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LONDON RESTAURANTS 2005 FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

We have been given permission by Harden's Restaurant Guides to reproduce the following article which was taken from the section of London Restaurants 2005 entitled Eating in London - FAQs.

London Restaurants 2005 is edited by Richard and Peter Harden.

How should I use this guide?

This guide can be used in many ways. You will often wish to use it to answer practical queries. These tend to be essentially geographical - where can we eat near…? To answer such questions, the maps and Area overviews (pages 238-268) are the place to start. The latter tell you the key facts about the dozens of restaurants in a particular area in the space of a couple of pages.

But what if, perhaps as a visitor, you're prepared to seek out restaurants for their own sake, rather than regarding them as incidental to some social or business purpose? That is the main point of this brief section - to give you a handy overview of London's dining scene, and also some thoughts as to how you can use the guide to lead you to eating experiences you might not otherwise have found (or perhaps even contemplated).

How does London compare internationally?

London is not Paris, Rome or Madrid. As the capital of a country which, for at least two centuries, has had no particular reputation for its gastronomy, its attractions are rarely indigenous. By-and-large, only tourists look for 'English' restaurants.

Where London does score - and score magnificently - is in the range and quality it offers of everyone else's national styles of cooking. Always an entrepot, London is now a culinary melting pot, too: in terms of scale and variety, its only obvious competitor is New York.
In one area, London may claim worldwide supremacy. As a paradoxical legacy of empire, it is in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent. For a combination of variety, quality and innovation, London's 'Indian' (including Pakistani and so on) restaurants are without peer.

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Which is London's best restaurant?

However much we may speak of melting pots and diversity, when people talk about the very best cooking, they tend - rightly or wrongly - to mean the best French cooking.

The capital's best Gallic restaurant is undoubtedly Chelsea's Gordon Ramsay, perhaps the only London restaurant whose cooking can be said to be notable on an international scale.
There is a very solid second tier. At the top of this, traditionalists would put Le Gavroche - London's longest-established grand French restaurant. Other contenders include two new kids on the block - Tom Aikens and 1880. Perennials which perhaps attract less attention than their cooking deserves include the Capital (being given a new, fashionably retro look as we go to press) and Aubergine.

Stepping down a level, Roussillon - hidden away, but accessible, in Pimlico - is central London's 'secret' top-class French restaurant. For Gallic fish dishes, Restaurant

One-O-One remains the capital's top place.

What's 'in' at the moment?

Rather unusually, the past year has seen not one but two would-be entrants to the 'in' hall of fame. The Wolseley certainly offers affordable glamour, but does its prominent location make it just too 'obvious'? Time will tell. Although it received much less advance hype, Mayfair's discreetly-located Cipriani - which had the advantages of siblings both in Venice and NYC - has immediately put itself on the map as the destination for those who aspire to join the private-jet set.

Some restaurants are always 'in'. The Ivy (if you can get a booking) and siblings Le Caprice and (more recently) J Sheekey are perennial 'can't-go-wrong' choices for pretty much any occasion. Members, and would-be members, of the 'Knightsbridge' crowd often feel similarly about the great '60s trattoria San Lorenzo (even if its appeal to the uninitiated is elusive going-on inexplicable.)

For the fashion crowd, Momo is something of a Mecca. The same owner's year-old Sketch, however - a brave venture, verging on folly - may well have already enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame.

Recent years have seen a welcome number of restaurants that are both fashionable and good, and which have achieved a consistently trendy status. It was Nobu which set the trend, but it now has a host of imitators, such as Hakkasan, Zuma and, more recently, Taman gang and Roka.

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

The Ivy, J Sheekey and Le Caprice are not that expensive, and if you want a bit of glamour plus a decent meal in the heart of town, this trio of establishments is hard to beat. In Knightsbridge, Racine is now well-established. Though more remote, three places owned by Nigel Platts-Martin are top choices - Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, La Trompette in Chiswick and The Glasshouse in Kew. Do not be fooled by their suburban locations - these are serious restaurants! (During the currency of this guide, Mr P-M is also scheduled to open a slightly more accessibly located 'local', in Notting Hill - no name as yet.) For sheer consistency, few restaurants match the amazing performance over the years of Clarke's in Kensington.

