Campania Gastronomia, Ezra Street, London E2.

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The setting is idyllic. Even for hip and trendy Hoxton, this place has style. Ezra street is a small cobbled lane off Columbia Road. The restaurant itself is set in a Victorian terrace, it appears to have been converted from a shop or a terraced house. You will need to have your wits about you when looking for it, as the shop says S. Jones over the door and the name, Campania, is just written on the window.

The interior is decorated in washed plain wood, the crockery is old fashioned but pretty. It is mismatched, like the tables and chairs. It has a 1940s or 50s feel inside. The yard of the house has been covered over and holds a large benched table that seats about ten, this would be a good place to bring a big group. There are also seats outside on the street.

We found the service to be very good, our waitress explained the menu beautifully. The menu is short, but everything does feel home made. Our shared platter to start was lovely, it contained something for everyone. The pasta was made on the premises and it was nice, the risotto was good too. This being in the more fashionable part of town, the prices are at the top end of the price spectrum, without being excessive. The house rose wine, was not cheap, but it was delicious.

It was very busy, Luckily we had booked, as it is quite small, maybe 36 covers, and they appeared to be turning people away all evening. If you are planning to go for lunch or brunch, after visiting the flower market, on a Sunday, you will certainly need to reserve your table. The passageway down the side of the restaurant is pretty, with an old fashioned wooden sash window and a Victorian looking street lamp in a narrow, brick lined, cobbled street. It is very photogenic. If you are going out with visitors to London, this would be a charming, quirky place to take them.

We enjoyed our evening and would definitely return.

The Devonshire, Balham High Road, Balham, London

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There are very many pubs in Balham and the competition is fierce. The Devonshire has many things going for it. It is huge, so it is very good if there is a big group of you who wish to meet up. It has a large back garden with cabanas which are nice in summer when it does barbeques. It is an old Victorian looking pub that hasn’t been messed around with much, so it still has a quaint old English pub type vibe going on, despite its size, this makes it a good place to bring visitors to the UK, for a typically British, Pub Sunday Roast.

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We have eaten here a number of times, both for Sunday lunch and in the evening when it also does food,  and it has always been pretty good, not cheap but reliable. We met with a group of friends, 10 of us, for Sunday lunch. The food was okay but the service was dreadful. Our waitress told us that we should use her for table service rather than go to the bar for our drinks. We promptly ordered and then watched them sit on the bar for 15 minutes until we went and got them ourselves. The place was busy but it wasn’t packed. I saw others complaining about the service too. The problem with ours was that it was slow and very offhand.

The food was slow to arrive, and there was another 15 minutes between the first person being served and the last. This did not ruin our meal as we did not stand on ceremony and everybody ate when their food arrived. The root vegetable pie was very nice, if very cheesy. The sausage and mash was pretty good, but the roast beef was not as good as we would have expected. The wine list is ok and both the house white and the house rose were enjoyed by the group.

As we waited to order our last round of drinks and get the bill, our waitress was nowhere to be found. I asked the manager to find her, but she was unable to and eventually brought the bill herself. As I paid, our waitress appeared. the manager just looked at me and rolled her eyes.

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This is a worrying state of affairs for a large pub in an area where there is a surfeit of good eating opportunities.  Although the Devonshire is a pub which has a number of good points, I suspect we shall be trying a different one next time.

Park Room and Library, Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London

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We were looking for somewhere to celebrate our wedding anniversary and the Park Room and Library sounded like a good deal, so four of us came for the bottomless champagne afternoon tea. The room is beautiful. It is light and airy; full of windows which look across Park Lane into Hyde Park. The traffic is muted by the flower displays between you and the pavement. The room is decorated in pale summery colours with a pretty butterfly motif throughout. It will appeal to overseas visitors; the formal dress of the staff and the height of the ceilings gives the room a light, old colonial feel.

The afternoon tea itself was very good, limitless finger sandwiches, as many scones as we liked and a wide array of pastries served on pretty cake stands. We were even given a selection box of these to take when we left! There was a big choice of both savoury and sweet options and the waiter enquired about any dietary requirements before he took our orders. The service was fantastic, out waiter was generous with the champagne and our glasses were topped up constantly during our two hour meal. There was a big variety of teas from which to choose, all served on a bone china tea service.

Its position at the top of Park Lane near to Marble Arch is very central. If you are visiting London and looking for a venue to have a British Afternoon Tea, especially if you are partial to a glass of Champagne, this would be a very nice place to enjoy it. We booked about a week in advance and it was busy, so I think you would need to be very lucky to just walk in without booking. I guess at £40 it is not the cheapest afternoon tea in London, but with unlimited food and Champagne, I think it represents pretty good value.

 

Royal Dragon Restaurant, Gerrard Street, London, W1

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Royal Dragon is in the heart of Chinatown on Gerrard Street. Decorated in browns and creams; when you step in, it is calm, away from the bustle just outside the door.

We had dim sum to start, Prawn dumplings and pork dumplings served in stacked bamboo servers. These were very flavorful and they were accompanied by a small dish of sweet chilli sauce and a dish of hot chilli sauce.

