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202 Westbourne Grove, London W11 Tel 020 7727 2722
Open Sun 11am-5pm Mon 10am-6pm Tues-Sat 9.30am-7pm
Getting a table at Westbourne Grove's most fashionable new cafe can cost you anything up to £4,000. But at least you can take it home with you.
There are clothes racks and vases and little Parisian tables and bentwood chairs and fake fur throws for sale as well. 202 is a new concept store from Nicole Farhi, ranging over two light-filled floors in what used to be a pub.
Open for breakfast and brunch only ( so New York), it's perfect for pst-Portobello Road recovery. 202's smoked haddock fish cake is a beauty, and they serve some of the best salads in town - made of fresh, crisp, green leaves and bouncy pink tiger prawns or grilled chicken in bright, zippy vinaigrettes. Strollers circle the tables like pioneering wagon trains, and the Italian boys behind the bar have fun with the girls on the floor. The coffee could be better: a caffe latte is mellow and smooth, so its not the bean or the roast at fault, but a cappuccino is coarse and thin-tasting, so I suspect the barista. There are lemon and poppyseed muffins and American-style over-sized cookies, but I need them as much as I need a collection of antique walking sticks, also on sale for £1500.
It's too fashionable for words but I still love this place, probably because it reminds me a little of the best cafe in the universe, Bill Granger's fresh and simple bill's cafe in Sydney. 202 is already London's most zeitgeisty cafe, because it's filled with light, serves up fabulous salads and fun things like lobster rolls with shoestring fries, and it knows how to be a cafe and not a restaurant. Even if it is a fashion and homewares store as well.
Books For Cooks Cafe
4 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 Tel 7221 1517
Since last year's revamp, the test kitchen and cafe of this much-loved Notting Hill bookshop is lighter, brighter and even more aromatic. The food - cooked from the pages of the books sold in the shop - is simple, hearty and well-cooked, ranging from rustic soup to well-composed salads. If you like your lunch, you can then take it home in book form and do it yourself.
Racine, 239 Brompton Road, London SW3. Tel 020 7584 4477
Lunch daily from noon Dinner daily from 6pm
Racine gets the bistro thing right on many counts -- the French waiters, the buzz, the steak frites, the sense you get in a French bistro that things have always and will always be like this. It's a good crowd, quite Francophile, a terrifically friendly menu of bistro classics, and, mon dieu, affordable prices. Chef Henry Harris who made his name at Harvey Nichol's Fifth Floor restaurant is doing what he does best - rustic, robust French cooking without pretensions and price tags, and the beautifully dressed French floor staff keep true to the detail.
The Oak 137 Westbourne Park Road, London W2 Tel 020 7221 3355.
My New Favourite Pub is The Oak in Westbourne Park Road, which runs off Portobello Road. A real upstairs-downstairs find, with terrific pizzas and salad greens in the bare wooden-tabled room downstairs, and sympathetically, sweetly, elegantly cooked modern London food ( a little bit Spanish, a little bit French, a little bit Italian) in an elegantly minimalist dining room upstairs, under two fairytale chandeliers. The produce is superb - greens and fruits from Gregg Wallace and Secretts Home Farm in Surrey, and good value, especially downstairs. Zarzuela of salt cod, chickpeas, clams and chorizo, grilled line-caught sea bass, mussels, peas and girolles, confit belly of pork, soft polenta and young carrots. Can't book downstairs ( so go early), must book upstairs. Lovely.
Royal China, 13 Queensway, Bayswater W2 Tel:7221 2535.239
Being Australian, I am addicted to yum cha ( known, incorrectly, as dim sum in London - yum cha being the event, and dim sum being the food). The best is the Royal China in Queensway, Bayswater, just near the Queensway tube on the Central line, in spite of having to order your dim sum from a menu rather than from trolleys. But don't even think about it on Saturday or Sunday, sadly, because you just can't get in for the crowds. Royal China is also good for a classic Cantonese dinner at night, as is the Mandarin Seafood restaurant opposite, for more of a seafood hit.
Westbourne Grove has a few good Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan etc restaurants that are good for meeting up with friends. My favourite is a terrific Lebanese restaurant called Al Waha where you can cover the table with fabulous dips and grills and breads and raw vegetables. (The wine is a bit dodgy, but).
Also good: a modern Bangladeshi restaurant called Ginger with the cleanest front windows in all of London ( always the sign of a good restaurant).
Al Waha, 75 Westbourne Grove, London W1. Phone 020 7229 0806
Ginger, 115 Westbourne Grove, London W2 Tel 020 7908 1990
Tartine, 114 Draycott Avenue, London SW3 Tel 020 7589 4981
Around £50 for two including wine and service
Tartine specialises in tartines, naturally enough, which are French open sandwiches, nothing more than simple toppings on lightly grilled bread. Sounds easy, but it's the sort of thing that could easily turn out to be either dire or dreary. Here, they use Poilane bread, and design the sandwiches so beautifully it's almost a shame to eat them. The combinations are terrific ( Serrano ham, manchego cheese, rocket and membrillo quince jam, or grilled sardine fillets with tomato salsa and aioli), the prices reasonable, and the scene fun. And it is so nice to see a wine list that stops at £38.50, instead of starting at it. The wines themselves are appropriate, fruit-driven, youthful and elegantly served. Tartine is stream-lined, fast, clever, simple and chic and one of the few places in South Ken to sell you something decent for less than ten quid.
191 Portobello Road, London W11 Tel 020 7908 9696
Open 8am-midnight Mon-Sat; 10am-11pm Sun
Around £85 for two including wine and service
The Electric Brasserie has been a scene since it opened in 2002, with all sorts of people spilling out onto the pavement next to the Electric Cinema, which has been renovated/restored by the same owners at astronomical cost to look as ugly as it did when it was first built. As a social exercise, a quick eat-and-run meal in the front bar or a glammed-up dinner under the chandelier in the dining room is the equivalent of the snazzy E & O around the corner, but as a culinary exercise it's hit and miss. So it's got the crowd, and it's got the detail: wooden platters, huge table napkins, good speakers (meaningless music), decent wine glasses, tiled floors and waiters who smile.
The Electric Brasserie is apparently inspired by Keith McNally's Balthazar in New York, which, come to think of it, left me feeling exactly the same way: that the menu was exciting, the place was great, the food was boring, and thank heavens for decent bread.
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