THANK God — I've found a good res- taurant at
last. For far too long the places I have reviewed have had the disconcerting habit of turning mediocre on me. Along with concern for the tolerance of my readers and the well-being of my own gastro-intestinal tract, panic was just about to set in. So I'm understandably grateful for Columbus, and so should you be.
Professional curiosity provided the ex- cuse for my first visit; its success occa- sioned my second. And there are not many restaurants which I go to in the course of duty that I return to within a week.
Columbus is, there is no arguing the fact, trendy. The owners — Loyd and Neil Grossman and a horde of media-folk back- ers — are trendy, the decor (rag-rolled walls and Lloyd loom chairs) is trendy, the clientele is trendy. The heavy silverware and the goblets made from recycled glass are straight from Casa Vogue, clean-lined wall lights give off an assured and well- modulated glow. Even the excellent and amiable Martin Saxon, the Maitre d', is a man who has worked at London's coolest restaurants, but only for as long as they were still cool.
Getting the look right is one thing, but where Columbus scores, and very highly, is with its menu. Adrian Searing and Neil Grossman have come up with just the sort of menu I like, no Franco-swank with medallions of that and juliennes of this, but good, robust cooking which is somewhere between Manhattanised Italian and Cali- fornianised Spanish.
Following New York fashion, the menu is not arranged into starters and main courses proper. There are four notional categories, the first of which is salady and starterish — ceviche of monkfish with tequila and lime, grilled radicchio with raclette, bresaola with buffallo mozzarella `The Russians want us to include Securicor.' — the second runs to a five-strong list of pizze (with an extra one added to it daily), and these are not the sort of pizze you'd get in Pizza Hut — there's a BLT pizza, a chicken tandoori pizza, aubergine teryaki, Mu Shu shrimp and Southwestern pizza with salsa verde. Next on the list comes a clump of pasta dishes, which range from linguini with mussels in black bean sauce to tortilla lasagne with chicken and spinach. And then there is the meat and fish bit the fish changes daily, meat-eaters have the citrus marinated chicken with corn masa blinis, grilled rack of lamb with aubergine pancakes and steak with shallot and roast garlic to play with.
My two-pronged attack on the menu has allowed me to try at least one from each course, and the going was good, very good. The radicchio — grilled to a dried-blood brown and covered with a gossamer-thin sheet of cheese, only just detectable — was subtly bitter and meltingly smoky enough to make Marcella Hazan sigh with plea- sure. The star turn of the pizze list has to be the Southwestern pizza with salsa verde — a crisp but springy round of dough covered with deliquescent smoked cheese, knife-sharp salsa, shiitake mushrooms, pascilla and chipotli chilis, with sour create on top. Take my word on the fish: grilled kingfish with a relish of chopped mango and coriander leaves sounds suspect, but believe me, it tastes better than it reads.
Puddings are kept to a minimum — ice cream or perhaps apple pie or chocolate and apricot mousse — which suits me fine. There is a remarkably good wine list, arranged under price categories (at £6.75, £9.50, £12.50 plus champagnes) and five different types of beer. This is not a restaurant aimed only at the expense-account eater. On either of the occasions I visited I could have eaten three full courses and a bottle of wine and left with a bill for under £50 for two. The really civilised thing about Columbus, though, is that no one complains if you eat a single course, or a couple of starters, or stick to tap water. And it's the perfect place for late, lazy lunches at the weekend, when last orders are at four and newspapers are at hand. So what's stopping you?
Columbus, 8 Egerton Garden Mews, Lon- don, SW3 01-589 8287. Open lunch and dinner daily. Nigella Lawson