London claims to have the best restaurants in the world. It also has some of the most expensive. So before you splash the cash, check out this guide to 10 places that are definitely worth it
London lays claim to having some of the world’s finest dining - but what makes a restaurant great? The misconception a number of chef-patrons seem to have is that fine dining is all about the food, but surely it's about the total dining experience, including location, ambience, where you are seated, the service and even your fellow diners.
Over the past 24 months, this Camel has visited more than 70 London restaurants, all of which would no doubt describe themselves as offering fine dining. I booked and entered all restaurants as a regular paying customer; there was no ‘King Herod in Mothercare’ effect, as is apparently often the case when notorious critic AA Gill darkens the door of many establishments. Indeed, Herod wouldn’t have had a clue where he was if he had been seated in some of the positions I’ve been sentenced to. Why don’t restaurateurs try sitting in all the thoroughfares and corners they inflict upon their ‘valued’ customers, and decide if they would be prepared to part with a banker’s pension to dine there?
I continue to return to most of these restaurants when I’m in London, and not trying out somewhere new. So here goes with, in no particular order, ArsyCamel’s top 10 London restaurants...
Petersham Nurseries Cafe is in Richmond, West London. It’s not an easy drive from central London, and when you arrive, parking is a nightmare. The train is a pain, so go by bicycle. The master chef, Skye Gyngell, is Aussie and the cuisine has a definite Australian flair. Based in the higgledy-piggledy, ramshackle surroundings of a posh garden centre, the restaurant has a wonderful ambience but is definitely best on a warm summer day.
Petersham Nurseries, off Petersham Road, Petersham, Richmond; 020 8605 3627; www.petershamnurseries.com.
L’Atelier de Joel Robouchon. Two Michelin stars, modern French cuisine and Japanese ambience combine to create a spoiling dining experience a few doors along from the famous Ivy restaurant (which has declined dramatically as all the celebs have moved upstairs to the new Ivy Club – but that’s a different story). The service style may be sushi bar but the food is very French and very, very good.
13-15 West Street, WC2H 9NE; 020 7010 8600; www.joel-robuchon.com.
Le Gavroche. Culinary institutions are often over-hyped and overrated. Fortunately, Michel Roux’s Le Gavroche is not. Despite being a cavern of kitsch, with grotesque table sculptures and (surprisingly) paper doilies, the food is exquisite, particularly the Soufflé Suissesse. Do your wallet a favour and book for lunch.
43 Upper Brook Street, W1; 020 7408 0881; www.le-gavroche.co.uk.
Trishna is a new restaurant in Marylebone, replacing a long-established family-run Italian called Verbanella. Last year we visited the original Trishna in Mumbai. It was superb, and although the London version does not demand bibs to protect diners from slopping sticky sauces, the food is excellent.
15-17 Blandford Street, W1; 020 7935 5624; www.trishnalondon.com.
The River Café is another raved-about restaurant, which I approached with a degree of scepticism. Could it really be as good as everyone claimed? Despite the Italian menu and wine list, the ambience teleported me to Australia and some of the best restaurants around Sydney Harbour. It’s a pain to get to, as is parking, but if you make the effort, it does tick all the boxes.
Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6 9HA; 020 7386 4200; www.rivercafe.co.uk.
Rasoi Vineet Bhatia. If you’ve flown British Airways First or Club World, you’ll recognise the name Vineet Bhatia. The owner of this small (34 covers) restaurant just off Kings Road is one of BA’s consulting chefs – but there is much more to him than posh aeroplane food. Probably London’s best Indian chef, producing probably London’s best Indian cuisine.
10 Lincoln Street, SW3; 020 7225 1881; www.vineetbhatia.com.
Nobu. A few years ago, I took the Camel’s Companion to Matsuhisa, a scruffy Japanese diner in Beverly Hills. It was only when the legendary chef himself came over for a chat that she finally believed we were truly in the home of Nobu. Matsuhisa Nobu has become a global icon, and his London restaurant remains one of his flagships, although its slick décor is in total contrast to Nobu’s comfy blanket shack back home in LA.
19 Old Park Lane, W1; 020 7447 4747; www.myriadrestaurantgroup.com/nobulondon.
E&O. A visit to E&O is like a visit to a Richard Curtis movie set. Based in the heart of Notting Hill, E&O is a canteen for local celebs including Patsy Kensit, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Murdoch. The food is a little like Nobu but not specifically Japanese. Try the duck and watermelon salad, and the salt and pepper squid.
14 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, W11; 020 7229 5454.
Racine is a classic old-school Parisian bistro, where the clientele is generally older and the ambience more formal. The menu is unpretentious, the food excellent and the prices extraordinarily reasonable (including the fine wines). I know several high-profile figures from the worlds of fashion, music and advertising who remain loyal to Racine.
239 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, SW3; 020 7584 4477.
Lucio. Lucio was maitre d’ at the famous San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge before leaving to set up his own restaurant on Fulham Road. A gallery of famous Terry O’Neill celebrity photographs adorns the walls, the food is exquisite and all is overseen personally by the ever-attentive Lucio and his team.
257 Fulham Road, SW3 6HY; 020 7823 3007.