Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer

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28 St Martin’s Courtyard, off Long Acre, WC2E 9AB
Nearest tube: Covent Garden
0207 240 8183
Bill's on Urbanspoon
map; website

Bill’s is a UK-wide restaurant and grocery chain that serves unchallenging British and Mediterranean food.  The Covent Garden restaurant is handily placed a stone’s throw away from the Seven Dials and it is a bit of rough diamond amongst the putrid chain restaurants that populate the surrounding area.  Due to its location it gets very busy at weekends so you will probably need to queue for a table, but I’d say that you should not need to wait more than 20 minutes.  They do a good line in salads and sharing plates like mezze and antipasto.  I wasn’t feeling healthy enough to order a salad, but the reviews I’ve read speak very highly of them and given that Bill’s shop next door sells fresh fruit and veg I imagine the ingredients would be tip-top.  The breakfasts also seem hearty – see londontastin.

I went for Saturday lunch and the atmosphere was bustling, mostly with shopping bag laden girls with the odd bored male clustered amongst them.  We started with homemade tortillas with guacamole, salsa and sour cream.  The tortillas were very fresh and light, and the dips were excellent.  To follow, I had haddock and chips with mushy peas – one of my dining companions had ordered a fish stew which we were told would take 20 minutes and I think my fish had been cooked early and left on the pass for quite a while because the batter was very soggy (this was not helped by the fish being “artfully” presented on a dollop of mushy peas meaning the moisture of the peas soaked into the batter creating a big moosh).  I shouldn’t be too hard on the chefs because I reckon that they cleared about 250 covers that lunchtime. Less excusable was my post lunch espresso which was truly awful – it tasted like engine oil mixed with angusturra – given all the strides made in quality of coffee in London recently why is restaurant coffee generally still rubbish?

Verdict: I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at Bill’s but it is still one of the better options in Covent Garden.

Also see: foodforthink and aghte.


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French and Grace

Unit 19, First Avenue, Brixton Village Market, SW9 8PR
Nearest tube: Brixton
French & Grace on Urbanspoon
website; map

Ellie Grace and Rosie French are food bloggers turned restauranteurs – they own a tiny restaurant (3 tables inside, 2 outside) in Brixton Village which serves up hearty Middle Eastern inspired food from a miniscule menu.  They started off running a “Salad club” from their flats (taking inspiration from the various home-cooking supper clubs that popped up in the trendy parts of East London a few years ago), this evolved into a home-spun bistro that received rave reviews whilst the blog cataloguing their adventures won the Observer’s best food blog award in 2010.  This success inspired them to pack in their day jobs and to go mobile: cooking in people’s houses for special occasions, at music festivals and eventually running a food van.  All of these culinary adventures reached their logical conclusion in the Autumn of 2011 when they opened their diminutive restaurant amongst the colourful Caribbean and Latin shops in Brixton Village.  The restaurant has won lots of awards and even hosted the esteemed Jay Rayner as a guest chef.

The menu focuses on wraps with side steps into meze and snacks; we went straight for the signature wrap – lamb sausage with red cabbage, carrot and butter bean hummus (£5.60).  The sausage was dense and meaty with a slightly spicy hue, but unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of it.  I wasn’t too disappointed though, because the red cabbage and carrot salad was superb – the cabbage was slightly sweet and melt in the mouth.  We also ordered a special of hearty Italian stew (£8.50) with pancetta, cabbage, white beans and parmesan – this was really simple but very tasty, the kind of meal I imagine a Tuscan field labourer happily tucking into.  Again (strangely) the cabbage was the star of the show – it has been perfectly cooked so it still had a slight crunch and it had lapped up the rich meat fats and sweet garlic used in the base of the stew.  To finish a luxurious sticky toffee pudding including morsels of ginger and bathed in a wonderful toffee sauce.

Verdict: join the fight for a table as soon as you can.

Also see: Zoe Williams, South London Blog and Wholey Moley.