London Restaurants

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London Restaurant Reviews

As anyone knows who reads the Sunday paper's travel section, London has had a restaurant boom, or rather, a restaurant atomic bomb explosion.

More than ever, Londoners love their restaurants—all 6,700 of them—from its be-here-right-now, wow-factor West End gastro-emporiums, to its tiny neighborhood joints, from stripped-back gastropubs where young-gun foodniks find their feet to swank boîtes where well-traveled, soon-to-be celebrity chefs launch their madcap ego flights. You, too, will be smitten, because you'll be spending, on average, 25% of your travel budget on eating out.

Today, nearly everything on the culinary front has dramatically changed from the days of steamed puddings and overboiled brussels sprouts. Everyone seems to be passionate about food, while a never-ending wall of City money has souped-up standards unimaginably. Celebrity chefs abound. One week it's Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental that's flavor of the month, the next it's Jason Atherton at the Pollen Street Social in Mayfair. Thankfully, pride in the best of authentic British food—local, regional, wild, foraged, and seasonal—has made a resurgence and appears on more menus by the day. The new wave of waste-not, want-not "nose-to- tail" eating—where every scrap of meat is deemed fair game for the plate—made its first spectacular comeback at St. John's in Clerkenwell, and fits perfectly with the new age of austerity.

Needless to say, it's the top of the food chain that makes all the news. Throughout London you'll find an ambitious bunch of haute cuisine heroes kickin' butt to world-class standards. Clare Smyth sets the highest bar as head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea; Heston Blumenthal protégé Ashley Palmer Watts single-handedly revives olde-English gastronomy with ultramodern methods at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal; Aussie Brett Graham is cooking on gas at the Ledbury; Portuguese Nuno Mendes creates a modernist escapade at Viajante in Bethnal Green; and French whizzo Hélène Darroze does it sublimely for the girls at the regal Connaught.

To appreciate how far London has risen in the global culinary firmament, just look back at the days of famed author Somerset Maugham, who was once justified in warning "To eat well in England, you should have a breakfast three times a day." Change was slow in coming after World War II, for then it was still understood the British ate to live, while the French lived to eat. When people thought of British cuisine, fish-and-chips—a grab-and-gulp dish that tasted best wrapped in old newspaper—first came to mind. Then there was always shepherd's pie, ubiquitously available in smoke-filled pubs—though not made according to the song from Sweeney Todd, "with real shepherd in it."

These days, shepherd's pie has been largely replaced by city's unofficial dish, the ubiquitous spicy Indian curry. London's food quake is built on its incredible ethnic diversity, and you'll find the quality of other international cuisines has also grown immeasurably in recent years, with London becoming known for its Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Spanish, French, Persian, and North African restaurants. With all of the choices, traditional British food, when you track it down, appears as just one more exotic cuisine in the pantheon.

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