as AWT), is writ large and bright over a small shopfront at the scruffier, end of North Kensington. His neighbours are Moroccan and Portuguese cafes. It is colonisation, although the previous occupants, a sort of collective of young Notting Hill chefs started it when they opened Tabac on this site a couple of years back.

Does this make Woz a pioneer? AWT certainly has this reputation, from his first Eighties gimmick at Menage a Trois of serving starters and puddings and "no intercourse", through the Nineties when he was responsible for a Mediterranean wave (picking up some menu flotsam on the way) in popular London restaurants like Bistro One Ninety, dell 'Ugo in Soho and Drones in Belgravia. He's left these places behind, but remains an omnipresent television cook with a garish line in trousers.

When you go to Woz it is not a matter of wandering into an anonymous restaurant and wondering idly, if at all, who the chef is. Ringing to book, the drill is explained and, though it is obvious whose restaurant it is - be prepared for the presence of a genial host who looks like a Mexican bandit baptised in peroxide (AWT protege David Massey runs the kitchen) - beyond that there's no knowing what's coming next. For Woz has now latched on to the reasonably revolutionary idea, so far practised only by Sally Clarke, of giving no menu and no choice for dinner. For pounds 22.95 a head there are five courses, limitless mineral water and coffee.

If you're expecting brash from a showman restaurateur, you won't find it further than the fascia. The ground-floor restaurant is small, lightly decorated in driftwood shades and very pretty (downstairs is darker, richly coloured and more heavily upholstered - like another restaurant for another season), and the mood friendly. The arrangement frees the beautiful but not too cool staff from flinging menus around and chivvying the indecisive into ordering, allowing them time to explain what you're about to eat, and help choose wine accordingly.

There's no rush to order or to vacate the table, and, though it's no less a business than any other restaurant where they've calculated the cost of each dish, it gives a better impression of hospitality than most. The only delay came when we wanted to get the bill and go home.

But back to the beginning of a long, leisurely evening. First, olives and bread with olive oil (very old AWT, except you used to have to pay for the bread). Heed this early warning: pace yourself. Then came antipasta in terracotta dishes: shredded chicken with coriander; a glass each of a lovely, bright gazpacho with a sovereign-sized garlicky pastry crouton to nibble, tender chillied squid; small courgette fritters with a rough mush of roast aubergine, and slivers of calf's liver dusted with cumin over sliced red onion. Portions weren't piddling, each hummed with distinctive but not overbearing flavours, but weren't so rich or oily as to be cumulatively uncomfortable.

Next, a pasta course: wonderful ravioli filled with potato and chard, smothered with butter, lemon juice and thyme and freshly grated parmesan.

Lesser women, though not the type I would associate with, might have flagged at this stage. Not us, after we'd willed our appetites to rally for the main course. A whole roast chicken was brought to the table with the explanation that "it will look slightly different when it comes out", before an equivalent model arrived dismembered into a tidy pile. I'm no bird spotter but would guess it was a blackleg chicken which seems to be the breed chefs bother to identify on a menu. It had the flavoursome qualities produced by good breeding, diet and lifestyle, and a deliciously healthy tan, though the flesh was a little tough. Compensation was a bowl of Puy lentils pungently flavoured with funghi porcine and zampone (salty Italian pig's trotter sausage), and a jug of intense chicken juices.

We could have pressed on manfully to a plate of cheese - Pico, with quince jelly - but balked and went straight (after a decent, and essential, interval) to girly pudding: the kind you are determined to eat if it kills you. And, after the amount we'd already eaten, there was no guarantee it wouldn't. Even so, we hardly bothered to transfer the beautiful, slightly lemony, pannacotta, and very sweet pears stewed in honey on to our own plates first.

The system works because the food does; all you lose by having no choice is the risk of picking badly from a verbose menu, and the fun of poking your fork into other people's plates to find out what you're missing. Three of us (the minimum number I'd recommend for Woz - it's not designed for a quick date) separated into the west London night with a far greater sense of shared pleasure than usual

Woz, 46 Golborne Road, London W10 (0181-968 2200). Lunch Tue-Fri, brunch Sat, Sun, dinner Mon-Sat. Average: lunch pounds 15, dinner pounds 22.95 (excluding wine and service)

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