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 is currently the grandest of the native flag bearers. The venerable Rules combines generally good cooking with charming period style. Nearby, the famous Simpsons-in-the-Strand has been too variable to recommend in recent years, but is now improving. The City preserves some extraordinary olde-worlde places such as Sweetings and 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 foodies, Smithfield's St John has made quite a name for its exploration of traditional British cooking, including lots of offal: uncompromising food in an uncompromising setting. A new South Bank gastropub, the Anchor & Hope has instantly created a huge reputation by offering similar (but perhaps less 'threatening') fare, in a rather similar vein.

For afternoon tea, the Basil Street Hotel, The Wolseley or The Ritz are best. Any light meal at Fortnum's Fountain is pleasant. For good old fish 'n' chips, the best chippies are Toff's, Two Brothers and Faulkners (none of which has a particularly convenient location).

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

As noted above, London is the world's leading Indian restaurant city: Curry is just part of a panoply of interest. At the top end, establishments such as Chutney Mary, Vama, Zaika, Tamarind, The Cinnamon Club and the new Rasoi Vineet Bhatia are 'pushing back the frontiers'.

To eat well on a budget, the capital's inexpensive Indians offer a great deal of choice in almost all areas. Such names as Mirch Masala, New Tayaab and the Lahore Kebab House stand out, but the number of interesting places is large - see page 234 for a comprehensive list. The very best Indian restaurants are invariably not to be found in the West End, but competent names to look out for include Chowki, Mela, Soho Spice and Veeraswamy (a smart modern establishment whose origins make it the UK's oldest 'curry house').

What are gastropubs?

In the past ten years, many pubs have re-invented themselves as informal restaurants. The Eagle was the original (1991), and is still often credited as the best. This year, however, has seen a stand-out newcomer in the form of the Anchor & Hope. (For the rest of the top ten names, see page 11.) The trend goes from strength to strength. There are now almost no affluent suburbs which lack pubs serving food of a quality that even five years ago would have been inconceivable. Outlying examples include The Ealing Park Tavern, The Earl Spencer and St Johns. (As of last year, incidentally, even that most important London suburb, New York City, boasts an English gastropub!)

Generally the pub tradition of ordering at the bar is kept, but some of the grander establishments offer full table service and have really become restaurants in all but name (usually with a bar attached). Whether these are really pubs any more becomes a question of semantics. Examples include The Drapers Arms, The Ebury and The Palmerston.

You said diverse: what about other cuisines?

London has good representations of most major cuisines (with the possible exception of Latin American ones, although, even here, there are some signs of life).

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 14 - and the idea of the generic 'Italian' restaurant will soon seem as passé as the '50s idea that olive oil was something you bought at the chemist.

Of the many traditional Chinese restaurants, the very best - with the exception of Yming and Fung Shing - are not in or near Chinatown. The biggest concentration of very good restaurants is, in fact, in Bayswater - including Royal China, Four Seasons and Mandarin Kitchen. In the West End, Hakkasan, and its new sibling Yauatcha, are at long last bringing a revolutionary degree of style to the quality Chinese dining experience.

The capital was historically weak in other oriental cuisines, but there has been much activity in recent years, often combining quality Japanese (or Japanese fusion) cooking with innovative design. Zuma, its new offshoot Roka and Sumosan are good examples.

Thai cooking is also widespread but strongest in west London. Fulham's grand Blue Elephant has been amazingly consistent over the years, as has Notting Hill's Churchill Arms - an example of that curious London creation: Thai in a pub.

A major hit of recent years has been the cuisines of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. These cuisines lend themselves well to good budget experiences - the Tas chain and Haz are among the good, less expensive places.

See the lists on pages 14 and 15 for the top exponents of each type of cuisine by nationality.

Any suggestions for 'something completely different'?

How about Archipelago, Champor-Champor, LMNT, the Lobster Pot, Les Trois Garçons, Sarastro or MVH? These - in their various ways - each deserve applause for being very 'different'.

Are there any sharp practices I should look out for?

Yes: the 'blank credit card slip trick', which is much more common that it ought to be, even in top establishments. If you are presented with a credit card slip with a blank line for a gratuity, you should not assume that a tip is appropriate. Often, 10% or (more usually) 12.5% service has already been included in the sum you are being asked to pay, but the restaurant is hoping that you will inadvertently 'double up' the tip.

Harden's London Restaurants 2005 and Harden's UK Restaurants 2005 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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