London's restaurant scene has seen the end of its honeymoon period and is teetering on the brink of a downturn.
An annual survey by Harden's London Restaurants shows the rate of new openings has faltered this year, that price inflation has cooled and punters are flocking back to more traditional eateries.
For the first time since 2002, and in stark contrast to last year, restaurant openings have fallen from 142 last year to 136 this year. Closures were down slightly from 67 in 2005 to 66 in 2006.
Richard Harden, co-editor of the guide, said: "Last year was the culmination of a boom, from which we are now slipping. London is now the most expensive city in world, and restaurateurs can only keep over-egging the market for so long."
The guide also found that restaurant price inflation had cooled, rising by only 3% in the past year. For the first time in seven years top-end prices remained at similar levels to last year, rising by just 3.2%.
"The price slow-down reflects reaching a high point. Prices can't keep rising compared with everywhere else," Harden said.
Diners also seem to be returning to basics, with Harden's "Top 10 Most Mentioned" list (restaurants name-checked most frequently by its 8,000 contributors) seeing Japanese celeb haunt Nobu drop out.
Re-entering the top 10 are two classic French restaurants, La Poule au Pot and Andrew Edmunds, while the five top newcomers in the "Top 40 Most Mentioned" - Maze, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, the Ledbury, Cipriani and Bentley's - are all European restaurants.
Restaurant critic Charles Campion said: "Simplicity will always be in vogue. It was before the pan-Asian boom; it was before the grazing boom; and it was before the modern-Italian boom."
Harden said that the challenge for restaurateurs in the coming year would be to satisfy consumer demand for old-fashioned value, in terms of both money and product.
10 most mentioned restaurants (Date of opening in brackets)
- J Sheekey (1896)
- Hakkasan (2001)
- Gordon Ramsay (1998)
- Chez Bruce (1995)
- The Wolseley (2003)
- Bleeding Heart (1983)
- The Ivy (1917)
- Gordon Ramsay at Claridges (2001)
- La Poule au Pot (1962)
- Andrew Edmunds (1983)
Comings & goings
- La Noisette
- Atlantic Bar & Grill
- Grocer on Warwick
- Noble Rot