A STONE'S throw from Earl's Court Exhibition Centre and barely registering as you peer down dimly lit Seagrave Road, the unprepossessing surroundings of The Atlas will do little to seduce passing tourists and exhibitors.
That is their loss, however – because here is a hidden gem of a place manages to serves up incredible food while retaining the convivial feel of an unpretentious local pub.
Despite arriving late in the evening, ten minutes before the kitchen closed, we were immediately offered fresh chunks of crusty brown bread hot from the oven, served with a saucer of olive oil that was clearly a few notches above the average.
A warning about hefty portion sizes resulted in uncharacteristic restraint while ordering a starter of bruschetta to share, but the advice turned out to be good - the resulting dish must have incorporated half a loaf of grilled Pugliese bread.
Thankfully the quantity did not indicate a lack of quality – the opposite, in fact, as the finely diced, intensely flavoured tomatoes had been lovingly dressed in just the right amount of oil and chopped, fragrant basil leaves.
The obvious care and attention paid in the kitchen is further evident in the standard of the main courses, which have a gamey, southern European feel – non-meat eaters be warned.
Braised rabbit had been carefully simmered for several hours and was deeply flavoured, the meat from four generous chunks falling away from unfamiliar bones, perfectly accompanied by a rich tomato-based sauce and a slice of firm, grilled polenta. Individual button onions had been expertly caramelised and tender baby carrots completed the rustic ensemble.
Poached haddock was equally delicious, with the fish cooked just long enough to retain a buoyant springiness amid the intense bouillabaisse sauce which surrounded it. New potatoes added texture to the dish, and perhaps the only disappointment was the inclusion of chunks of courgette, which tasted a little bitter and incongruous.
Quibbles aside, both the main courses were good value at £13.50 and far exceeded reasonable expectations for any back-street gastropub.
By the time we had finished mopping up, the wooden hatch to the kitchen had long since closed and dessert was out of the question – though the idea of marmalade bread and butter pudding may inspire a return visit before long - so we were left to drink our way through the remains of a bottle of Alpha Zeta rose wine from Verona, which brought the bill to a respectably moderate £48 for two.
Top-notch cooking like this deserves the praise which has been heaped on The Atlas in a number of restaurant guides, and since booking a table is impossible, anyone approaching the region is strongly advised to consult their maps or set their sat nav for Seagrave Road.