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London cuisine among the best in world

03 August 2006
London cuisine among the best in world

Restaurateur and writer Simon Wright thinks restaurants in London are just capital

When I edited the AA restaurant guide, I ate out at others' expense five or six times a week, often in London. It began as a blast - they even paid me for doing it - but naturally, the novelty wears off over time.

Familiarity may not quite breed contempt but it certainly induces a degree of nonchalance.

An editor no more, these days I don't eat out nearly so often, and trips to London are much less frequent. But the rarity has restored my appetite, and also a sense of wonder at the culinary creature our capital city has become.

It's diverse, coursing with quality and increasingly offers extraordinarily good value. In a shining example of this, I went to Arbutus in Frith Street recently, where the food was quite brilliant and ridiculously cheap. The room's sterility has been criticised but, frankly, I'd happily eat this standard of grub in a bus shelter off a paper plate. Galvin in Baker Street should be similarly cherished.

Ethnic cuisines, whether ponced-up or sturdily authentic, also flourish here and they now receive due acclaim from both the public and the critics.

It's incredible to believe, but I really think it would now be a struggle to find comparable experiences for so little cash in most major European or North American cities.

At the other end of the spectrum, although a city's culinary wealth can never be measured just in Michelin stars alone, London has that covered too - with the Gordon Ramsay stable, Tom Aikens, Philip Howard and a smattering of others.

On top of all this, and perhaps most importantly, there's the backbone of a distinct Britishness represented by places such as St John, the Eagle, Anchor and Hope and anything Mark Hix has ever been involved in.

Definitive statements ranking cities and their culinary experiences are pointless and always open to argument. This is especially true when coming from someone like myself, who hasn't conducted an exhaustive survey of the competition.

However, as it happens, in this case, my money is currently on London.

Has London the best restaurant scene in Europe?

Anthony Flinn, executive chef, Anthony's, Leeds
"No, because I don't think London even has the best restaurant scene in the country. You only have to look at how many Michelin-starred restaurants are outside London to see that it's thriving outside the city. It's hard to pin it down to any city, as they all have their special places, but as a country, in my eyes, Spain is currently leading the way."

Klaus Kabelitz, general manager, the Berkeley, London "I definitely think so. Paris is the hottest contender, but they've seen a decline in the mid-priced restaurant sector and have become too touristy. In London, you've got a great variety in all price categories. Of course, there are touristy bits and you have to know where to go but, if you're in the know, then there's a huge choice."

Tim Kemp, co-founder, Firmdale Hotels, London "I don't know about everywhere else but it's pretty good here - it's eclectic and full of new restaurants. Standards and infrastructures, such as kitchens and air conditioning, are also improving. However, New York is probably better and cheaper. They work harder on detail and the competition is huge, so you really have to be at the top of the game."

John Campbell, executive chef, the Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire "Outside London also has lots to offer; it's under-recognised and has some great chefs. London has an excellent range of cosmopolitan restaurants and some of the finest in the world. It is up there with New York, Barcelona and Paris and, although it's very subjective, it's definitely one of the top contenders."

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