Where to dine in London
Those heading to the Olympics can expect sparkling quality and amazing variety in the London restaurant scene.
Culinary vitality now defines a city once held to ridicule for its paucity of fine dining and the dullness of menus. Choices are huge, but here are some recent — and not so recent — favorites. Check the websites: Many restaurants take reservations online, most run updated menus and note the nearest station on the London Underground. Transport for London provides an indispensable website — www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/london2012/24401.aspx/ — to get you from where you are to where you want to go.
Competition is tough, but there are only winners on this list.
The Ledbury (www.theledbury.com; 127 Ledbury Rd. W11; Underground stop: Notting Hill Gate) may be London's best restaurant. Chef-partner Brett Graham sets the highest of bars on delicious and creative. Opened in 2005 and no longer a secret, it's a tough ticket but worth plotting and maneuvering to get a reservation.
The Square (www. squarer estaurant.com; 6 Bruton St. W1; Bond Street/Green Park) opened to acclaim in 1991 and remains fresh, sensational and at the forefront of London fine dining today. Chef-owner Phil Howard has employed or mentored a full generation of British chefs, including Brett Graham.
Bar Boulud ( danielnyc.com/barbouludLondon.html#intro; 66 Knightsbridge SW1; Knightsbridge) joins the city's current “American invasion.” Chef de cuisine Dean Yassarian opened the namesake restaurant in New York and his London post expands the original menu to include favorite dishes from DB Bistro Moderne and DBGB. Lunch is your best bet for this very busy room.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet ( www.bistrotbrunoloubet.com; 86 Clerkenwell Road at St John's Square EC1; Barbican). The star chef-owner updates a traditional French bistrot menu with wonderful pizzazz and a very cool environment.
In 1991, David Moore opened Pied a Terre ( www.pied-a-terre.co.uk ; 34 Charlotte St. W1; Goodge Street), then in 2007 addedL'Autre Pied ( www.lautrepied.co.uk ; 5 Blandford St. W1; Bond Street/Baker Street). He describes the first as “refined and discreet,” and the other as “chic and contemporary.” The food at both defines Modern British cuisine at its best — despite the departure of talented chef Shane Osborne. Currently, chef Marcus Eaves ably mans the Pied kitchen.
Spanish-born and -trained chef-owner Jose Pizarro has been cooking Spanish food and selling Spanish ingredients in London for at least a decade, but he didn't realize his dream of having his very own place until about a year ago when he opened Pizarro ( www.josepizarro.com/restaurants/pizarro; 194 Bermondsey St. SE1; London Bridge) and Jose (www.josepizarro.com/restaurants/jose; 104 Bermondsey St.). Pizarro is more restaurant, Jose more tapas bar. But both are warm, welcoming winners, serving deliciously simple preparations and meticulously sourced ingredients.
Arbutus (www.arbutusrestaurant.co.uk; 63 Frith St. W1; Tottenham Court Road), Wild Honey (www.wildhoneyrestaurant.co.uk, 12 St. George St. W1; Oxford Circus) and Les Deux Salons (www.lesdeuxsalons.co.uk; 40 William IV St. WC2; Leicester Square): Chef Anthony Demetre and his front-of-house partner Will Smith are genius restaurateurs. They've opened a niche for high-quality casual dining with menus consisting of main dishes priced (almost completely) at 20 pounds or less. Each boasts a distinctly different attitude and food focus.
Brothers Sam and Eddie Hart have planted a sure footprint with Quo Vadis (www.quovadissoho.co.uk; 26 Dean St. W1; Piccadilly Circus),Fino (www.finorestaurant.com; 33 Charlotte St. W1; Goodge Street) and Barrafina (www.barrafina.co.uk; 54 Frith St. W1; Leicester Square). Fino (a table-service restaurant) and Barrafina (a stand-up counter tapas bar) are Iberian-inspired. Quo Vadis, a dining club with a public restaurant and bar, is traditional British fare updated quite deliciously by chef Jeremy Lee, who recently moved his unique menu ideas there. Early reviews pick QV among London's very best.
Chef Claude Bosi moved his Michelin-starred restaurant Hibiscus (www.hibiscusrestaurant.co.uk; 29 Maddox St. W1; Oxford Circus), from the country town of Ludlow to bustling London without missing a beat. Here's where to get the updated French food of an accomplished chef. And he earned back his two stars again within a year.
