My criterion for a good food city is one that has amazing food at every price point. Here are some examples that quickly come to mind: New Orleans – you can get a po-boy at a gas station and it’s actually really good (no lie); New York – how easy is it to get a great slice (pizza)? Full disclosure, I consider both of these places to be home.
I visited London recently and benefited from the culinary explosion which has been going down there over the past few years. True, London has been home to food institutions such as River Café for many years. [A little background on River Café: It is the brain child of Ruth Rogers and Rose Grey (who unfortunately passed away this year) and it later provided us with extraordinarily talented chefs such as April Bloomfield (Executive Chef of one of my absolute faves of all times and a truly special place for me for many reasons- The Spotted Pig) and Jamie Oliver.] However, when I first started dating my husband, and we were doing the NY-Heathrow route back and forth, I felt London did pricey well, but found a dearth of quality mid-point restaurants.
This is by no means my “end all, be all” London list and it definitely includes some “fancy” places, but I truly hope to experience more of what London has to offer soon. Enjoy.
33 Charlotte Street
Fino offers great tapas and Spanish hams. Maybe it’s because I’m ‘Merican and really great Spanish ham is more difficult to come by in the States (thanks FDA), but the the lomo was one of my favorites. The garlic gambas and grilled squid – um, we got seconds on both. Fino is a perfectly simple, not too flashy setting with great food.
109 Marylebone High Street
Think “Kiwi” dishes with a dash of Asia. The portions are smaller sized, making this gem of a restaurant a wonderful experience to sample a variety of dishes without feeling too full. It also proudly showcases what New Zealand can do in the wine world, especially in the Pinot Noir genre. Contrary to what I read from other reviews prior to going, I found the service to be lovely.
2-6 Moon Street
Cheese, glorious cheese… New Yorkers, think a subdued version of Murray’s Cheese. There is a sit down area for amazing for lite bites such as cheeses, charcuterie, salads and tarts OR visit the cheese room to take treats home.
126 Crawford Street
Don’t bother with a menu. Just get the Côte de Boeuf and thank me for it later. (Thank Seb and Laurence too). The Beehive also has a decent beer selection.
5-7 Blandford Street
This is one of the most reasonably priced tasting menus I’ve had in a while. The chef is an absolute perfectionist and I can’t wait to go back. The presentation was gorgeous and elegant. It has one Michelin star and was voted the best new restaurant by Time Out in 2008.
57 West Smithfield
This is possibly our favorite restaurant in London. On our layover to Nairobi, we took a car one hour + into the city to have lunch here just because. Does that make me a freak? They have a foie gras menu. Who does that? Add this as a course to your meal. If they have the sort of crystallized grapes with the grilled foie gras, be certain to have it. It’s heavenly and you will fantasize about it long after you’ve left. If there are morels in any dish on the menu, wave that in as well. This is a special occasion kind of place. Everyone who has dined here upon our suggestion told us it was his or her favorite dining experience in London.
287 Upper Street
Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli Jew, Sami Tamimi, an Arab from East Jerusalem and Noam Bar, who spent time in a Buddhist Monastery… how can you possibly go wrong with this combination? Maybe they can team up and teach the rest of the world how something beautiful can be created by differences? A healthful, elegant and unadulterated approach to Mediterranean cooking, Ottolenghi boasts wonderful and flavorful salads, breads and pastries for consumption on premises (only at their Islington location) or take away. I perused their cookbook Ottolenghi: The Cookbook… absolutely fantastic.
If there’s one thing the Brits have done well – it’s their importation of fabulous curries. Yes, my British readers, importation. But, we understand the desire to stake your claim. It’s good stuff and if you didn’t claim the curries as your own (wink wink), you’d be stuck with mushy peas, roasts — but you do fish and chips, some cheeses and beer really well. To my other readers, if you didn’t hit at least one Indian restaurant while in London – even if you’re not that much of an Indian food fan – you might get castigated as an Anglophobe. The Brits take “their Indian” very seriously.
If you’re seeking a scene, this is not the place. However, if you want the real deal in terms of Indian cuisine, this place is just solid and offers an experience from all regions of India.
15-17 Blandford Street
This is more upscale or “fancy” Indian, but the lamb curry… HELLO – I can’t wait to go back.
15 Berkeley Street
I have no idea how Nobu has done it all these years with multiple locations globally, but they have consistently achieved grande dame status of chain restaurants. If it is a scene you seek, this is the place. Drinks, dinner, scene… you really can’t go wrong. You might even see a few starlets having sakitinis.
37 Charlotte Street
The skewered meat and seafood were tender to the touch and very flavorful. The sushi and sashimi were fabulously fresh. Roka is a decent scene just for drinks as well. My only criticism would be that they sometimes try to turn tables too quickly by bringing out everything at once. Beat them to the punch by stating in advance that you want them to bring your food out in courses.
Special thanks to Laurence, Seb and Domenico for their suggestions. We can’t wait to try the others on your short lists.