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Dining in LondonJanuary 13, 2010 By: Donna Marino Wilkins Travel Agent
The former Reuters headquarters on Fleet Street has been converted into a stylish French brasserie, Lutyens
There are few cities with as much diversity in the restaurant scene as London. Like New York, it caters to just about every taste and budget, from casual gastropub-crawlers to upscale fine-diners. And despite a global recession, exciting newcomers are arriving to much fanfare.
“I think the best thing about London dining is the international feel,” says Pattie Fanta, owner of Travel Leaders, Westlake, OH, who books a fair amount of leisure travel to the city. “There’s been an explosion of gastropubs focusing on specialty items [and] with a menu that constantly changes,” she adds, and they often highlight seasonal, locally based ingredients. The Commander is one such newcomer with a notable following. Located in Notting Hill, it draws much of its surf and turf from an adjacent fresh-food market. Similarly, an emphasis on local produce in its Modern British dishes is the hallmark of The Harwood Arms, a gastropub that opened last year in Fulham. And The Refinery gastropub brings the same kind of sensibility to its casual modern European fare and laid-back setting in Southwark.
Of course, not all the best new informal spots are gastropubs; two notable down-to-earth eateries are getting recognition for their reliable Italian offerings. II Baretto in Marylebone has a small, chic wine bar and a wood-fired oven on its first floor, and a basement dining space that’s proven popular with groups. And trendy Bocca di Lupo in Soho is developing a following with its well-crafted regional Italian fare, an extensive wine list and a charming space complete with a terrazzo-tiled floor.
Several steakhouse debuts this past year signal a further trend toward straightforward fare in comfortable settings, if not always attractively priced. Solid steakhouse newbies include celeb chef Gordon Ramsay’s maze Grill in Grosvenor Square, and the traditional British Hix Oyster & Chophouse in Farringdon. The Russian chophouse chain Goodman (named after the American jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman) opened up a dark, clubby outpost in Mayfair, and the first European branch for the American Palm chain debuted in Belgravia, its grain-fed, USDA prime beef served in a casual, cheeky dining room.
Hotel Eats Expand
Some of the city’s best new, high-end eateries are in its posh hotels. “Several upscale hoteliers that have restaurants within their properties [now] offer packages that include room and prix fixe dinners, making [them] a bit more affordable,” says Travel Leaders’ Fanta. “Most folks have heard how expensive dining is in London.” Hotels offering such packages include Mayfair’s refurbished Connaught, which now boasts two new eateries—the French bistro, Espelette, set in a beautiful solarium, and Helene Darroze at the Connaught (both restaurants are courtesy of Chef Darroze). The latter serves high-end, classic French with elaborate presentations.
Head to the boutique St. James’s Hotel for a crack at Michelin-starred chef William Drabble’s Modern European fare at the cushy Seven Park Place; Mayfair’s Millennium Hotel for the Italian Avista; or the modern Andaz Liverpool St. Hotel (london.liverpoolstreet.andaz.hyatt.com) in Farringdon for pricey, contemporary British fare at the dome-ceilinged 1901 Restaurant. Other hotel eatery debuts worth checking out include the Chinese Min Jiang in the Royal Garden Hotel, with views of Kensington Gardens, and No. 20, a sleek space in the hip Sanctum Soho Hotel, opened by club impresario Mark Fuller and backed by heavy-metal rockers Iron Maiden. And twotwentytwo entices with its completely renovated European brasserie decor in the Landmark London in Marylebone.
Two highly anticipated hotel restaurant debuts in London will take place this year: The Savoy Grill in the revamped Savoy Hotel under the auspices of Gordon Ramsay protégé Stuart Gillies as well as the opening of a restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park by Heston Blumenthal (of three-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire).
Over the past year, London has also gotten its fair share of impressive offshoots from both international and domestic chefs and restaurateurs. The Hong Kong-based Aqua group opened its first restaurant/bar outside China in the former Dickens & Jones building on Regent Street in London’s West End in fall 2009, a project that includes two restaurants: Aqua Nueva, with modern Spanish fare, and Aqua Kyoto, a Japanese eatery and sushi bar.
Chef Rainer Becker (of Zuma) opened a branch of his modern Japanese Roka in Canary Wharf, restaurateur Simon Parker Bowles expanded his operation with a Green’s in the City in the former Lloyds of London headquarters and Terence Conran retooled a former Reuters headquarters into the stylish French brasserie Lutyens on Fleet Street.
(Donna Marino Wilkins is a former senior editor at Zagat Survey, specializing in hotel content.)
Tips on Top New Restaurants
Best Picks for Oenophiles
High Timber: A 38,000-bottle collection plus a well-stocked cheese room take center stage at this European City restaurant with a view of the Thames.
Terroirs: A vibrant wine bar with impressive Mediterranean tapas in Covent Garden.
Polpo: A charming Venetian-style wine bar in Soho.
Good Bets for Business
Corrigan’s: Modern British fare overseen by Chef Richard Corrigan in a ritzy space at the Grosvenor House Hotel.
Murano: Gordon Ramsay protégé chef Angela Hartnett couples sophisticated modern European fare with a long wine list in Mayfair.
Trishna: Groups can book the 10-seat Koliwada table at this Indian newcomer in Marylebone (sister to one in Mumbai).
Web Resources for Foodies
Agents with foodie clients headed to London may recommend these sites for dining discounts, restaurant tours and classes with top chefs. London Restaurant Week begins March 1.
tastelondon: Offers gift cards with 50 percent off dining at more than 1,000 London restaurants.
eat drink talk: For cooking classes and events.
LondonEats.com: Make reservations and get the latest dining news and reviews here.
toptable: Lists restaurants that offer 50 percent off and other deals.
Insider London: Provides personalized food and shopping tours of London.