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Notting Hill Brasserie reviewed

Saturday, July 22nd , 2006

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My eating this week ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. I had another excellent meal at the Notting Hill Brasserie, where Mark Jankel’s cooking seems to me to be underrated in some of the guides. He has turned this into a real commercial success through consistently high quality cooking and appealing menus, and I imagine that his next step will be to open his own place. My local La Trompette turned out another nice meal, while my first visit to the generally well-rated Bellamy’s in Mayfair was a let down, with a tendency to overcook the fish the recurring theme of my meal, not a good trait for a fish restaurant. I also had reliable meals at the underrated Thai Bistro in Chiswick and at Rasa Maricham, which is the ideal place to go to after some culture at Sadler’s Wells.

Those who know me are aware that I rarely voluntarily travel far outside the Circle Line to eat, but I was dragged off by my wife to a birthday party at La Talbooth in Essex. Just “Essex” doesn’t not do it justice, as it is beyond Colchester, and a few more miles and we would have ended up in the North Sea. The odd thing is that the setting was exquisite: a riverside terrace, a 16th century house, a weeping willow, all barely less attractive than the Waterside Inn or Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace. But what food did we have in this genuinely beautiful setting? A barbecue. All the clichés were there, with horribly overcooked meat, supermarket salads and people from Essex in Hawaiian shirts (I confess that I did not see any white stilettos, but some of the girls there looked like they were just itching to put some on). Just to complete the picture, in the glorious traditional English setting there was a steel band. The thinking that loud calypso music was an appropriate accompaniment to an old English riverside setting with a barbecue almost beggars belief, but there you have it. It is good for me to venture off the tube network occasionally to remind myself of the true horror that can be English restaurant food once you leave the capital. It is as if the food revolution of the last twenty years in London simply never happened. In the movie “American Werewolf in London” two young American travellers are advised to “stick to the main road, keep off the moor”, and this sort of culinary nightmare reminds me of the equivalent advice “stick to the tube network, keep off the regions”. Of course there are honourable exceptions to this like Winteringham Fields and Gidleigh Park, but it is disturbing just how bad English food can still be.

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