No secrets, just good food and great value at M&M

BY VICTORIA PREVER Call me cheap – and a few people do – but I think that we ve become used to paying too much for decent food in London. I understand that we re not just paying for the (considerably marked up) ingredients, but also for the restaurateur s overheads – rent,

Call me cheap - and a few people do - but I think that we've become used to paying too much for decent food in London. I understand that we're not just paying for the (considerably marked up) ingredients, but also for the restaurateur's overheads - rent, staff, utilities etc - but it should still be possible to eat well for less.

Prices have crept up across the board. You can't eat even a couple of simple courses in one of the omnipresent gastropubs for less than £35 per head. And that's without wine. I think that's too much. It should be possible to eat well for less than that.

Primrose Hill is not the first place you'd think of when looking for value. With its million pound (plus) properties, designer boutiques and chi-chi homeware outlets you'd hardly expect to come across many bargains.

But this week I found several great deals in the food department in the most unlikely places. If you know where to look, the place is actually overflowing with them.

Melrose and Morgan is tucked away down Gloucester Avenue, opposite The Engineer and next door to Sardo Canale. Both are established Primrose Hill favourites, and both serve mostly decent food but at mostly inflated prices. The Engineer in particular has become more restaurant than gastropub over the years, with prices to prove it.

More delicatessen/traiteur than full functioning restaurant or café, Melrose and Morgan offers those who just can't wait to get the gorgeous looking food in their mouths the chance to eat it there and then. I popped in with Auntie Buck, looking for lunchtime fuel. The attractive display of brightly coloured, freshly cooked dishes lured us in - and we were told we could perch at one of the handful of (more comfortable than they look) metal bar stools at a counter in the deli window.

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The deli is effectively one big room. Food is displayed in fridges and on a long central table. There are high shelves of dry goods and wine with boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables stacked on the floor. Display fridges offer freshly made soups, stews, cottage pies, fish pies, marinated meats, crumbles, pates, sauces and other treats to take home. Those too busy even to half-heartedly cheat like Delia might prefer to pass off one of the Melrose and Morgan delicious looking shepherd's pies in earthenware dishes as their own.

There are no secrets here. The food is prepared in an open kitchen and even the storage fridge has glass walls, open to all to view into. Another big plus is being able to see everything before you order. Auntie Buck and I chose a selection from the slightly scatty assistant and went to perch on our stools.

Choosing isn't easy. The dishes we just couldn't fit on our plates included a very tasty looking butternut squash and goat's cheese tart on crisply golden puff pastry, a fresh looking, oh-so-seasonal salad of beetroot, orange, spinach and goat's curd as well as some handsome, well-rounded sausage rolls.

My breaded tarragon chicken had been warmed a little, but possibly not quite enough. The crumb coating gave a hint of tarragon and the chicken was moist and tender. Despite our server's assurance that it had more flavour than it looked, the tabbouleh I chose to accompany the chicken was all bark and no bite.

Although it was packed with herbs, sunflower seeds and raisins, it needed some oil or lemon juice and a whole lot more seasoning to bring it alive. The pile of rocket leaves I'd requested to break up the carbfest were a bit tired but drizzled in a punchy, mustardy vinaigrette.

Aunty Buck's butternut squash and goat's cheese quiche was tasty and packed with the headline ingredients. She was also having a starch party and had chosen potato salad with her tart. Good waxy potatoes were dressed with chopped parsley, capers, onions and vinaigrette. Again, full marks for ingredients but too little salt to bring it to life.

We shared a plate of textbook perfect cauliflower cheese - clingy, strongly cheesey white sauce on firm cauliflower - and a potato, Wensleydale and leek pasty type affair. Decent shortcrust pastry packed with well-seasoned leeks, strong cheese and good-sized lumps of potato. Unfortunately, it was also packed with a small, black, diamond shaped paper label. After discreetly showing one of the many assistants the offending piece of paper, he apologised profusely and said we would not be charged for the potato parcel.

We had eaten so much we weren't able to squeeze in one of their huge chocolate brownies, Chelsea buns or a slice of orange and almond cake. It did look inviting but the beauty of eating here is that it's very easy to take a pudding home, by which time you most likely will have enough room to continue. You can also take home your dinner, evening treat, the next day's breakfast and lunch too.

What struck me about Melrose and Mortimer was that I was eating the sort of sexy looking, well prepared food that I would have paid considerably more for across the road or even at one of their close contemporaries - places like Baker and Spice or Ottolenghi.

At just over £15 for enough food (and two drinks) to fill and defeat two hardened gluttons, the value is unquestionable.

If you find yourself in need of a gourmet feed at reasonable prices - or if you don't feel like cooking this weekend - I'd get down there.

Melrose and Morgan, 42 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8JD.


Telephone: 020-7722 0011.

Food: three star rating

Service: three star rating

Opening hours: Mondays to Fridays 8am to 8pm, Saturdays 8am to 6pm, Sundays 9am to 4pm.

Cost: £15.80 for two, one course with drinks.