Restaurant Review: Rex Caf�, N10

Stephen Moore discovers British cuisine offers more than just fish n’ chips at a Muswell Hill caf�

WHEN you fancy sampling another nation’s food as it should be, without messing around in the kitchen for hours, it’s never too much effort to track down a decent Indian, Chinese, Thai or Italian venue that’s nearby and won’t rip you off.

But you just look for your nearest British kitchen and the closest you’ll get is a chippy, kebab shop or Wetherspoon’s.

The chaps at the Rex Caf� have set out to show us what we’re missing, even though defining what makes a British restaurant isn’t easy to start with, since we’ve been absorbing and adapting everyone else’s cuisine longer than pretty much everyone else.

But as much as Rex stands out with its block, bold red sign and artfully framed Union Jack within, it’s going head-to-head with the generically reliable likes of Pizza Express and Giraffe for a slice of the Muswell Hill families’ stretched wallet.

With most mains between �9 and �13, a relaxed atmosphere and unpretentious decor, it’s already in with a shout – and the extensive menu shouldn’t disappoint either.

You can choose from one of 10 meat dishes, on top of three steak options and six burgers (including one with foie gras), beside four fish dishes (including a Toff’s-baiting �9.50 beer-battered cod and chips) and three salads.

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This is not to mention six desserts and an array of breakfast/brunch/afternoon tea/small plates that make you wonder whether Rex’s chefs might be spreading themselves a little thin. Only one way to find out.

The warm scotch egg (�4.95) was a good place to start, soothing my doubts with a crispy double-fried coating and boasting a size I would quickly come to associate with Rex.

The portions are generous – my partner’s lovely chicken liver pate (�4.95) was served in two huge ice cream scoop balls – so you’re best off working up an appetite around Alexandra Park first.

My three lamb noisettes on mint mash with gravy and veg (�11.95) were expertly cooked, tender and meaty, while the mint in the potato was well-balanced.

My partner’s hulking aged sirloin steak (�13.95) was impressive and full-flavoured, although the measly serving of creamed spinach must have felt particularly inadequate next to the brick of dauphinoise potato – light and buttery with plenty of onion.

If the quality of these dishes is met across the board, from red snapper to pork belly to the full English breakfast, the chains should start worrying.

The hazelnut cr�me brulee and sticky toffee pudding (�4.95 each) scored for taste and quality too, the homemade touch elevating these well above expectations at this price.

I would happily return tomorrow for a lazy gammon steak, egg and chips and a read of the papers – but think I’d have to jog there first to make sure I didn’t leave a morsel.