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This was followed by crispy duck with pancakes and a plum sauce. The duck was deliciously crispy, the pancakes were hot and fresh. We finally had lobster with ginger and spring onion. I am a bit of a lobster novice, but this was amazing. It was a huge portion of lobster served on a platter of noodles in a succulent ginger sauce. It even came with its own implement, a lobster fork, the first time I have seen one.

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To be honest, I forgot to check the wine list, I don’t often drink wine with Chinese food. There were three brands of beer on offer, Asahi and Carlsberg were the names I recognised. The service was excellent.

It is a relatively small restaurant, for Chinatown, we were there in the early evening and the place was busy without being packed. It is open late and it does Karaoke between 11pm and 3am. The waiter said that this happens in private rooms, so it should not disturb your meal. While we ate, there was background music; it was quiet and unobtrusive.

If you are looking for somewhere quiet and smart, and you want to stay in the centre of Chinatown, the Royal Dragon fits the bill.

The Jugged Hare, Barbican, London EC1

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This is a smart looking bar at the front with an attractive bright restaurant at the back. It was very busy at 5.30pm on a Tuesday when we were there, we would not have found a seat in the bar, but luckily we had a table booked in the restaurant. As you might expect from the name, the menu is very meat orientated, indeed, the only vegetarian main course is simply listed as “vegetarian” with no description – just a price.

We had the devilled plaice while we discussed the menu, nicely crisp but hardly any spiciness. We also had the dish of large olives, they were indeed large, they were nice but not particularly flavourful.

There are two types of hamburger on the menu, each made with a different breed of cow, the waiter was quite specific in enquiring which one we wanted, we had one of each but were not able to find much difference between them. They are quite expensive, but very substantial, both people who ordered them left half. I had the pork belly, which was unlike any pork belly I had had before, it was like a huge pork chop. However, it was very good and I forgot to enquire afterwards. The “vegetarian” dish was reportedly “fine”.

The hamburgers and the pork were all served on flat wooden boards, I thought we had moved on from this irritating fad, and they are totally impractical for a dish served with gravy.

The wine list has plenty of choice, the prices are at the high end for the quality. The service was excellent and it is very handy for the Barbican. Overall, it was good, without exactly setting the culinary world alight.

Skylark Café, Wandsworth Common, London

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The Skylark Café is in a lovely old fashioned building in the middle of Wandsworth Common. It has been decorated in a more up to date fashion once you are inside, with a built in banquette into the bay window and child friendly furnishings in the back room. There is floor space for the children to run around here too. If you prefer a less boisterous area, there is a room at the front which had a more adult clientele on the day we were there. There are also seats outside. The views are pretty, Wandsworth Common is well maintained, and there is a pond nearby where you can bring your kids to feed the ducks.

It has a good community notice board although you have to go into the toilet area to read it. It also has a blackboard listing different events that it hosts during the month. In April, for example, it has music days and popup shops. If you would like to see what to expect before you go, it has a particularly well designed website.

The food offering is good. It does soup, sandwiches, and a wide variety of cakes and muffins. There was even healthy snacking food for the ducks! It was busy with parents and children on the weekday early afternoon that we were there, so it is obviously popular with local people. The service was attentive, helpful, and friendly.

It is about halfway along section 5 of the Capital Ring, so it is the perfect point at which to stop for refreshment, if you are doing that walk around London. A very pleasant place, and just what a park café should be.

 

 

Hawksmoor, Deansgate, Manchester

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I like the Hawksmoor ethos. They eschew ostentation. They keep it simple. They do it well. Hawksmoor Manchester stick to this blueprint. The décor is wood panelling, wooden floors, leather banquettes, and solid tables nicely spaced. The have proper napkins, good plain crockery, and the cutlery is steel and sturdy.

The menu is relatively short but you can be sure that everything on there is  prepared to a high standard. On the night we went, the potted beef with Yorkshire pudding was an excellent starter. The Caesar salad had romaine lettuce, anchovies, parmesan, croutons, and plain but perfect Caesar dressing. The fillet was high quality, soft and tender; even though it was rare, and the rib-eye had just the right amount of fat to bring out the flavour of the meat. This is all as you would expect from the Hawksmoor brand. The chips were full cut and well cooked. The mac and cheese, which we ordered as a side, was indulgent.

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The wine by the glass was excellent, the Malbec robust and rich, and the Pinot Grigio Rose was dry and pale, possibly the nicest I have had. The service was impeccable, just as it always is at a Hawksmoor restaurant, never too close but always at hand when you want something.

If I  have a misgiving about Hawksmoor Manchester, it is the bar. The area here veers toward the austere. It feels a bit more like a church vestibule than a comfortable place to chat and wait for friends. They have good wines and all sorts of premium spirits, but their beer list is short, and it has little recognisable on it.

The restaurant is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. Everything is of the highest quality, and if you want somewhere that you can rely on to deliver a fine dinner, in pleasant surroundings, with polished service; then Hawksmoor Manchester should be one of the first places that you consider.