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  • Nick Lander
Written by
  • Nick Lander
4 Nov 2001

Food should be fun, but you would hardly know it from this year's crop of British restaurant guides. They undoubtedly serve many useful purposes, even if the relevance of this year's deadly dull Good Food Guide (which includes a full listing of a London restaurant that closed in July) is highly questionable. Unfortunately however their editors seem to have become besotted with numbers, whether out of four (Hardens £8.99), ten (The Good Food Guide £15.99) or 30 (Zagat £7.99) and the consequent multitude of charts this information can provide. (Charles Campion's quirky Rough Guide (£7.99), the unwieldy Time Out guide (£9.99) and the Lonely Planet Out to Eat £7.99 are the honourable exceptions.)

This is an approach which may suit washing machines and dishwashers, essentials of life which you hope will never fail, but not restaurants, which deal with the unquantifiable - nourishing body and soul and making the world seem, however temporarily, a better place.

There is no doubt that La Trouvaille which occupies a corner site on Newburgh Street, London W1, parallel to Carnaby Street, fulfils all these essential criteria and justifies its name which translates as 'the brainwave'.

With large windows onto a pedestrianised street, the restaurant is immediately inviting whilst from the inside there is a view of a string of small, quirky clothes shops reminiscent of Paris's Left Bank. The interior is clever and funky: exposed ventilation pipes mixed with church pews; curly wrought iron candlabra and cutlery, imitation Tiffany lamps and, most effectively, a thin, tree-like structure on each table which contains dishes of sea salt, black pepper and a small candle that is lit for dinner.

The restaurant is run by a group of young, fit (they need to be as all the food is run up round a winding staircase from the basement kitchen) Frenchmen with Normandy supplying the management and the Dordogne filling the kitchen. As a result, the menu and the well priced wine list are unashamedly French with one major exception. Here they take the trouble to list and credit their suppliers, such as Lionel Poilane's renowned bakery in Elizabeth Street, London SW3, and announce that everything on the menu is free-range or organic - an approach that seems more Californian than Gallic.

From then on it is right to the heart of French cooking. A recent set lunch (£16.50 for two courses, £19.50 for three) featured artichoke vinaigrette; a salad of leeks with a soft boiled duck's egg; and grilled salsify with a herb aioli, a dish that is so messy and time consuming to prepare that it is best enjoyed in a restaurant. The main courses, which could have been a little more generous, included roast pigeon with figs, sea bream with peppers, boudin blanc with a Perigord sauce and, revealing a less chauvinistic approach, Aberdeen Angus steak and Herdwick lamb. Best of all was a chocolate mousse served generously from the large, old fashioned bowl in which it had been made.

La Trouvaille is even more fun in the evening. Its menu expands to include poached ox tongue with leeks; a salad of warm Montbeliard sausage and potatoes; half a partridge with wild boar sausages; and a blanquette of duck with truffles. An obviously popular private room downstairs which offers a set menu each week rotating around the different French regions, notably Burgundy, Alsace and Savoy, adds to the bustle and brio.

By sticking to its principles in similarly determined French fashion the people behind La Galette, a no-booking restaurant just off Marylebone High Street, have also created a highly enjoyable, inexpensive restaurant that concentrates on the distinctive food and cider of north-west France.

The menu is simply a broad selection of savoury buckwheat pancakes topped with a dozen or so fillings including wild mushrooms, scallops, meat sauces or stuffed with ham and cheese. There is an equally long list of sweet crêpes and one of each will cost no more than nine or ten pounds.

But aside from an empathetic design, what distinguishes La Galette is that it has not diluted its message - instead of Coke for children there is apple juice and for adults a range of Norman and Breton ciders served by the bottle and 25cl pichet, as well as three different Calvados. Good food, good value and great fun.

La Trouvaille, 12A Newburgh Street, London W1 (tel 020 7287 8488). Dinner approx £30 per person.

La Galette, 56 Paddington Street, London W1 (tel 020 7935 1554).

One dinner that will definitely be fun is that being cooked by Portuguese chef Miguel Silva at Cantina Vinopolis at 1 Bank End, London SE1, on Tuesday, 20 November.

Silva's Oporto restaurant, the Bull and Bear, is one of the most exciting in Europe and his nine-course menu will be matched by a range of exciting Portuguese wines. £65 per person including wines. Reservations 020 7940 8333.