honestly: it IS pretty awful. you are almost guaranteed to have a miserable time in most restaurants, and the prices are astronomical. to give you an idea, over cooked pasta with canned tomato sauce is regularly eaten at ten pounds a shot with nary a peep. restaurants will take infinite pains with decor and then serve you food so bad but with such confidence you wonder if your senses have left you. thisis the one area where sarcasm doesn't get you anywhere: the brits, usually so sensitive to tone and irony, miss the point completely when you praise them for the softness of their sphagetti. they beam, the idiots.
another surprise: indian restaurants are usually terrible. there isn't ONE idli-dosa place i've eaten at here that's a patch on dosa hut, for example. ditto chinese, ditto indonesian, and ditto thai. if you want decently cooked eggs with bacon, go to an expensive place (and before 10.30, if you please). the local diner type (or caff) will give you a burnt, congealed mass surrounded by bacon cooked to a crisp and charred black something you dimly recognise as toast. they'll do this with pride, and expect a tip. that about sums it, in spirit if not detail, with the usual dining scene.
having said all of that, there are a few places that are remarkably extra-ordinary; hidden oases of care in this lacklustre desert. i'm listing my favourites that don't necessarily merit a big fuss in the guide books: at worst, you'll do well and at best you'll probably eat one of your most memorable meals.
1. noura (hobart place). THE single best lebanese restaurant in london; simply outstanding. outrageously good toom.
2. mohsen (warwick road) iranian food cooked with a lot of love and care. nouras kebabs are better, but the specials of the day here are usually phenomenal. eat like a king for ten pounds.
3. bombay brasserie (behind gloucester road tube)ridiculously expensive indian (recipes from goa, punjab and even one from maharastra). but at worst competent, and they know what the stuff should taste like. the real - if uninspired - thing.
4. polish hearth club (exhibition road) wow. where else can you get delicious pigs knuckle like this? nice blintzes, too.
5. launceston place (launceston place) i live on the street, so i should know. surprisingly decent modern english food, but not cheap.
6. old europeans (east finchley) authentic hungarian, paprika flown from budapest etc. wild varying standards, but on good days (esp. if its raining outside & cold) can be sublime.
7. boisedale (eccleston street) where i go to eat haggis, angus steak, and smoke a fat cigar with my after dinner scotch.
8. green papaya (mare street) disappointing pho, but some really nice stir fried dishes. lots of fresh herbs and vegetables.
9. the chinese restaurant at the dorchester is the chinese version of the bombay brasserie, and even more expensive. but at least your mouth won't feel like the inside of a vultures crotch as it will with the typical chinese restaurant.
10. c&r (rupert court) what amounts to a small miracle in the wasteland that is soho. good malaysian, especially the roti canai and eggs with sambhal.