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Convince me that great restaurants exist in London

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Convince me that great restaurants exist in London

ccn | Jan 4, 2005 03:55 PM

I'm a native New Yorker recently moved to London, and have been consistently disappointed by London restaurants -- so much so that I have almost given up going out to eat. (Good for the wallet but not for culinary happiness.)

What London restaurants will convince me that I'm mistaken? Would be equally happy with the diviest place or formal 3-star Michelin dining -- as long as the result is a great meal that is worth the price.

In the desperate hope that someone will tell me what I’ve been doing wrong, I detail my dining experiences so far below.

What I’d really like to know is:
1. Where are one or two places where one can have a absolutely first-rate, special meal – the sort of meal you’ll remember for years? The places that it would be a shame not to have visisted?
2. Where are some good places for everyday dining – reliably very good and good value?
3. What inexpensive ethnic restaurants are worth the effort to hunt them down? Especially interested in South and South-East Asian food.
4. Finally, any opinions on these places that have been highly recommended: St. Johns, Moro, Locanda Locatelli, New Tayyab, Rules, Nahm, Hakkasan, Tamarind, Chutney Mary, Chez Bruce, La Trompette, Rasa, Quilon, Sagar.

Many thanks in advance.

Chris

The only really first-rate meal I've had in London so far was at Clarke’s in Kensington. Think a British version of Chez Panisse and you’ll get the picture. The appetizer (there is no choice of dishes at Clarke’s – there’s one menu, take it or leave it – though I think you do get to choose whether or not you want a cheese course) was the second-best salad I’ve ever had (the first-best being at the original Bouley back in the early 90’s), with rocket and other assorted bitter greens, the more flavorful mozzarella you can imagine, toasted walnuts, fresh figs, and a balsamic (really first rate balsamic) vinaigrette. The main and cheese were very good though not at the same level, and dessert disappointing. Important note if you’re thinking of going: demand to sit in the main (ground floor) dining room; the basement dining rooms are really not terribly nice.

I think my favorite everyday place in London so far is must be the Electric Brasserie, which is very much on the lines of Balthazar and Pastis but with better food and a more enjoyable atmosphere. I eat here regularly and generally find it good value for the quality.

Enjoyed the River Café but found it a little expensive for what it was (luckily it was a business lunch). I remember a really good tagliatelle though, and the setting on the river is of course lovely. For very inexpensive Italian, I was surprised at how good the Carluccio’s chain is. The main Neal Street is good but (yet again) expensive for what it is (especially the wine list), though I might go back for the mushrooms. Casale Franco was a pretty good local Italian in Islington at a fair price.

Had a very nice meal at The Square, but the price was staggering (I think something like $125/person before wine) and the meal not special enough to justify it. Also we had excruciatingly slow service which resulted in us still being in the restaurant at 2am, one hour after everyone else had left – though we hadn’t ordered anything unusual. (I think our soufflés must have fallen on the first try.)

At the Burmese restaurant Mandalay on Edgeware Road we ate very good food at ludicrously cheap price – I think it came to £15/person including several courses and beer. Will definitely go back.

Found Busaba Eathai to be good – but not spectacular -- Thai food at a very fair price. (There was a long queue but we sat down within 10 minutes.) The wine list is pitiful, which is a shame as Thai food is an ideal opportunity to break out all the reasonably priced rieslings in the world. But I’ll still go back. In contrast, I’ve found Wagamama quite mediocre. Churchill Arms is apparently famous for its Thai food – I think more for the unbelievably low price (£5 per dish or something like that) than for any spectacular quality.

Club Gascon was really underwhelming, and one of the biggest disappointments so far (versus expectations). The décor – and the food – just try too hard. Several of our dishes were very good, several not impressive at all. The wine list is impressive in its coverage of the South-West of France, and is one of the only reasonably priced winelists I’ve seen in London – but unfortunately the staff (both our waiter and the sommelier) were not very knowledgeable.

Le Caprice at Arlington House is apparently a local favorite, but I don’t see what the fuss is about. Comfortable brasserie food of varying quality in a cozy setting, but at quite a premium.

Of the Indian places we’ve tried, Red Fort has been by a long way the best – but it’s quite expensive. Vama was a real disappointment; nothing was great, and several dishes were almost inedible. Star of India in South Ken has really slipped from what it was 5-6 years ago, though you can still get a decent meal. A colleague took me to a staggeringly expensive Indian restaurant (have forgotten the name) in a little townhouse on a side street off of Sloan Square that was pretty good (and had an impressive wine list) but at a steep price. I would love to find great Indian food at a decent price – it must be possible in London!

The Cow is a perfectly respectable gastropub, but with dinner for two (cheapest bottle of wine on the list, shared appetizer, no dessert or coffee) at £70 a bit steep for what it is.

Eight over Eight was good Asian fusion in a very slick setting. Nothing memorable though, and you pay for the privilege of eating in a room with so many attractive people.

I had high hopes for Racine after it won Time Out’s 2003 “best new restaurant” award. In the end it was a pleasant and authentic French bistro – but not better than what you could find in any neighborhood in Paris at 1/3 the price.

La Trouvaille (Soho branch) on the other hand was a very nice meal for the price. I thought the winelist had a particularly good selection of regional wines.

6 St Chads place is a smart new bar/restaurant in King’s Cross that has a very nice and affordable lunch. At night it is more about drinking than eating.

Uli in Notting Hill came highly recommended – but the pan-Asian food was unremarkable (though inexpensive).

The long list of other places with expensive and unmemorable meals would include: Oscar (restaurant in Charlotte Hotel); OXO tower (impressive but expensive winelist); Teca (Italian in Mayfair primarily frequented by investment bankers – ridiculous markup on wine); and many, many more.

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