Destination: England: London
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester is one of the city’s gourmet treasures. The food, service and surroundings are sublime, and there is a welcome serenity and understated quality to the experience that seems in tune with the times. (Yes, it is still an expensive adventure, but the food is exquisite and it’s not about fanfare but formal French choreography.) Before this site opened, Ducasse declared that he expected this restaurant to offer the contemporary aesthetic of his Tokyo outpost Beige with the freshness of the Louis XV in Monaco, his very first three-star Michelin. Translation: the master continues to improve and grow, learning from each endeavor and taking the best aspects of his new and marrying them to genius of his original one. No wonder he’s considered the best in the world. Table to request: the one hidden behind a shimmering curtain of crystals in the center of the room.
Ametsa with Arzak Instruction
The Basque Country’s Elena Arzak, who, alongside her father Juan Mari Arzak, runs the first international outpost of Arzak in Belgravia’s Halkin Hotel. San Sebastian’s Arzak won its third Michelin star in 1987 so expect top-notch cuisine.
Apsleys, A Heinz Beck Restaurant
The Lanesborough’s Italian restaurant pairs the Mediterranean cuisine of Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck with the legendary designer Adam Tihany (whose résumé includes Le Cirque and Per Se in New York and French Laundry in Napa). Like Beck’s award-winning menu, Tihany’s Venetian-inspired décor is both elegant and unique: in addition to plushy sofas and huge chandeliers, there’s a dizzying collage painting by Simon Casson that’s composed of various images from classical works (in one publication, Tihany said it “feels like a post-Renaissance artist on LSD”). The third most important player here is the sommelier, who oversees the 500 bottle cellar—where guests can personally select and decant their wine.
Fans of molecular innovation should book at Bo London, the Mayfair sister to Hong Kong wunderkind restaurant Bo Innovation overseen by chef Alvin Leung. The self-taught chef opened Bo Innovation in 2002 and has since garnered two Michelin stars (reportedly, the only other untrained chef to have ever received this accolade is Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck). Be aware that the multi-course tasting menus here are lengthy and pricey (the lunch menu is shorter, at three courses, and more affordable). The concept cuisine works best for gourmets with a sense of humor and a sense of adventure. Baskets of dim sum are available à la carte.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Heston Blumenthal’s popular restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental is often booked up for months. But it’s worth trying to get a last-minute reservation or planning and reserving ahead. Dinner is a departure from the renowned restaurateur’s chemistry-lab-cuisine at triple Michelin-starred Fat Duck. This new spot goes back in time delving into popular British recipes from hundreds of years ago. Powdered duck with potato purée, cod in cider or brown bread ice cream, anyone? The reviews have been 110 percent positive, and were echoed in 2012 with a Michelin star.
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught
Expect big flavors, a serious wine list, polished service, an elegant wood-paneled setting and a hefty price tag at Hélène Darroze, the fine dining restaurant from the two-Michelin-starred French chef at the Connaught. Although the dining room is open for lunch and dinner, given the food and setting, it’s definitely a big night out kind of place.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
France’s celebrated chef saved Londoners a trip through the Chunnel when he opened one of his “workshop” restaurants in Covent Garden. This outpost shares the same counter concept on the main floor, but the second floor offers table seating in a casual dining room and the third floor is a salon bar for private parties. Cosmopolitan celebrities such as George Clooney, Matt Damon and Kylie Minogue have dined in the sleek black and red interiors. Lunch features reasonably priced prix fixe menus, and it’s a gourmet bargain.
If you’re planning dinner for two, make a reservation at the stunning black counter on Robuchon’s ground floor. The sleek decor is complemented by organic touches: bowls of ice topped with red apples, goldfish bowls filled with carrot and cucumber shavings, birdcages stuffed with lemons. The romantic top-floor bar is wonderful for pre- or post-theater cocktails. This place is both popular and pricey, so save it for special occasions, and book early.
Locanda Locatelli is considered one of the best Italian restaurants in London (it has a Michelin star) with prices to match. The vast array of bread is all homemade, down to the grissini. The lobster linguini is delicious, and don’t miss the tiramisu or the extensive wine list, enough to keep wine buffs content. The atmosphere is relaxing with dim lighting and the décor conventionally modern with leather, dark wood, mirrors and white tablecloths. But it’s the food that keeps people coming back.
Renzo Piano’s glass-clad pyramidal Shard tower opened to much publicity (it’s one of the tallest buildings in Europe and a striking new addition to the London skyline). Unsurprisingly, two of the city’s most renowned restaurateurs have taken over the 32nd floor: Oblix is run by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney, of Zuma fame. The restaurant is focused around a rotisserie and grill, with an ambitious wine lounge.
Roux at the Landau
David Collins, the designer behind such hot spots as Nobu, used the Langham hotel’s classical proportions to add major drama to dining at the hotel’s excellent restaurant, Roux at the Landau. There is nothing austere or understated about this experience; it’s all wow.
The entrance is from the street, up a limestone set of stairs, which lead to a stunning atrium dubbed the Wine Corridor. The vaulted hallway is lined with glass-fronted shelves of wine bottles that glow from backlights, evoking the cellar of modern day James Bond type. At one end of the oval dining room a bay of towering arched windows face Regent Street. Because of Collins brilliant use of curved banquettes and antique brass lamps (from enormous antique chandeliers to library-inspired reading lamps), the tables manage to feel intimate despite the grand space. Chef Chris King offers a five-course tasting menu along with the regular menu. There’s a lovely private dining room, the Postillon, which faces All Souls Church and features one long table for sixteen.
Tip: The theater menus include two options: three courses or three courses plus a half bottle of wine – and both are reasonably priced.
Topping many “best-of” lists this Notting Hill restaurant is headed by Australian chef Brett Graham and has been awarded two Michelin stars. A great way to sample Graham’s creativity is with the lunch prix-fixe (two or three courses); at dinner, reservations are a must as the elegant but simple dining room abounds with foodies paying homage to fine dining.
The Square might have been around for over a decade, but it has kept up with the fashions and offers deliciously complex courses in a sleek setting in Mayfair.
Tom Aikens Restaurant
Formerly fitted with starched white tablecloths, whispering waiters and rows of silver cutlery, the most recent iteration of Tom Aikens Restaurant is a casual eatery, outfitted with warm oak floors, hand-made wooden chairs, mismatched tables and evocative quotes scribbled on the walls. (Words of wisdom include “Never eat more than you can lift” from Miss Piggy). Prices, too, have become more casual (read, have come down). The only thing that remains the same at the 52-seat Chelsea spot is the delicious, inventive menu. Even the hard-to-please The Sunday Times food critic AA Gill gave the restaurant 4 stars. He notes, “This restaurant is one deep breath away from being in the half-dozen best restaurants in the country.”
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