Odette’s

With Odette’s, Lemonia, La Collina and L’Absinthe all within 5 minutes walk of each other, the Primrose Hill locals are spoilt for choice when it comes to good neighbourhood restaurants. Odette’s is the most well-known of the bunch thanks to head chef Bryn Williams who has a bit of a celebrity status after his Great British Menu triumph a few years back. If you go at lunchtime you can try his food for incredibly reasonable prices. The set-lunch menu of 2 courses for £13 or 3 for £15 is an absolute bargain, and would be good value just about anywhere, let alone for cooking of this standard.

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Inside the decor is classy with a homely feel to it, and with a busy lunchtime dining room the atmosphere was pleasant, if not a little on the stiff side. The service throughout was efficient, but for a local restaurant I’d have preferred it to be a little more informal and chatty. As for the menu, whilst it is great value, I would have liked one more option for each course, as with only 2 to choose from it is a bit limited, especially for the main as it was either the salmon dish or a vegetarian option of glazed parsnip and carrot with walnut pesto & ceps. This meant that my partner and I went for the same meal, which is a bit of a shame because we both love swapping dishes half way through to get a try of as much as possible.

To start the Lamb belly, piquillo peppers, capers and romesco sauce was a far more generous portion than I was expecting. The first few bites were lovely, but the more I ate, the more sickly it became. With sweet peppers, a romesco sauce and the capers, there was a lot of flavours competing with the lamb and it was a little on the sweet side.

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For main the Salmon, fregola, purple sprouting broccoli and horseradish was presented in a lovely way that really evoked the seaside. The salmon was perfectly cooked with a rare pink middle and crispy outer layer, so it was a real shame that it was let down by the saltiness of the dish. There was also a distinct lack of any horseradish flavour, perhaps again because of it being too heavily salted.

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For an extra £2 you get dessert, so I can’t imagine anybody holding back here. We decided to try one of each, and again the portions were generous. The Salted chocolate tart, caramel ice cream might well be the best I’ve had. It was incredibly light and had just the right balance between the saltiness and sweetness. A lovely end to the meal.

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The Caerphilly cheese, bara brith & quince jelly had a great strong flavour that was balanced by the sweetness of the jelly and the hint of cinnamon in the bread. They had left the ‘cheese’ part of the description off the menu though, so I wasn’t sure just what dessert from that region in Wales I was going to be served up.

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With two glasses of Chenin blanc (£6.20) and a side of smoked mash (£3) which wasn’t at all needed, the bill was just over £25 a head with service, and these prices it really is worth trying if you are in the area.

Food: 7.5/10

Service: 7/10

Value: 9/10 (lunch menu)

Atmosphere: 6.5/10

Overall: 7/10

130 Regent’s Park Rd, London NW1 8XL

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L’Absinthe

Right in the heart of Primrose Hill, a few minutes walk from the rest of the shops and restaurants on Regents Park Road, L’Absinthe could easily be a little Parisian bistro. Inside it has that casual bric-a-brac appeal with books and artwork scattered around the dining room, and everybody is greeted by a warm Bonjour from the all-French staff.

The prices are extremely reasonable. All of the starters are around £6, and the mains around £16. But it’s the wine list that really becomes your friend. L’Absinthe doubles up as a wine shop and operates with a £10 corkage policy. So of course choosing something towards the bottom of the list makes more sense. We went for a Sancere at £34 (three bottles of it by the end it was that good) and it would have been easily been closer to the fifty mark in another restaurant.

The food is simple and unpretentious home-cooking. If you really wanted you could probably cook it yourself, and certainly plate it up like they do here, but it why go to all the effort. It’s reasonably enough priced for you to merit nipping here any night of the week for a casual bite to eat. The menu is made up of classic French comfort dishes, the types that don’t hold back on the calories. I went for the fish soup with rouille and croutons and it had a nice depth of flavour and the rouille had a good kick to it.

ImageThe blue cheese, chicory and walnut salad was fine, slightly messy with the presentation, but compensated for by the generous portion.saladFor main I went for steak frites.  It was a juicy cut of meat and came with a finger-licking bernaise sauce.

steakfritesThe sea bass wasn’t anything special. It was cooked well enough, but the ratatouille and and sweet pepper sauce didn’t do much for the flavour of the fish, and it was all a bit one texture.

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For dessert we shared an Absinthe creme brulee that was creamy and rich, although a little more of that absinthe flavour would have been a treat, and a chocolate and coffee mousse that had such a intense dark chocolate flavour that it was gone before I could get a photo.

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What makes L’Absinthe is the staff. They make it a pleasure to eat there, as if they are welcoming you into their own home. It’s not the type of place you would come especially to Primrose Hill for, and it is far from being the best French food in the capital. Instead it is a restaurant that if you are lucky to have on your doorstep that you will always go back to. As the owner says on the website- good food, good wine, good company…what more do you need? L’Absinthe delivers on all three and you will leave full, drunk and happy for under £50 a head.

Food: 6.5/10

Service: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 7/10

40 Chalcot Rd, Primrose Hill, NW1 8LS

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