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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
16 Jul 2004

Restaurants open for myriad reasons: because a chef, or a sous-chef, wants to make their break for independence; because a restaurateur believes that he or she has put together the vital 'dream team'; because a restaurant holds the key to a new development, commercial or residential; or because several investors have come together with what they believe is a financially exciting concept that will be of wide appeal.

Recent restaurant openings in England have been inspired respectively by some very disparate individuals, including a former lawyer, an Italian restaurateur with one of the world's best known English actors, a chef and his long time, highly supportive wife, and one of the country's leading cheese makers. Each has decided to open their own restaurants for the very best of reasons - because they believe it is the right thing to do.

The lawyer in question is Tom Martin, 32, who four years ago abandoned the world of files and documents to open The Well, a gastro-pub in trendy Clerkenwell, with his younger brother Ed. But the memories of his legal days continued to haunt him, in particular one in which he recalled just how difficult it had been to get a decent meal in the Chancery Lane area. And so with the success of The Well established, Martin approached Punch Taverns to see whether he could take the lease of the then aptly named Muddy Duck in Fetter Lane, where lawyers meet city folk, off their hands.

Rather like a fairy tale, The Muddy Duck has now become The White Swan, thanks to a £300,000 investment and three weeks spent emptying it of accumulated rubbish. But money and time have been well spent, not just most significantly on the kitchen, but also because the Martins have cleverly transformed The White Swan into a gastro-pub on the ground floor with an even more exciting and slightly more formal dining room upstairs.

Jason Scrimshaw is the chef, a man who quite conspicuously enjoys cooking seasonal ingredients to their limit to ensure that he extracts their maximum flavour. The food is hearty. A terrine of ham hock, chicken and foie gras and a rump of lamb with crushed potatoes sit alongside a delicate but punchy pea and pancetta soup, a salad of smoked eel, new potatoes and mustard seed oil and a rendition of scrambled eggs with summer truffles as good as you would find in a restaurant much closer to the source of the truffles. I do hope the Martins will wield their magic wand to the same good effect when they reopen The Gun in Coldharbour, Docklands, E14 in August after a four-year closure.

Claudio Pulze is the highly experienced Italian restaurateur and Sir Michael Caine the actor, who last teamed up together to mastermind The Canteen in Chelsea Harbour in the 1990's. They have been reunited to bring Deya to the light of day.

Even for such experienced hands it has been a difficult birth as the opening was delayed by over two months by last-minute contractual problems. And even after a redecoration it is still difficult to see what are the particular charms of the location, where the tables look out on to a set of traffic lights and the dining room itself is attached to an hotel conspicuously in need of a makeover.

But the food is the draw (and so too is the wine list which has been put together with a great deal of careful thought) for anyone who enjoys a modern, lighter approach to Indian food. Sanjay Diwevedi, formerly at Zaika, Pulze's other Indian restaurant in Kensington, begins this process by using olive oil instead of the traditional ghee, or clarified butter, continues it via a light touch with spices and completes it by adding yoghurt to his sauces to ensure a more balanced, less rich finish.

Impressive starters were scallops marinated in coconut milk and kokum sauce; an Indian cheese selection that incorporated a samosa of paneer, spinach and goats cheese; and blue fin tuna marinated in ginger and chilli and topped with mustard seeds. A slow cooked duck leg with a black lentil sauce and a wild mushroom biryani (there is an entire vegetarian menu to choose from) were impressive and so too were a fruit jelly topped with slices of mango and pomegranate seeds, a rosewater panna cotta and coriander, mint and pistachio ice creams - the panna cotta and ice creams obviously showing the specific benefits of yet another successful Indian/Italian partnership.

While Pulze and Caine are renewing a working relationship that goes back over a dozen years, down in Bristol, Stephen and Judy Markwick have been resuscitating their professional relationship that has survived since they opened Bistro 21 in 1980 before really making their mark with Markwick's in the city centre.

After a temporary pause for breath, the Markwicks have transformed the restaurant that was formerly Red Snapper into Culinaria and at the same time turned back the culinary clock to produce a menu inspired to a large extent by the books of the late Elizabeth David.

This makes for an apparently simple menu with integrity that is not only right back in tune with what many want to eat today but is also perfect for the summer months. Provencal fish soup; sea trout tartare with a cucumber pickle; spinach and cream pancakes; grilled whole lemon sole with cockles vinaigrette; and a wild mushroom risotto. The range of classic desserts includes summer pudding; St Emilion au chocolat; gooseberry fooland a walnut and treacle tart.

Finally, to the lush countryside south of Bristol where the Montgomery family has been farming for decades and more recently Jamie Montgomery has been converting the milk into one of the country's top Cheddar cheeses. Montgomery has now taken over the local pub, The Camelot, and hired Sasha Matkevich as chef. There is unlikely to be a better, or more romantic, location for a Ploughman's lunch, that traditional blend of crusty bead, mature Cheddar and real ale.

The White Swan, 108 Fetter Lane, EC4, 020-7242 9696. Open Mon-Fri 11.00-24.00, www.thewhiteswanlondon.com

Deya, 34 Portman Square, W1, 020-7224 0028, closed Sunday www. deya-restaurant.co.uk

Culinaria, 1 Chandos Road, Redland, Bristol, 0117-9737999, dinner Wednesday-Saturday, lunch Friday and Saturday, www. culinariabristol.co.uk

The Camelot, Chapel Road, South Cadbury, Yeovil Somerset BA22 7EX, 01963-440448. Closed Tuesday.