Since the 1989 opening of the Quality Chop House the scruffy Clerkenwell- City borders now house a selection of affordable, easy-going restaurants that shame London's posher districts.
Charles Fontaine, a stocky French Savoyard, worked in any number of London restaurants, most notably the Caprice, before opening The Quality Chop House, 94 Farringdon Road, London EC1 (0171-837 5093). He bought the kitchen copper on his credit card while juggling payments on the restoration of this tiny caff, originally built more than a century ago for the workers on the Farringdon railway. The restoration is sensitive: the original settles have a soft burnished glow, which is just as well, for they are rather hard. The lighting is romantic and flattering, and the ceiling fan (imported from the States) matches the period. Fontaine could have made the Chop House a snob joint but he is too much of a steak-and-potatoes type: make that T-bone and crispy chips. The duck confit here is superb and there was a small riot recently when ox tongue with capers went off the menu. The Eggs Benny is a Sunday brunch delight, and there are always good ales and spritely French country wines. My favourite restaurant (though, please don't write, by no means perfect). Average spend pounds 15-pounds 20. Open lunch Mon-Fri 12-3pm, and for Suday brunch 12-4pm; open nightly for dinner from 6.30pm. Cash and cheques only.
If Fontaine is not in his place, chances are he will be across the street in The Eagle,159 Farringdon Road, EC1 (0171-837 1353). And so will half of Clerkenwell. Some pubs manage to tame the pleasures of boozing and eating when they decide to serve food. The owners of the Eagle had the nous to turn cooking into a sort of performance art, so much of the bar has been converted into an open kitchen producing mainly rough but good, Iberian-influenced grills. The smell of onions frying mingles with cigarette smoke and old-beer fumes. Those who eat jostle for space with those who drink. The upshot is electric, singular and requires a certain stamina from the customer. House swally includes the good, rough red Salice Salentino. Approx pounds 12-pounds 15 to eat and drink enough for a hangover. Open 12-11pm Mon- Fri, food served 12.30-2.30pm and 6.30-10.30pm.
The structure of No 55 Britton Street, EC1, dates from 1705, the front from about 1782, the ground floor shop cafe from last January. It is The Jerusalem Coffee House (0171-490 4281), a tiny cafe-cum-restaurant serving coffees, tarts and stodgy but honest lunches. The restoration, by a young Anglo-Irishman named Julian Humphries, is so low-key that the place is openly ancient, down to the warped panelling. New aspects, such as the beautiful Delft-blue and white tile work, stay in tone. It is worth noting that these tiles are by the late local artist Simon Petit, who died two years ago from Aids. Open 8am-11pm Mon-Fri. Lunches pounds 5-pounds 8. Licensed. Cash and cheques only.
There are no nut-bakes, no stodgy bread, no stripped-pine park benches, no chipped stoneware, yet Carnevale, 135 Whitecross Street, EC1 (0171- 250 3452) is a vegetarian restaurant. Sandwiches and Neal's Yard cheeses are sold from the front. To the rear there is a small dining room and tiny garden, where one might find seasonal risottos, spicy chickpea salads, good quiches and so on. There is a short wine list and fresh lemonade. The olives are superb, coffees good. Two courses pounds 8.50, three pounds 10.50. Open 10am-10.30pm Mon-Fri. Cash and cheques only.
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