IT had been a cold, hard day's Teccing behind the wheel of the Buick – I needed a hot meal, and somebody else to do the driving.

I got on the blower to the Moll – she was in the big smoke too, melting the plastic on a big sack of Christmas presents.

"I know just the place, Tec," she blared, as Bing Crosby oozed White Christmas at full volume in the background. "See you there in five."

So it was that I found myself outside the Trans Europe Cafe, a quirky dining spot in the Merchant City.

As I walked in, Toots was already in pole position, at a corner table that gave her almost enough space to conceal her festive shopping stash. Almost.

"Any cash left for the dinner?" I asked her tersely. "Or do we offer to help with the washing up later?"

"Don't be such a Scrooge, Tec," smirked Blondie.

"And check out the prices on the board."

It pained me to say it, but the little lady had a point.

The menu sounded delicious, and there wasn't a single thing on it that was more than a ten spot.

Our friendly waiter appeared and we ordered a glass of white wine and a glass of rose while we got settled.

I took a look around. There was a huge map of Europe on one wall, and old-fashioned bus seats (I said it was quirky), but the gentle candelight and polished tables gave it an air of sophistication.

You could see the tiny kitchen from our table, and I was afraid the ambitious dishes might prove a tall order.

I needn't have worried.

Out of nowhere a plate of bruschetta with cream cheese and salmon mousse/homemade hummus appeared – we hadn't ordered it, it was an extra while we made our choices, and was delicious.

I picked seared scallops on a pea puree served with pancetta and a beetroot jelly to start – it sounded bizarre, but it worked a treat, lots of subtle smoky flavours in delicate balance.

The Moll plumped for the heftier combination of salad of beef carpaccio with capers and gherkins in a Harry's Bar dressing.

I don't know Harry personally, but he can sure put together a punchy salad – Blondie's eyes were twinkling with festive cheer.

For mains I was tempted by the chicken breast stuffed with boudin noir (black pudding to a humble gumshoe like me).

It came with silky smooth mash and green beans and a sage-scented gravy.

I was in heaven, and that was before I sampled the delicious crisped skin on the generous portion of chicken.

The Moll fancied steak and chips, but talked herself out of it to go for the rainbow trout with asparagus, couscous and a rocket salad.

A Moll who has sacrificed the chance of a steak is a Moll who is expecting to be impressed with the alternative. Much to everybody's relief, she loved it.

How the chef was sending out stuff of this quality from a kitchen the size of the Moll's handbag was baffling, but there it was.

I guess if you don't like the sights, sounds and smells of a busy kitchen being right on display, this is maybe not the place for you. But me, I loved the theatre of it.

Blondie still had room for a sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and banana ice cream (so much for dropping a dress size).

It was for the hardcore sweet-tooth brigade, but zinging with vivid flavours.

Sadly, my creme brulee was just too heavy, though the flavour was good, and it came with a superb orchard fruit coulis and homemade shortbread.

And it was redeemed by that rarely-spotted creature, a very good cup of coffee, to finish.

The bill for such a grade-A meal was a relief, no washing up required. If you're looking for first-class fare at SuperSaver prices, book a seat at the Trans Europe.

And the Moll even whistled up a cab home. I can pick up the Buick tomorrow.


Food 444 Atmosphere 444 Service 444


Hand-dived scallops £5.45

Salad of beef carpaccio £5.45


Chicken with boudin noir, mash and green beans £9.95

Rainbow trout £9.95


Creme brulee £3.95

Sticky toffee pudding £3.95


2 house white £9.90; 2 house rose £9.90; 1 coffee £2.25

TOTAL £60.75