Great service, shame about the food

Kentish Town has some claims to fame but most would not consider great culinary offerings among them. Even though I have lived on its borders, I haven t actually stopped on the High Street for some years. But word has reached me of a new deli café

Kentish Town has some claims to fame but most would not consider great culinary offerings among them. Even though I have lived on its borders, I haven't actually stopped on the High Street for some years.

But word has reached me of a new deli café close to the tube station and I decided to give it a chance. And how things have changed. While not quite Borough Market, there are definitely gastronomic stirrings. Maybe a reaction to the increased demand from the fooderati moving into the increasingly gentrified terraces of houses on the High Road.

The first sign - a cart offering cappuccinos and other upwardly mobile coffees plying its trade outside the tube. A notice on its side promised all coffee served on a Wednesday to be organic. Further down the High Street a sexy, organic wholefood store/greengrocer called Earth has opened, a couple of doors down from supermarket/butcher/café, Phoenecia, which is a treasure trove of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern goodies.

A tiny sprinkling of gastropubs and cafes complete the picture, joining longer-established food retailers such as the fruit and veg stalls near the station and B&M Seafoods - with its curious mix of fish and organic meat.

Just north of the tube station, Harry Dasht (proprietor of B&M) has spent two and a half years building Café R.E.D in what was once a police station but was most immediately occupied by a tapas bar and a sports shop. It opened just two months ago.

One side is a delicatessen with takeaway service, the other, a restaurant. At 12.30 on a Wednesday afternoon, two tables were occupied. Despite there being several staff members around, I was kept waiting a few moments before I was shown to a table and some more time before I was offered a menu.

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The décor is attractive, spotlessly clean and modern - white, mirrored walls, dark brown wood floor, dark red formica table tops and attractive artwork. More seating is available in the dark, cosy downstairs area most suited to evening dining. Two downstairs tables occupy booths which were once the police cells. As you'd expect, the fish and meat are from B&M. A board high on the wall declares the food to be organic where possible and always fresh. It's a shame such claims are now made so ubiquitously they've become almost trite.

R.E.D. is apparently an acronym for Really Excellent Dining. High ambitions indeed, but you aren't likely to experience much "R.E.D" here at lunchtime. From 8am until noon, they offer an extensive and reasonably priced breakfast menu. Much later, the interesting evening menu offers a range of organic meat and fish. Lunch seems a no-man's land. The menu lists your limited options - soup with bread, a vegetarian dish of the day, meat dish of the day or the fish of the day all served with vegetables.

The manager, Tim, came to tell me what the dishes of the day were and take my order. This was a lazy menu style. Why not print the choices out or write them on a blackboard? Under pressure to choose I went with his recommendation, the mozzarella and vegetable quiche. When I asked if there were any starters, he offered to bring me a selection of two antipasti type snacks.

Even with only three tables occupied, service was chaotic. First a waitress and then Tim himself attempted to deliver my main course quiche, before my starter arrived. The starter was a thick slice of nicely chargrilled aubergine rolled around a filling of tabouleh style salad so garlicky it burned. Next to it sat a slice of salty, unsavoury-looking patchy brown smoked salmon, wrapped around a filling of cream cheese and chives. I was unable to finish either.

The well-travelled quiche returned for a third encore, minutes after my starter plate had departed. Tim asked if I'd like it heated. It was fridge cold so I accepted. It returned suspiciously quickly. The soggy, almost spongey, tasteless pastry confirmed it had been microwaved. The filling was packed with peppers, broccoli and tomato but bland with no sign of mozzarella nor any seasoning.

The salads looked far from fresh and also lacked flavour. A soggy cabbage, carrot and pomegranate salad was drenched in lemon juice that had turned it brown. Cucumber and tomato were naked of dressing. The most successful salad was a beetroot, walnut and parsley salad that would also have benefited from seasoning.

To his credit, Tim - who was racing around seeing to customers - clocked my half-eaten food and offered me a complimentary plate of fresh plump dates and a pot of fresh mint tea. He explained that their chef was doing his first day on his own and was stressed. So was I. He also brought me slices of prune and brandy cake and coffee and walnut cake. Both were fresh, moist and sticky.

I suspect that I chose the wrong day and wrong meal to sample R.E.D.'s delights, but that's unacceptable. Would it be OK for a singer to shrug off their bum notes by saying you'd chosen the wrong concert to watch? I think not. Perhaps they should extend their breakfast offering. If you're going to give them a try, stick to breakfast or dinner, and let me know if it's any better.

Café R.E.D. 298 Kentish Town Rd, NW5.

Telephone: 020-7482 7300

Food: One star rating

Service: Four star rating

Opening hours: Sundays, Mondays-Thursdays 7.30am-midnight, Fridays and Saturdays 7.30am-1am.

o Cost: £10 for two courses, no drinks. Soup with bread £3.45, fish or meat of the day with vegetables, £8.95, vegetarian dish of the day £7.45.

On another matter, a recent visit to Pizza Express, St John's Wood, revealed that standards are dropping.

Service was slow and the décor has definitely seen better days.

Our pizzas took an inordinately long time to arrive. When they did, mine was so burnt I had to send it back. The restaurant was half empty on a Saturday night and I'm not surprised.

This previously reliable outlet could do with attending to details and getting the decorators in.