Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Lola's, Maison Novelli and Stephen Bull

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Lola's, Maison Novelli and Stephen Bull

Article excerpt

I MUST confess to some satisfaction with my choice of subjects for this article about three of London's successful new restaurants. Just before I settled down to write it I went to lunch at Sir Terence Conran's new Bluebird restaurant in King's Road, Chelsea (the best-looking and -cooking of his vast dining halls), at which the 1997 Time Out Eating and Drinking Awards were announced. Imagine my pleasure when Lola's won the Best New Restaurant category, pipping Maison Novelli, also on the short list at the post; and Stephen Bull's original restaurant in Blandford Street, Marylebone, was declared winner of the Modern European award. My views entirely.

Lola's, in the old tram shed on the corner of Upper Street and Camden Passage in Islington, has the distinction of being an all-female project. The Caprice and Ivy 'greeters' Carol George and Morfudd Richards have teamed up with the ex-Alastair Little chef Judith Peston to establish an elegant, friendly neighbourhood restaurant. It is a long, rectangular, first-floor space, coolly decorated by the proprietors themselves, with sloping windows above the tables shaded by attractive oatmealcoloured blinds. There is a pianist, as at Le Caprice, which adds to the welcoming atmosphere. I went there with food-loving Nathalie Jarnot, who works at Lola's parent Le Caprice, and was keen to see old friends. We found the place reassuringly busy on a bank-holiday Monday evening.

The menu changes daily, and there is also a two-course set lunch for 12. From the short but interesting carte (about six choices per course), Nathalie started with fried buffalo mozzarella, accompanied by tomato, avocado, basil and olives: simple, but precisely flavoured. I chose potato pancake, surmounted by smoked salmon caviar, horseradish cream and chives one of two dishes on the menu clearly influenced by Jewish cooking - and found it delicious, with a laudably light 'latka'. I continued with lamb chump served with braised peas, asparagus, ham and mint; a lovely, earthy dish, full of good flavours and offering prime meat, impeccably cooked. Nathalie had two-way chicken, the breast roasted with grilled vegetables and aioli, the leg braised with paprika and pickled cucumbers; another example of creative work by Ms Peston in the kitchen, it was much enjoyed. To end, we shared a chocolate mousse cake, with a good texture, intense but not too sweet. This excellent meal, with wine, coffee and service, came to just 67.50 for the two of us: great value in a comfortable, congenial and expertly run new restaurant.

Jean-Christophe Novelli was the much admired chef at the Quatre Saisons hotel in Park Lane. Having then set out to do his own thing, he is certainly doing it with a vengeance. First came Maison Novelli in Clerkenwell Green, a ground-floor brasserie with restaurant above, which is about to be extended, with the brasserie moving next door and the restaurant occupying both floors of the original building. Now he has just opened Novelli W8 in the old Ark Bistro in Notting Hill Gate. I visited Notting Hill first, with the art publisher Lucy Beazer, and, after a less than polished reception by the nervy manager, Eric Chatroux, we settled down at our small table in the thin, cramped room, now painted a violent shade of purple but otherwise little changed from its Ark days of 30 years ago. The menu offers starters at 4.50, main courses at L9.50 and desserts at L4.50, with a few supplements. Lucy started with panfried celeriac and potatoes, with a goat's cheese and mozzarella terrine and mixed salad; a splendidly natural taste which was much enjoyed. …

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