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LONDON INTRODUCTION 2003 FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

We have been given permission by Harden's Restaurant Guides to reproduce the following article which was taken from the pages of UK Restaurants 2003, published in November.

UK Restaurants 2003 is edited by Richard and Peter Harden

In practically every respect, London today is an incomparably more interesting city to eat out in than it was ten years ago. For quality and range, London now has only one serious competitor in the world, New York, and the diversity has become so great that the choice can seem bewildering.

With its many maps and indexes - in particular the Survey results (pages 19 - 22) and Area overviews (pages 82 - 93) - this guide is designed to provide numerous ways of locating the restaurant you're seeking for any particular occasion. But, if you're new in London - or just an occasional visitor - you may find the following a handy introduction.

Which is London's best restaurant?

In the sense people usually mean this question - that is, money-no-object, probably French - the answer is clearly Gordon Ramsay (in Chelsea). Or, for a more traditional atmosphere, head for Le Gavroche - London's longest established 'temple of gastronomy'. Pétrus has recently emerged to claim a place in the first rank, though its ambience is rather 'businessy'. The Square is similarly a favourite place to entertain top clients.

For first-rate cooking, hotel dining rooms are rarely the best option, but two are of note. If you like fish, Restaurant One-O-One, in Knightsbridge, is now the second highest-rated restaurant in town overall. If you're looking for a more all-round 'classic' experience, 1837 in Mayfair would be the place.

Other names of note include Mayfair's Nobu (see below), Chelsea's Aubergine and - on the basis of the quality of cooking alone - Tatsuso, a City Japanese.

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What's 'in' at the moment?

The Ivy and, to a lesser extent, its sibling Le Caprice are always 'in' - they make a 'can't-go-wrong' choice for pretty much any occasion. if you can get a booking. The Mirabelle is slowly building a similar reputation. The hottest ticket of recent years has been, and probably remains, Nobu, which has the advantage that the food is as notable as the clientèle. As a star magnet, San Lorenzo has a timeless - and to the uninitiated, quite inexplicable - appeal. For the fashion world, Asia de Cuba remains quite a place.

Among recent arrivals, Zuma stands out, as, for a slightly younger crowd, does Hakkasan. In groovy Notting Hill, trustafarians fall over themselves to get seats at E & O and the Electric Brasserie. If the launch to any extent lives up to the pre-launch hype, then Sketch - part owned by the man behind the ever-fashionable Momo - will enjoy at least its fifteen minutes in the sun.

I'm not fussed about fashionable scenes - where can I find a really good meal without spending the earth?

The Ivy and Le Caprice are not that expensive, and neither is their emerging stablemate J Sheekey. If you want a bit of glamour plus a decent meal in the heart of town, they are hard to beat. Though more remote, three establishments run by low-profile restaurateur Nigel Platts-Martin are also top choices - Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, La Trompette in Chiswick and The Glasshouse in Kew.

For French cooking of utmost quality, but without great formality, two names stand out - Monsieur Max in distant Hampton Hill, and the trendier Club Gascon, on the fringe of the City. Shepherd's Bush's quirky Chinon has long been producing modern (Anglo-)French cooking on a par with many places that charge twice as much. Other names which have stood the test of time include Clarke's (Kensington), Monkeys (Chelsea) and - at a very affordable price level - Andrew Edmunds (Soho).

What if I want the best of British tradition?

Because Britain is a 'pub culture', there are very few 'traditional' restaurants of note, and fewer which can be recommended. The Dorchester Grill and Wilton's are the grandest native flag bearers. The venerable (but cheaper) Rules may be a mite touristy, but it offers an excellent combination of good cooking with charming period style. The City preserves some extraordinary olde-worlde places such as Sweetings or Simpson's Tavern, and the famous pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Other ancient taverns include the Grenadier, the Queen's Head, the Trafalgar Tavern and the Windsor Castle. (For more on modern pubs see below.)

For afternoon tea, the Basil Street Hotel, Brown's Hotel or The Ritz are best. Tea (or any light meal) at Fortnum's Fountain is also pleasant. For good old fish 'n' chips, the best chippy, Faulkner's, is in the heart of the East End. Smithfield's St John has made quite a name for its exploration of traditional British cooking, including lots of offal (served in an uncompromising modern setting).

Isn't London supposed to be a top place for curry?

There are - it is said - more Indian restaurants in London than in India. What's more, London is leading the way with a new style of Indian-fusion cooking that, for many, has taken the cuisine out of the 'ethnic' category altogether. Leading exponents are Tamarind, Zaika, Vama and The Cinnamon Club.

At the other end of the scale - but famous for the quality of its food - lies the legendarily scruffy Lahore Kebab House. In between, good places are legion - see page 21 for a few more suggestions. Note that many of the best names - Rasa and Kastoori, for example - are veggie. As you will see, what good Indian restaurants tend to have in common is that they are not located in the West End.

What are gastropubs?

In the past ten years, many pubs have re-invented themselves as informal restaurants - you order at the bar, and your meal is brought to you. The Eagle was the original, and is still often credited as the best.

The trend goes from strength to strength, and is pushing the pub upmarket to an extent that would once have been inconceivable even five years ago. Some arrivals of recent years - the Admiral Codrington, The Perseverance, The Ealing Park Tavern, St Johns, Oak and The Waterway, for example - are much superior to many restaurants.

You said diverse: what about other cuisines?

London has good representations of most major cuisines (with the possible exception of Latin American ones). Italian cooking has long been a popular choice for relaxed neighbourhood dining, especially in the more affluent parts of town, and there is an enormous variety of trattorias and pizzerias. In recent years, some excellent high-level Italians have emerged - see the list on page 21. When it comes to oriental cuisines, the capital is quite well provided for. There are many Chinese restaurants, but the best of them - with the exception of Fung Shing and Yming - are not in or near Chinatown. The biggest concentration of excellent Chinese restaurants is, in fact, in Bayswater - Royal China, Four Seasons and Mandarin Kitchen. Thai cooking is also widespread but strongest in west London. A few years ago, London was weak in Japanese restaurants, especially at lower price-levels, but there have been many improvements in recent years, and the cuisine is now becoming fashionable in a way which has long been the case in some US cities. See the lists on page 21 for the top places in each category.

Are there any sharp practices I should look out for?

Yes: the 'blank credit card slip trick'- a fraud practised to a shocking extent, even by many top places. If you are presented with a credit card slip with a blank line for a gratuity, don't assume that a tip is appropriate. Often, 10% or 12.5% service has already been included but the restaurant is hoping that you will inadvertently 'double up'. If you are not sure - and especially if the bill has not been brought back so you can check - ask if service was included. If so, don't add a further tip unless the staff have been amazing. You may also wish to write "please don't leave this blank" on the slip.

Harden's London Restaurants 2003 and Harden's Top UK Restaurants 2003 are published by Harden's Limited and are available from all good bookshops, or directly

 

This article was supplied by www.hardens.com

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