Destination: England: London
The latest Mayfair restaurant from Richard Caring, owner of Annabel’s, Scott’s and J. Sheekey, 34 manages to marry a warm and cozy atmosphere with a chic and sophisticated ambience. Designer Martin Brudnizki has successfully combined Edwardian English and Art Deco influences to create an eye-catching interior. For those who don’t crave Argentine beef, the menu also features equally delicious seafood and vegetarian options.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
It’s been almost a year since Alain Ducasse opened at the Dorchester, and yet it remains one of the city’s underrated gourmet treasures. Michelin has failed to award it any stars yet and some nights in recent weeks less than half the tables have been filled. However, the food, service and surroundings are sublime—frankly, 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.) Foie gras with mango and tender halibut with artichokes arrive cooked so evocatively that the ingredients taste like new discoveries. 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. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Ametsa by Arzak
The Basque Country’s Elena Arzak, who, alongside her father Juan Mari Arzak, is opening 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.
For its new Italian restaurant, the Lanesborough netted both Nick Bell, former head chef of London’s acclaimed Cecconi’s restaurant and the legendary designer Adam Tihany (whose résumé includes Le Cirque and Per Se in New York and French Laundry in Napa). Bell imports all ingredients from Italy and innovative dishes on his modern Italian menu include beef steak Fiorentina with bone marrow sauce (carved at your table), wood pigeon ravioli and rabbit cacciatore. Meanwhile, 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, Andrew Connor (also from Cecconi’s) who oversees the 500 bottle cellar—where guests can personally select and decant their wine—as well as a wine list that features different Italian vintages every other week.
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 new restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental opened in January and immediately booked up through the spring. But it’s worth a trying to get a last-minute reservation or planning and reserving ahead. It’s 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 puree, cod in cider or brown bread ice cream, anyone? The reviews have been 110 percent positive. A three-course set lunch will cost from £25 and three-course set dinner from £55.
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught
One of last season’s most anticipated restaurant openings was Hélène Darroze, the two-Michelin-starred French chef who took over the fine dining restaurant at the refurbished Connaught hotel in 2008. Expect big flavors, a serious wine list, polished service, an elegant wood-paneled setting and a hefty price tag. Hélène Darozze at the Connaught is open for lunch and dinner but given the food and setting, it’s definitely a big night out kind of place. Lunch prix-fixe £39; dinner prix-fixe £75. Open Monday through Friday, lunch and dinner.
The Langham hotel remains in the midst of a major renovation, but if its new Landau Restaurant is an indication of what is to come, the landmark will be a major source of glamour for London. David Collins, the designer behind such hot spots as Nobu, used the buildings classical proportions to add major drama to dining. There is nothing austere or understated about this experience; it’s all wow.
The entrance from the street is a up 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 Andrew Turner, who previously presided over the kitchen at Brown’s, is known for his “grazing menus” and revels in teasing diners with small surprising plates. Each night he offers five-, six- and eight-course menus along with the regular menu. Some critics complain that his experiments go overboard, with dishes like carpaccio of milk fed veal, hazelnuts and sweet peppers, Parma ham and white balsamic. However, many are delicious, including the Fillet of lamb, confit of Menton Farm breast pudding with Jerusalem artichokes. There’s a lovely private dining room, the Postillon, that faces St. George’s church and features one long table for sixteen.
Tip: The theater menus offer two courses for £20 and three courses for £27. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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 the West End two years ago. 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. Christina Aguilera recently gathered her friends there for an intimate celebration. Only the main floor is open for lunch, and with prix fixe menus of 19 pound for two courses or 25 pound for three courses, 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. There’s a splendid grazing menu, too, including ravioli of langoustine stuffed with shellfish, foie gras–stuffed quail and tiny burgers in buns the size of eggs. 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 home made, down to the grissini. The lobster linguini is delicious, as is char-grilled squid with chili and garlic, and don’t miss the tiramisu or less typically Italian caramelized bananas with honey ice cream. The wine list is extensive so wine buffs will be 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. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
The Club at the Ivy
Wedged between L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and the original Ivy on West Street, you will recognize the Club at the Ivy by the liveried doorman standing guard outside. The star restaurateurs behind Le Caprice and the Ivy opened it in September, and not surprisingly it has drawn Kate Moss, Orlando Bloom, Andrew Lloyd Webber and loads of other privacy-seeking partiers. It occupies three floors above the original Ivy with an entrance on West Street. Behind the glossy white door, a towering stairwell with white-leather stitched handrails wraps around a glass box elevator to ascend to the main dining room. (There is also a piano bar, sushi bar and library.) The slow rise past an impressive, mirrored Art Deco chandelier signals clearly that this is a more elevated experience than the original outpost next door as do the attentive staff who coddle members with extra care. After all, the food, while perfectly respectable, has never been the main attraction at the Ivy either; it’s the crowd, silly. On permanent display and well worth staring at is the art collection, which includes pieces by Peter Blake, Damien Hirst, Toby Ziegler and Sebastian Horsley. There is a strict members-only policy so join or get an invitation.
Tom Aikens Restaurant
Gone are the starched white tablecloths, whispering waiters and rows of silver cutlery in the new Tom Aikens Restaurant, which has been transformed into a casual eatery. The restaurant is 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. Typical dishes include char-grilled and baked celeriac, pickled raisins, truffle crème fraiche and celeriac consommé or lobster with pickled cucumber and yogurt granite. The set menu for lunch starts at £24. 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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