London's Exmouth Market is a street in an area on the up. The long zinc bar, reflected by angled mirrors, serves tapas to locals. The open kitchen at the back has a wood burning stove and charcoal grill. Tables are utilitarian and close together, but the buzz affords privacy for confidential deals. There is pavement dining in the summer.
The prices are affordable, so the clientele is mixed and youngish. Local business people, secretaries, architects and my City banking contacts are equally at home. Stuffy directors, used to conventional French restaurants, may not be.
Arabic and Spanish influences are obvious. Pumpkin puree with pickled anchovies and crisp bread; rice with chicken, saffron, artichokes and oloroso sherry; and Malaga raisin ice cream would be typical fare. The food is tasty and innovative. But more conservative diners will find also familiar dishes available for them.
Valdespino sherries range from Inocente Fino to Solera Superior. Wines range from French vin du pays 1997 at pounds 9.50 to Spanish Alion 1994 for pounds 35. Portuguese Quinto do Crasto 1997 red at pounds 24.25 is my choice.
The owners are Sam Clark and Sam Clarke, now Mr and Mrs Clark, and Mark Sainsbury, who is front of house. The Clarks are River Cafe alumni, passionate about their cooking; and at least one of them is always present.
34-36 Exmouth Market,
Tel: 0171-833 8336.
Open: Monday to Friday.
Seats: 80 plus 20 seats outside.
Book ahead: lunch: one to two days; dinner: one week in advance.
Cost: allow pounds 45/55 pp inc service and VAT for a three-course a la carte meal with half a bottle of mid-priced wine.
Business ambience: 6/10
Wine list: 7/10
Barrie Pearson is executive chairman of Livingstone Guarantee, the UK's oldest independent corporate finance house.