As someone who spends an indecent amount of time browsing and sluicing under the pretence of working I am frequently asked to name my favourite restaurants. Of course it is tempting to rattle off a list of ultra-fashionable, Michelin be-starred dining establishments where mortals cannot obtain a table at a time anyone would actually want to eat but, here I thought I would set the record straight and give you the low down (in no particular order) on the places I most frequent.
Hardy's – 53 Dorset Street, London W1. www.hardysbrasserie.com
This brilliant neighbourhood brassiere in the heart of what estate agents call 'Marylebone village' is an understated gem. You can call in for a coffee and a croissant or enjoy a four course expense account blow out and you will be given an equally warm welcome. The whole enterprise is presided over with élan by savvy patronne Dominique de Bastarrechea who has compiled an excellent wine list through which she will happily guide you.
Eat: Double-baked smoked haddock and cheddar soufflé.
Drink: Sancerre 'Les Perriers' 2013: André Vatan.
The Thai Kitchen – 8 King Street, Frome, Somerset, BA11. www.thaikitchenfrome.com
This bijou family-run local has no frills but the front of house service is exemplary and the food is sensationally fresh and very reasonably-priced. There is no wine list but corkage is minimal and they have a terrific shop stocking over 200 authentic Thai ingredients.
Eat: Som Tam - papaya salad.
Drink: Lime juice.
Andrew Edmunds – 46 Lexington Street, London, W1. www.andrewedmunds.com
I was first taken to this Dickensian Soho stalwart by my Dad when I was an undergraduate in the 1980s and the earth moved for me – if not for him. Until that point I hadn't realised it was possible to combine simplicity and sophistication to such great effect and I can still recall being impressed by the wonderfully minimalist 'Modern British' menu and arcane list of world class wines. Today the food and wine are as good as ever and I am happy to count myself as a regular.
Eat: Beef shin ragu with rigatoni.
Drink: Collioure 'La Pinède' 2012: Domaine la Tour Vieille.
The Talbot Inn – Mells, Somerset, BA11. www.talbotinn.com
I am a man with a mission to sustain the tradition of the 'working lunch' when two or three colleagues or associates get together and vaguely touch upon business matters while enjoying some really good food, wine and company. The Talbot lends itself well to this although it is an excellent dinner venue too. The grill, housed in an old coach house, where we recently held our staff party, is particularly good. Its sister establishment the Beckford Arms in Fonthill Gifford is also exemplary.
Eat: Home-smoked trout terrine.
Drink: Butcombe bitter.
Otto's – 182 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1. www.ottos-restaurant.com
In an era when chains proliferate and bean-counters seem to be running the show Otto's is a refreshing throwback to fin de siècle glamour when the customer was king and nothing was too much trouble. Tour d'Argent-trained owner Otto serves up inimitable treats such as pressed lobster or duck (advance booking required) that have gastronomes and greedy hogs (like myself) beating a path to his door. The wine list is superb and very benignly-priced.
Eat: Hommard à la presse.
Drink: Condrieu 'Couteau de Vernon' 2012: Georges Vernay
Le Gavroche – 43 Upper Brook Street, London, W1. www.le-gavroche.co.uk
My impecuniosity and its' popularity mean that I don't dine at Le Gavroche as frequently as I might wish - but does anyone? Fortunately, I have a long-standing arrangement to host wine lunches there so do get through the doors fairly regularly. For me this represents perfection – an insightful 21st century take on classic French cuisine run by the best-drilled team in the business.
Eat: Oeuf poche Victoria or soufflé Suissesse.
Drink: Whatever chef sommelier David Galetti recommends – he's inspired!
L'Hôtel de France – Saint-Pardoux la Rivière, Périgord, France. www.hoteldefrance-cibot.com
I have been visiting this small town Hôtel and restaurant, which is run with panache and passion by the Cibot family, for over twenty years and it ought to be subject to a preservation order. It never disappoints but is at its best in the summer when we meet up with other families to share an enormous table on the terrace for long and languorous lunches. The 'Menu de Jour' is ridiculously good value but I love the 'Menu Perigourdin' which features wild mushrooms, foie gras and confit du canard.
Eat: Omlette aux cèpes.
Drink: Chilled Saumur-Champigny.
The High Pavement Evening Café – 8 Palmer Street, Frome, Somerset, BA11.
This gem of a local, located in an old townhouse, is bijou and bustling so advance booking is advisable. It is only open on Friday and Saturday evening and is run with infectious enthusiasm by Stuart Bastiman in the kitchen and Aimee Snell at the front of house. The cuisine is Iberian and Moorish in its leanings and the short, regularly-changing menu, is well considered and very well executed.
Eat: Smoked aubergine and feta croquettas.
Drink: 'Tandem' Syrah du Maroc 2011: Alain Graillot
Bellamy's of Bruton Place – 18 Bruton Place, London, W1. www.bellamysrestaurant .co.uk
I have a nagging doubt that I seriously lower the tone of this smoothly-run Mayfair institution every time I pitch up but the attentive owner-operator Gavin Rankin keeps a stiff upper lip and has yet to banish me. It is renowned for its caviar and oysters but there isn't a duff dish on the menu and the wine list has something for everybody and some interesting offerings by the glass.
Drink: Vouvray Sec 2012: Domaine Aubert.
The Dragon Pearl – 18 Palmer Street, Frome, Somerset, BA11. www.dragon-pearl.co.uk
This family-run Chinese restaurant is situated on the top floor of a former department store giving marvellous views and the air of being on an ocean liner. It is a great place to meet up with a group of friends to share an array of dishes decked around a Lazy Susan. We regularly take advantage of an excellent, weekday fixed-price deal and major on starters such as chicken satay, prawn toast, wantons and chilli squid before seguing on to crispy aromatic duck and then noodles. The service is very friendly and efficient and the wine list is well put together.
Eat: 'Salt and pepper' king prawns.
Drink: Marques de Caceres Blanco – Rioja.