It's 10 out of 10 for Simon Bradley's enduring excellence
BY VICTORIA PREVER We re all guilty of taking things for granted. One minute a place is all the rage then fashions change and then today s hot news is yesterday s chip paper. Few restaurants survive more than one circuit of the merry-go-round. When I was a child, my parent
We're all guilty of taking things for granted. One minute a place is all the rage then fashions change and then today's hot news is yesterday's chip paper. Few restaurants survive more than one circuit of the merry-go-round.
When I was a child, my parents had a series of favourite foodie venues. For months, we'd spend our Sunday lunches queuing up at The Hard Rock Cafe for burgers, Coke floats and huge ice-cream sundaes. When that fell out of favour, Lindy's in Golders Green was where we could be found, eating chicken from a basket. One bad meal in the usual haunt and we'd be off to tables new.
Bradley's in Swiss Cottage was a family favourite from its opening in 1991. Well placed for a pre-Hampstead Theatre bite and smart enough for special occasions, it became a regular choice.
At that time, it was run by Simon Bradley - who'd trained as a chef at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane - and his business partner, Neil Armishaw. After a few years, flamboyant Neil jumped ship and opened rival (now defunct) Globe on the Swiss Cottage side of the Ham&High offices. Armishaw now camps it up with The Globe Girls, a glamorous group of drag queens. Bradley and his wife Jolanta continue to operate Bradley's.
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At some point, we just stopped visiting. I can't remember why. For whatever reason, I hadn't visited in at least five years.
In need of somewhere to take the Outlaws for Sunday lunch and saddled with a (really) Grumpy unwilling to travel far as a result of a bad back, I gave Bradley's another try.
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The Sunday lunch menu is fixed price. Two courses for £21 and three for £25. Both include an aperitif - Pimm's, virgin Mary or fresh orange juice.
It's here that I should announce that my usual cover might have been blown. Bradley has moved upstairs from his kitchen to front-of-house. He told me he feels too old to still be manning the stoves. Despite an extremely long time since he last saw me, I found out after we'd eaten I'd been recognised. He may well have been on best behaviour.
We planned on sticking to two courses but couldn't bear to rule anything out. To start, Grumpy and his mother chose grilled goat's cheese on a cylinder of aubergine puree wrapped in courgettes and surrounded by slow-roasted cherry tomatoes. Both declared it excellent. Father Outlaw's crispy duck with plum and watercress salad was gone in a flash. The pile of glossy duck, sweet plums and watercress looked immaculate. I can't resist a fish soup - I think it's the opportunity to play with your food. The Bradley's version, with all the usual accoutrements, was good.
Decor is tastefully smart casual - cream walls, burgundy upholstery, modern art and an orchid or two dotted around. Single white roses sit on tabletops smart enough not to warrant cloths. At 2.30pm on a summer Sunday, the dining room was half empty. A large party sat at one end of the room and we shared the other half with just two other groups. The atmosphere was calmly welcoming.
Plates vanished seamlessly as we finished eating and glasses were almost invisibly replenished. Ordinarily, bottles kept away from the table would set off my inner control freak but with plenty in my glass and no over-pouring the freak was calm.
Main courses were also excellent. Grumpy and my MIL chose the fish of the day - grilled halibut served on a ring of perfectly cooked cabbage and next to some swooshes of sweet, pureed carrot and fishy-flavoured foam. Grumpy felt his fish was marginally overdone by seconds, which it probably was, but MIL noshed hers up.
My roast beef was two large slices of buttery soft (though slightly fatty) medium rare meat topped with gravy. A huge Yorkshire towered over it and a plate of cauliflower cheese, mixed peas and beans and roast potatoes made it a portion that beat me hands down. Perfect Sunday fodder.
My father-in-law's mixed grilled fish - another mountain of protein - consisting of a sardine, pieces of salmon, cod and tuna. He (once a military-trained chef) felt the fish lacked seasoning but could not fault the courgette spaghetti and pepper dressing.
We found room for a selection of desserts. Chocolate fondant was richly gooey with melting heart and a scoop of Seville orange ice cream, which Grumpy (despite being mellowed by Pimm's and wine) found too bitter. I thought it was a good foil for the fondant - and it's my review. A raspberry creme brulee was judged by the men to be a little sweet and the tart of the day - apricot frangipane - was immaculate.
At 4.30pm, we were the last to leave but there was no cutlery crashing or bashing of chairs from the staff - still all smiles. The good value set price had ratcheted up by the time we'd added on our drinks, coffees and service. At less than £35 per head for an immaculate meal it was still not to be sniffed at.
Sometimes the old faithfuls are the best. Bradley's is still around for a reason. The food and service are excellent and there aren't many other restaurants I've eaten at in this area that can match it. I promise not to leave it another five years.
Bradley's, 25 Winchester Road, NW3 3NR.
Telephone: 020-7722 3457.
Food: five star rating
Service: five star rating
Hours: Mondays to Saturdays noon-3pm; 6-11pm, Sundays noon-3pm
Cost: £70 for two. based on set Sunday lunch menu.