A week of west London dining

Saturday, September 05th , 2009

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Crabtree is a riverside pub with an extensive garden area, including tables with an attractive view over the Thames.  The English summer being what it was, we were confined to the interior. The food itself was somewhat less appealing than the setting, with a lacklustre vegetable terrine (with different vegetables from those advertised) and merely decent fish and chips, though a mackerel main course was quite good. I have certainly had much worse pub food, but it does not compare with the better West London pubs on this count.
I returned to Madhu’s (pictured), which was jam-packed and turning tables on a Sunday evening. Although in the same family as The Brilliant and serving a similar Punjabi menu, there are a few distinct differences. For some reason the biriani here is better than at its cousin, the rice fragrant and just a little lighter. Also excellent was murgh malai tikka, half a dozen generous pieces of chicken marinated until very tender and then cooked in the tandoor. They also do a particularly good halwa here for dessert. The restaurant business here is dwarfed by the scale of Madhu’s catering arm, who this Saturday did no less than nine Indian weddings, with an average of 600 guests at each wedding. When I asked about the impact of the recession the restaurant manger explained that now they typically “only” get around 600 guests for a wedding, rather than an average nearer 1,000 they were seeing a year ago; I suspect that most London restaurateurs would be grateful for a “reduced” business a fraction this size.
As ever, it was a packed house at E&O, which continues to serve up appealing pan-Asian food, years after Ian Pengelley pioneered the cooking here years ago . Spider crab roll, prawn tempura, crispy pork belly all work well, and chilli chicken was surprisingly good, tender yet spicy. Service was, as ever, surprisingly sensitive and personal given the sheer bustle of the place. The bill always feels just a little more than it should be, yet the consistently good food keeps drawing in customers.
I continue to enjoy the pizzas at my local family-run Italian Tarantella, and judging by the increasingly busy dining room, more people are catching on. Garlic bread here is also good, while the salad is serviceable. This is a cosy little place and the staff (who seem to be mostly family members) exude a genuine sense of welcome.
It is the start of the guide season. Harden’s guide came out this week, and the Good Food Guide appears in the shops on the 8th September. Harden’s, like Zagat, relies on voting from the public rather than independent inspections, so a certain amount of caution is needed when looking at its assessments, though it will clearly be good at reflecting what is popular (Gordon Ramsay not so much). Harden’s reports that William Drabble (formerly of Aubergine) will be moving to the St James Hotel, home of the ill-fated Andaman; the new restaurant will be called Seven Park Place, in the same location as Andaman. With this, the new Heinz Beck venture at the Lanesborough, and the ambitious opening soon of Aqua in Regent Street, optimism seems to be returning to the London dining scene. The blog next week will be a day or so late, but I have some interesting eating in the coming days.