The London Scene
London rivals New York, Paris, and Tokyo as one of the best places to eat in the world right now. The diversity of restaurants here is unparalleled. Among the city’s 6,700 restaurants are see-and-be-seen hotspots, casual ethnic eateries, innovative gastropubs, and temples to haute cuisine.
Now a key global finance center, the City is home to finance markets that have sent a wall of money cascading down to help spark the most fabulous restaurant boom that London’s ever seen. To measure London’s spectacular culinary rise, note that it was once a common dictum that the British ate to live, while the French lived to eat.
Hell’s Kitchen star Gordon Ramsay sets the bar high at his eponymous place at Royal Hospital Rd. in Chelsea, while the rest of the much-lauded haute cuisine scene is dominated by world-class masters. Marcus Wareing roars up on his mentor Ramsay’s shoulder at Wareing’s self-named place at the Berkeley; Michel Roux Jr. rules the roost at Le Gavroche in Mayfair; Eric Chavot sets a blistering pace at the Capital; Hélène Darroze does it for the girls at the Connaught; and Claude Bosi is coming up at Hibiscus.
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These restaurants are more than just see-and-be-seen hotspots—excellent food adds to the buzz. If you’re looking to save, visit at lunch, when the set menu is usually half of what it would cost to eat there at night.
Great Queen Street. It’s always packed at Covent Garden’s top gastropub, which serves old-school British classics in a stripped-down oak-floor-and-table saloon. (32 Great Queen St., Covent Garden, WC2, 020/7242-0622).
Wild Honey: Wild Honey scores with inventive modern European dishes at knock-down prices in swanky Mayfair. Set meals come in under £18. (12 St. George St., Mayfair, W1S, 020/7758-9160).
Scott’s: The A-list dodge the paparrazi and come here to celebrate. Seafood from caviar to Cumbrae oysters are enjoyed in a fashionable salon. (20 Mount St., Mayfair, W1, 020/7495-7309).
Hibiscus: Claude Bosi moved lock, stock and barrel from Ludlow to Mayfair and now takes London by storm. Feast on foie gras ice cream or silver mullet. (29 Maddox St., Mayfair, W1, 020/7629-2999).
Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel. Here you’ll find a new take on ‘flexible’ haute cuisine dining, where you can choose set courses from only two categories on the menu—’savories’ or ‘desserts’. (66 Knightsbridge, Knightsbridge, SW1, 020/7201-3723).
New Zealander Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry. There’s something special going on with modern fusion in this calm and organised Georgian all-day pantry and trateur on St. John’s Sq. (47-48 St. John’s Sq., Clerkenwell, EC1V, 020/7250-0833).
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, London. London’s crème de la crème flock to Hélène Darroze at the Connaught for exemplary regional French haute cuisine, served in a quintessentially Edwardian wood-paneled hotel dining room. Taking inspiration from Les Landes region in southwest France, Darroze sallies forth with a procession of magical dishes. Caviar d’Acquitaine wows with oyster tartare in a stylish martini glass, topped with black caviar jelly and white haricot bean velouté. Spit-roasted and flambéed grouse is served delightfully pink, with duck foie gras, and mini Brussels sprouts. To finish, enjoy Madagascar chocolate ganache with raspberry sorbet and galangal crème brûlée. Note that the prices are high: £39 for lunch, and £75 or £95 for the set dinners. The Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL. 020/3147-7200. Reservations essential. Jacket required. AE, DC, MC, V. Closed Sat. & Sun. Median entrée price: £75.
Giaconda Dining Room, London. A real find on Denmark Street’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’ (think Bowie, Marley, and the Clash), the Australian-run two-room dining room may only seat 35, but the menu is inspired and the prices are cheap. Chef Paul Merrony sends out starters—pumpkin risotto, crispy pigs’ trotters—and a full range of main entrées for a reasonable cost. Try the fishcakes, salmon and fennel, or hearty dishes like poached veal, Italian pork sausage stew, or ham hock hash with a fried egg on top. Popular puddings such as apricot compote with walnuts and whipped cream come in at a tasty £5. 9 Denmark St., Soho. 020-7240-3334. Reservations essential. AE, MC, V. Median entrée price: £11.00.
Photo courtesy of misocrazy on Flickr