Kopapa (www.kopapa.co.uk; 32 Monmouth St,; Covent Garden) and Providores & Tapa Room (www.theprovidores.co.uk; 109 Marylebone High St. W1; Baker Street/Regent's Park) are examples of successful London restaurant ventures launched by chefs from British Commonwealth countries (Australia & New Zealand especially). Kopapa is a recent venture, casual, open all day, splendidly situated at Seven Dials on the edge of the theatre district and Covent Garden neighborhood. Providores (upstairs fine dining) and Tapa Room (casual, downstairs and named for a giant Tapa-cloth wall hanging) are on a fascinating shopping street. All reflect unique dishes created by owner Peter Gordon, who somehow finds time to also own several restaurants and a vineyard in his native New Zealand.
Bocca di Lupo (www.boccadilupo.com; 12 Archer St. W1; Piccadilly Circus) and Gelupo (www.gelupo.com; 7 Archer St. W1; Piccadilly Circus) are Jacob Kenedy's tribute to Italian cuisine. There are many Italian restaurants in London, so choosing only one presents a challenge. Here, Bocca wins for delivering the authentic spirit of Italian food along with triumphant flavor. Across the street, gelateria Gelupo delivers the most fabulous gelato outside of Italy.
Al Waha (www.alwaharestaurant.com; 75 Westbourne Grove, W2; Bayswater/Royal Oak) specializes in the cuisine and ingredients of Lebanon, home of chef-owner M. Bader-Alden Antabli. The range and delicacy of the menu inspire a new appreciation for the Cradle of Civilization.
Karpo (www.karpo.co.uk; 23 Euston Road, NW1; Kings Cross), unusual for both its decor and for its food, proves transplanted American chef Daniel Patterson clearly understands the importance of location. This funky restaurant, featuring all-day drinking, snacking or dining, is directly across the street from St. Pancras railway station, terminus of the high-speed Eurostar to Paris, and Kings Cross, the main railway station for trains to the north of England and Scotland and at least 6 different underground lines. The menu ranges from traditional to innovative, small plates to full meals, with an excellent list of wines and beers. This is a high-energy space, decorated inside and out by a group of graffiti artists, with natural-timber shared tables.
Kitchen Joel Antunes at The Embassy (embassymayfair.com; 29 Old Burlington St. W1; Green Park) is Antunes' latest venture and a great place to ogle celebrities of both political and entertainment variety. The menu's rife with surprising interpretations of classics such as Beef Tartare made with tuna. On Sundays and late night, the room becomes a “bottle club,” sometimes featuring a stunning transvestite D.J.
Roast (www.roast-restaurant.com; The Floral Hall, Stoney Street SE1; London Bridge) occupies the upstairs space at The Borough Market, a must visit for food market lovers (www.boroughmarket.org.uk). Owner Iqbal Wahab has been part of the driving force which enabled Borough Market to survive possible closure. Super-high ceilings and huge windows combine to create a truly elegant space. The menu is traditional, including Fish & Chips wrapped in faux Financial Times newspapers.
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (www.gordonramsay.com/ukrestaurants; 68 Royal Hospital Road, Sloane Square; South Kensington) is the flagship of this superstar chef-media personality. Founded in 1998 and totally remodeled a few years ago, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay has the only Michelin three-star rating in London itself. Decor and service are equally precise, and when you taste the French-inspired dishes, you'll understand what all the fuss is about. Since 2007, Clare Smyth has been designated the chef, making her just the fifth woman to hold three Michelin stars.
Kai Mayfair (www.kaimayfair.co.uk; 65 S. Audley St. W1; Marble Arch) is located on a quiet Mayfair street amongst glorious examples of Victorian brick “townhouses” and retail stores like Marc Jacobs' headquarters and Purdy's, specializing in sporting rifles and traditional “tweedy” country clothes. Owner Bernard Yeoh belies his young age with a menu celebrating elegant, sophisticated Chinese cuisine.
Corrigan's Mayfair (www.corrigansmayfair.com; 28 Upper Grosvenor St. W1; Marble Arch) was rumored for more than a year. Chef-owner Richard Corrigan, an Irishman with larger-than-life personality, finally opened the doors to just off Park Lane quarters. The restaurant somehow combines exuberance and elegance. Corrigan's previous place, Lindsay House, combined lusty flavors and fine plate presentations. Recently, he also stepped up to buyBentley's (www.bentleys.org; 11 Swallow St. W1; Piccadilly Circus), a famous traditional seafood house near Piccadilly Circus. He's made it one of London's best places to enjoy the fine fish and mollusks available in abundance from the seas around Britain.
Ann and Peter Haigh host On the Menu at www.onthemenu.com and are contributing writers to Trib Total Media.