It is possible to sit at The Glasshouse in Kew and watch the world go by, particularly at lunchtime.
The reason for this is that the restaurant, part of Nigel Platts-Martin's mini empire which includes The Square, London W1 (020 7495 7100), Chez Bruce, London SW17 (020 8672 0114) and La Trompette, London W4, (020 8747 1836), is no more than 75 yards from Kew Station (on the District and North London lines) and en route to Kew Gardens. As a result as we sat there, somewhat ironically with a film producer who had made his name in anthropological films, people from the world over strolled past on their way to what is unquestionably one of the world's great green spaces.
Somewhat more lazily we sat and admired Anthony Boyd's pretty stunning culinary handiwork. His particular achievement is to transform ingredients into dishes that whilst they read as though they could be prepared at home by a good amateur chef here they emerge very differently and in a far more elegant state.
A herb leaf salad with very thinly sliced pickled beetroot, spring onions and zamorano cheese was Boyd's version of a simple green salad whereas my crisp mackerel, an underrated fish at the best of times but at its fleshiest best at the moment, came topped with puréed aubergine alongside a crispy mille feuille of tomato and mozzarella. A diner on another table over five yards away had chosen a cream of garlic soup whose pungent aromas filled the restaurant - and made me wish I had ordered it.
Main courses were equally impressive: black bream with squid, shrimp and chorizo sausage paella that packed a real punch; cod with bubble and squeak and pea purée, executed in a highly dramatic fashion and John Dory with parsley noodles and sauce vierge. Excellent manadarin and buttermilk sorbets and a couple of fascinating desserts that sadly we did not have time for - a chilled watermelon soup with lemon grass sorbet and a strawberry and champagne trifle.
As in all Platts-Martin's restaurants the wine list is catholic and well priced - we drank a 1999 Pinot Blanc vieilles vignes from Meyer-Fonné which at £19.50 was seven pounds cheaper than the same bottle at George the week before. There is an impressive range of eleven dessert wines, five available by the glass.
The Glasshouse, 14 Station Parade, Kew, Middlesex TW9 3PZ, tel 020 8940 6777. Now open Sunday evening.
THE SOUTH BANK CENTRE, LONDON SE1
I have to admit to a conflict of interest. For the past eight years I have been a consultant to the South Bank Centre and was initially responsible for introducing the Levin family, who also run The Capital, Basil Street, London SW3 (020 7589 5171) and The Greenhouse, Hay's Mews, London W1 (020 7499 3331) about to undergo a long overdue redesign next month, into this fascinating arts complex.
One of the frustrations of this particular aspect of my work is that once up and running I can only comment rather than interfere - difficult for a former restaurateur - and there have been times when The People's Palace has not been as exciting as I would have liked.
Now, however, quality is the key and my recent meals here have been the best to date. The first factor in this transformation was the appointment about 18 months ago of Guy Bossom as Head Chef and his decision not to chase numbers - The People's Palace can seat over 200 and on evenings when there is a popular concert in the Royal Festival Hall will serve over 400 customers pre, during and post concert - but to aim for consistency and finesse. Secondly, an attractive bar was installed in January which allows the management to control the flow into the dining area more intelligently, thereby taking some of the pressure off the kitchen at the busiest times.
Finally, Joe Levin, now firmly in charge of the company as his father spends more time travelling, has decided, quite rightly I believe in view of the vast number of new restaurants along the South Bank, to aim for a slightly higher spend but one that is rewarded with a more comforting and memorable experience.
None of which would work without quality on the plate but yesterday's set lunch at £14.50 incorporated strong, clean flavours and prompt, friendly service. With London hot and sticky it seemed right to start with a yellow tomato and sorrel gazpacho - even if it was the dirty Thames rather than the blue Mediterranean outside - followed by a broad bowl of parpadelle topped with a highly colourful combination of roast fennel, pinenuts, pecorino and lemon oil and, finally, a bowl of English strawberries, caster sugar and crème fraîche.
The People's Palace in the Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, SE1, tel 020 7928 9999. Open 7 days. 5 minutes walk from Waterloo Station.
