13 SEPTEMBER 2003, Page 80

S o, back to Crouch End after a fortnight in Brittany,

where I spent much of the time in the wonderful hypermarkets — E Leclerc, Champion, Geant — admiring the fabulous fish counters, until the crabs started to scrabble disgustingly all over each other, pincers pincing, little black eyes bulging malevolently. I ran about hysterically going, 'Aghhh, aghh, they're alive! Keep clear, everybody. The crabs are ALIVE! Everybody out!. . . . ' People always say that the French are much better at food than the English, but I think the French have a lot to learn about making sure that things are properly dead before shrink-wrapping them so that they look nothing like the frolicking, happy things they might once have been. And don't get me going on the French meat counters: whole roasted icicle piglets complete with ickle snouts and trotters and sweet curly tails. I was disgusted. Who are these people who can do such abominable thing? Where are the animalrights campaigners? Well, I think I made my thoughts clear enough by buying a packet of pork chops and getting the hell out.

Back to Crouch End, again, where nothing moves in Budgens, not even the assistants, who are an especially dozy bunch of schoolleavers, and where, somewhat predictably, a new restaurant has opened in my absence. I don't know what it is about Crouch End and restaurants. When I can't sleep, I count Crouch End restaurants as other people count sheep (mine, by the way, come nicely dead, shrink-wrapped and chop-shaped). The new restaurant is The Creamery, situated on the site of a former local legend, Roger's Seafood Restaurant. Roger won the Lottery and bought the restaurant where he'd been a waiter, but he recently went Awol, much to the joy of the Homsey Journal, which can now devote acres of space to possible Roger sightings instead of to vox pops on the possibility of speed bumps on Duke's Avenue. You know, when I first started working on a local newspaper — the Sutton Guardian, which was so cutting-edge they gave it away for free — my first job was to write an ad puff for a local wedding shop, something I accomplished in style by confusing 'virginal' with 'vaginal'. The piece opened thus: 'If you want to look vaginal on your wedding day, then Pronuptia Bridal on Sutton High Street is the place for you!' I would like to say that I was quickly forgiven, but I was not, particularly as advertising was withdrawn. How the advertising people loved me after that, although only when they weren't busy letting down my tyres.

The Creamery has a big chalked sign outside

saying, 'Try us. We're New!' OK, I decide. Will do! I so like to oblige. In I go, at lunchtime, and it's buggy hell in there. I don't know what it is about Crouch End — or Pram End, as a friend of mine calls it — and the buggies. But these are no ordinary buggies; they are the 4WDs of the buggy world, or would be if they weren't those super-trendy, super-expensive, all-terrain 3WDs so essential if you decide to go off-road between Walter Purkis 8z Sons ('high-class fishmonger') and Woolworths (low-class eyesore, but undeniably handy for light bulbs, boys' pants and yet more dozy school-leavers). And, my goodness. the paraphernalia these things come with: changing bags, bottleholders, parasoLs, rain covers, partly cloudy day covers, furry insert thingies and, for all I know, antimacassars, living-rooms, university places and a free three-month trial of AOL broadband. I feel miffed, frankly, that I never had such an F-off pram when my son was a baby. Indeed, I had such a flimsy thing that a bag of shopping on one handle combined with a moment of distraction and the whole thing went arse over tit. My son spent a lot of his early childhood bouncing on his head, which may explain why he is quite so daft today. (First day of secondary school? He assured us that he knew the route home, walked the wrong way out of school, caught the wrong bus and had to be retrieved from Southgate, which is so far north of Crouch End and so unstylish it's not funny. I mean, couldn't he have taken the wrong bus to Harvey Nichols?) Anyway, there are probably only ten or so tables and each has a buggy parked at it, turning a trip to the loo into an It's A Knockoutstyle obstacle course. Gosh, I'm beginning to sound terribly un-baby-friendly, aren't I? But I'm not, I assure you. I love babies. Should I have chanced on any at a French meat counter, I would probably have bought several (skin has to be crispy. though: constant basting is the key). The waitresses are young, delightfully friendly girls who coo at each buggy, although,

come to think of it, restaurants must hate young mums: acres of mess, low bills, hours of breastfeeding so that little so-and-so has all the nourishment he needs in order to forge meaningful relationships with nature down at the Rudolf Steiner school. Only teasing, I'm all for breast-feeding and would have certainly have given it a go myself if I hadn't been so busy righting the pram and dashing to casualty.

The menu is, I guess, fusion — sort of Mediterranean with African and West Indian influences. The evening menu looks good — coconut roasted free-range chicken breast with plantain mash, sautéed okra and tamarind jus (£9.50) — as does the day menu: all-day breakfasts with twists, like fried breadfruit, plus big meals such as roasted marinated chicken breast with sweet potato cake and mango salsa (£9.50), or smaller dishes such as the Cannargue rice salad with fennel and toasted almonds (£4.50). I order, though, the chickpea cake with aubergine relish and yogurt, while my friend has the ricotta and spinach pancake. We order side dishes of green beans (deliciously hot, salty and crunchy) and fried plantain. My friend, who is West Indian, considers herself something of a fried-plantain expert (as she is) and is somewhat underwhelmed by The Creamery's version. Too soggy,' she says. 'Too greasy. The plantains were too ripe and simply soaked up too much fat. That's why they're mushy rather than crispy.' My chickpea cake is also rather mushy, and covered in some kind of. . jus? . . . that tastes as though a can of tinned tomatoes has been tipped over it. Actually, that makes it sound worse than it is. It's perfectly acceptable, but not exactly memorable. Ditto my friend's pancake. There's some horrible abstract art on the walls. The baby at the next table is making a sound like a macaw.

We finish with coffee (truly excellent coffee) and share a hazelnut creme bralee with a gorgeous fig compote that's utterly scrumptious. Generally, though, I'm not sure that The Creamery's cooking is quite up there yet, but the service is good and friendly, the ingredients seemingly fresh and, while it's not perhaps worth travelling down from Sheffield for, it'll probably make it as a local gaff, even though it's rather stark. A few soft furnishings, please! Certainly. I'm willing to give it a go in the evenings, when it might be less creche-like. Seriously, I do not hate babies — and think, even, that it's worth paying that little bit extra for farm-fresh, free-range organic ones. And, remember, basting is the key, if you don't want the meat to dry out. Toodlepip!

The Creamery, 48 The Broadway; N8. Tel: 020 8347 5588.