LUNCH AT 202
202 is one restaurant which I visit regularly, and at one stage, I was going there at least once a month with my friend Sylvia who works close by. We worked our way through the delicious and varied menu, and then got bored, switching our allegiance to a branch of Le Pain Quotidien on Notting Hill Gate. The premises used to be a pub, as is evident from the frontage, while inside it is all pared-down shabby chic: bentwood chairs, marble-topped tables, a zinc bar, big oval mirrors redolent of a French bistro, and a view through French windows to a pretty courtyard garden hung about with clematis and palms. The restaurant is part of a Nicole Farhi clothes and interiors shop, and one can sit amongst beautiful, expensive things while eyeballing the rest of the clientele, an eclectic mix of Notting Hill Yummy Mummies (all flicked up blonde hair and Hunter wellies or Emma Hope pumps, and Prada bags), elegant Kensington dames, and petite gay men with their matching petite dogs. Women come in with intriguing bags slung over their arms, containing delectable purchases from one or other of the gorgeous shops on Westbourne Grove. On any lunchtime at 202, one may hear about ten different languages being spoken.
I perused the menu, which has just changed, thus giving Sylvia and I the perfect excuse to frequent this excellent restaurant once again to work our way through it, while waiting for my friend Sarah, who arrived fashionably late, dressed for the occasion most appropriately in designer jeans, a slouchy grey jumper, sequinned scarf and her trademark huge designer sunglasses. We ordered huge glasses of delicious dry muscat wine, and scanned the room for good-looking men, while plotting what shops we would visit once we had satisfied our appetites.
The menu at 202 is a lip-smacking mixture of fusion dishes (fish tacos, Thai crab cakes, Curry of the Day, lamb tagine, lobster and prawn linguine) and more gastro-pub classics such as burger and chips, hot dog and piccalilli, or haddock and chips with mushy peas. All the dishes are generous, and for those who prefer something lighter, the salads are also very interesting: figs, prosciutto and warm goat's cheese, fennel, pomegranate and feta, Caesar salad with prawns. Earlier in the day, you can have brunch: sunshine-yellow scrambled eggs on toast, with mushrooms, smoked salmon or maple-cured bacon, French toast, or crumbly Danish pastries. The coffee is good, the wine list imaginative. Even the mineral water is pleasing to the palate.
I don't eat out very often, partly because of lack of opportunity, and partly because nine times out of ten, I know I could cook as well, if not better, at home. Forgive my immodesty, but I know I could cook everything on the menu of 202, with a bit of thought and the right ingredients, but there is something about the ambiance of the place, the other diners, the irresistible people-watching, and the setting, which makes it a lovely place to lunch - especially with a girlfriend.
We both selected the fish tacos, on my recommendation. Sylvia had this when I ate at 202 with her last week (I had the lobster and prawn linguine last time - which was delicious, except there wasn't enough lobster!) and she declared it utterly delicious. She was right: it was. It was also enormous: two flour tortillas filled with tender marinaded fish in a light batter, on a bed of rocket leaves, and sliced fennel and onions. It was served simply with a tomato salsa on the side, and was bursting with fresh, piquant flavours. It was also very filling, and I managed to persuade Sarah afterwards, that a single espresso was all that was required. 202 does good puddings too: chocolate brownie with clotted cream, apple pie, rhubarb crumble.
Outside, Channel Four were filming their new docusoap, 'Notting Hill'. "Ooh look! We could be on the telly!" I said to Sarah as we veered towards Jigsaw, unable to resist a rifle through the rails of the new season's knitwear. We then did what we do best, after enjoying good food together: shopping!!!!
I found a recipe for fish tacos which looks similar to the dish I had a 202. It's from Rick Stein, who can be relied upon to cook up something good with fish. You can find it on the BBC Food website.