The news that Jean-Claude Vrinat, the only French restaurateur to merit 3 stars in Michelin (all the others belong to chefs) has opened a new restaurant, much less expensive than his highly acclaimed Taillevent, has to be very good news. But it is particlulary interesting for wine lovers as the new restaurant, L'Angle du Faubourg, has been created to express Vrinat's seemingly insatiable love of wine - not to mention the extensive cellars he has so cleverly built up over the years.
The daily changing menu is not too broad, six starters, five main courses and five desserts, and costs 230 francs at lunch, 290 in the evening; the wine list holds over 200 bins with 20 by the glass; and in the tasting room which holds 5000 bottles there is a more private table for 8-10.
L'Angle du Faubourg, 195 Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, Paris 8th, tel 01.40.74.20.20. Metro Charles de Gaulle. Sadly, closed Saturday and Sunday.
WILLESDEN GREEN, LONDON NW2
Willesden Green is a long way physically and stylistically from chic Paris but despite that, Shish, just by Willesden Green tube station, may be one of Britain's few worthy contributions to the world of stylish and enjoyable fast food.
In fact this stretch of High Street is not the gastronomic desert its name might imply, as about 100 yards further on at 33b Walm Lane is one of London's finest but most discreet Japanese restaurants, Sushi-Say (020 8459 7512).
Shish is the brainchild of David Azouri and Billy Branigan and aims to do for the neglected and under-appreciated shish kebab what Yo! and Pizza Express have done for sushi and pizza respectively.
A small fortune has obviously been spent on a long bendy counter with miles of ducting above on the ground floor and a large bar on the first floor. You sit at the counter and order from a menu that also doubles as your place mat and then watch the kebabs being cooked at various grill points on the other side of the counter. There is a wide range of kebabs and wraps, meat, chicken and vegetarian as well as rice, couscous, salads and freshly squeezed fruit juices all prepared by keen, youthful staff.
I took our two younger children who both thought the food was great, the place extremely cool and, as a result, that their father was not such an old fart after all.
Our bill came to £35 which included 12 and a half per cent service but when I came to sign the slip I noticed that they had already incorporated this element and were leaving the service box on the slip blank in the hope that I would pay service twice. When I questioned the waitress about this her reply was honest at least 'It's to get more money from the customers.'
I was extremely angry because I believe that this is one of the trade's gravest malpractices so I wrote to Azouri with a copy to their PR company. After a couple of weeks I had a very polite reply saying that as a result of my letter - and I believe other customers' complaints - they had amended their entire service system completely and now incorporated the service charge and closed off all credit cards.
This is a restaurant whose concept is so simple and whose timing so perspicacious that it could and should spread easily and widely - I hope without the commensurate drop in quality that 'rolling out' usually involves.
Shish, 2-6 Station Parade, Willesden Green, London NW2 4NH, 020 8208 9292, email:email@example.com
CHELSEA AND THE CITY
Whilst the partnership of restaurateur Claudio Pulze and chef Vineet Bhatia continues to produce some of the capital's most elegant Indian food at Zaika, Pulze has not had the same success with his other Chelsea restaurant, El Rincon at 2a Pond Place. As a result, Pulze and Bhatia have transformed El Rincon into Zaika Bazaar which will serve Chakna, a range of simple Indian food as well as selling Indian artefacts such as silks, cushions, lanterns and pottery. Open 7 days, 020 7584 6655.
The last six months has also seen the transformation of The Fox Pub and Dining Room at 28 Paul Street, London EC2 (020 7729 5708) by Michael Belben and Trish Hilferty, respectively founder and chef at The Eagle, London EC1 (020 7837 1353) which began the gastro-pub revolution.
The Fox incorporates a scruffy boozer on the ground floor and a dining room that seats 30 on the first floor where seats can be reserved and tabs can be run. The food in the dining room will always incorporate a warm salt beef sandwich, soups and ploughman's as well as a two-course (£13.50) and three-course (£18) menu. From the bar there will be Charles Wells' Bombardier Bitter, 12 wines by the glass but no Diet Coke.