On the Menu: 6 London Restaurants to Savour
Once known for its marginal dining options, London now has a robust food scene with scores of outstanding restaurants that range from trattorias to fine dining. Noted food critic John Mariani shares his favourites.
Updated May 30, 2012—I once asked the very French director of the Michelin restaurant guides a question that would have been folly 10 years ago: What did he think was the difference between dining out in Paris and London. He paused for a moment then said, “If you want great French food, go to Paris, but in London there is much more diversity.”
Such an admission was tacit proof how far London dining has in fact come—Michelin now grants a whopping total of 62 stars to the city’s restaurants—and every time I visit I am struck by the number of fine new restaurants of every stripe, from haute cuisine to packed gastropubs.
Trattorias: Tempo and Fifteen
London is in the midst of what foodies call the “trat revolution,” with dozens of new casual Italian trattorias open, none better than Tempo, which draws a chic Mayfair crowd for Chef Yoshi Yamada’s light Italian cuisine. Japanese by birth, Yamada spent four years cooking in top restaurants in Italy and brings breadth and depth to a menu teeming with wonderful dishes such as his carpaccio of swordfish with black olives, capers and lemon; feather-light potato gnocchi with tomato, chilli and mozzarella; and a fine roast rib eye of Scottish beef. Meanwhile, owner Henry Togna welcomes every table and seems to know everyone sitting at them.
Jamie Oliver, one of London’s ebullient TV chefs, is not only creating great dishes but using his culinary talent to give back to the community, running an apprenticeship out of the kitchen of his restaurant Fifteen, offering troubled young adults a career as a chef. Fifteen is actually two separate restaurants: the ground floor casual trattoria, serving classic Italian dishes such as risotto ai frutti di mare and linguine carbonara; and the more upscale, downstairs dining room, with a more complex menu and a retro décor of bright pink carpet, open kitchen and walk-in glass wine showcase. Here you can feast on pan-roasted Label Anglais chicken breast with stone milled polenta, purple sprouting broccoli and mustard fruits, and finish off with a delicate and creamy buttermilk and vanilla panna cotta with sliced roasted plums and cinnamon shortbread. The menus change on a daily basis, so expect to find a variety of interesting dishes.
Tastes of Europe: Corrigan’s Mayfair and Wild Honey
There is no more ebullient, good-natured chef in London than Richard Corrigan, a big Irishman brought up on a farm in County Meath, an experience that he describes as, “teaches you respect for the cycles and seasonality of food, and with each movement of the calendar, nature has something else to give us.” At Corrigan’s Mayfair the décor is clubbish but very amiable, the menu rich in game dishes, from grouse in season to wild sea trout. His Stone Bass Ceviche with watermelon, avocado and crispy bacalaito epitomises Corrigan’s intensely flavourful cooking.
Will Smith and chef Anthony Demetre have followed up the huge success of their Soho restaurant Arbutus with another big hit, Wild Honey, which has as much to do with their holding down prices as with the high quality of the food, without a whiff of pomp. The cooking is “Anglo-Italo-French” that includes Cornish cod, shellfish, chorizo and fresh white beans; and thinly sliced Limousin veal vitello tonnato with young leaves and olive oil, though the menu often changes daily according to market availability.
Fine Restaurants: Le Café Anglais and Hibiscus
One of the grander, but wholly unpretentious, big restaurants of the moment is the 170-seat Le Café Anglais in West London, where Chef Rowley Leigh mans a sizzling rotisserie in full sight of his guests, along with an expansive menu of hors d’oeuvres. Fish is done impeccably here, but people come for those slowly turned meats—a leg of lamb en anchoïade; succulent belly pork served with fennel and salsa verde; and an irresistible roast chicken that comes with herbes de Provence.
For high-end, modern posh, head straight to Hibiscus, where Lyon-born chef Claude Bosi does a superbly refined and very personalised cuisine that may begin with chilled British oysters with warm Camembert cream and green strawberry. Move on to roasted Cornish John Dory served with Scottish girolles, Morteau sausage and vin jaune sauce, and end with a gorgeous selection of fine cheeses.
Fine food? Definitely. Casual chic? Absolutely. Diversity? Clearly enough to raise a few eyebrows back in Paris.