Destination: England: London
Nicknamed “the Caf” by insiders, this hip cafe is part of Sir Terence Conran’s new Boundary project, which also includes the eponymous restaurant. At the Albion, guests dine on hearty food like shepherd’s pie at communal tables or a counter. (The stools have tractor seats, so you can feel as earthy as a rural farmer—at least in your rump.) At one end of the street-level café is a country-style market (shelves stocked with British staples like Oat Biscuits and jars of duck fat), and running the length of the dining room is an open kitchen where cooks can be seen baking bread or stirring soup. With rows of long, honey-colored wooden tables, the dining room manages to merge echoes of a country kitchen and of a school cafeteria. The neighborhood teems with artists, advertising and design folk, many of whom dress as they did in university days so there’s a rumpled, intellectual charm to the crowd. Open daily from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Run by the same team behind La Petite Maison, Zuma and the wonderful Arts Club, Aurelia is a fantastic addition to Mayfair. The Mediterranean-inspired menu includes lots of dishes that are meant to be shared. The wine list includes 200 wines from Italy, Spain and South America.
Bocca di Lupo
It is a good sign when every diner leaving the restaurant you’re entering is shaking hands with the maitre d’, the waiter, even the barman, thanking them for a wonderful meal. This new Italian eatery just behind Shaftesbury Avenue (theater central) is a rare find in the maze of South Soho and perfect for the pre/post dinner theater crowd. The thumb-size olives and bouncy focaccia that appear as you sit down are a sign of the quality and attention that’s to come, and the Italian-speaking waiters can guide you through the vast menu of raw and cured, fried, roasted, souped and stewed dishes, plus the risottos and pastas. Eat and run with a large glass of wine on one of the stools at the bar, or settle in with friends in the lively main restaurant. Booking is essential.
Just Zedel’s grand Beaux Arts/Art Deco interiors by David Collins make the all-day brasserie worth visiting. The huge restaurant, a tamer British version of Paris’s La Coupole, is usually packed with a slightly touristy, less dressy clientele than is found at the Delaunay. The opulent Bar Americain next door is a civilized place to have a cocktail pre-theater or otherwise. Night owls can enjoy cabaret at the cozy white, black and red Crazy Coqs cabaret and jazz venue.
Cedroni's at the Baglioni
Seafood lovers will rejoice at the arrival of Italian chef Moreno Cedroni at the Baglioni Hotel in Kensington. The Michelin-starred chef has been acclaimed for his innovative approach to seafood; his raw dishes are especially noteworthy. The restaurant at the Baglioni, in walking distance to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, will be his first venture in London.
Restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the duo behind the Wolseley, Delaunay and Brasserie Zedel took over the space of Oriele, a tired café that still drew a following for its central location. The casual, brasserie–style Colbert is in the same vein as Paris’ Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, with all-day dining from breakfast until late.
Honey & Co
Fitzrovia locals are thrilled with their new culinary resident Honey & Co, the Middle Eastern deli/café that specializes in dishes from Palestine, Israel and Lebanon. Run by two chefs who formerly worked at acclaimed Ottolenghi and Nopi, Honey & Co is lined in Moroccan tiles, and its delicious menu features salads, falafel and various mezze that are great to share. Save room for dessert, which might include blackberry, coconut and pistachio cakes or feta cheesecake with chunks of white peaches and roasted almonds.
La Petite Maison
Nice’s fashionable hot spot, whose regulars include Elton John, Bono and Rod Stewart, has spread its Gallic wings into London’s Mayfair with the opening (in June 2007) of the place to have lunch. Tucked away in a backstreet mews near Bond Street shopping, Claridge’s and Cipriani, La Petite Maison has a pleasant, airy feel, with giant windows, pale rustic wood floors, cream walls and high ceilings. Better still is the Provençal menu, which is based on a “sharing” philosophy. Initially sceptical of the concept (I tend to go quiet when what I’ve ordered looks better than my fellow diners’ choices), I found that it works well, as long as you order plenty of dishes.
For our table of five, we chose about five starters, five mains and a few desserts. We feasted on stuffed Mediterranean vegetables, Niçoise salad, salt-crusted sea bass, succulent veal chops, roast baby chicken with lemon, grilled eggplant with shrimps and my favorite: pissaladière, a carmelized-onion tart with anchovies. Normally, I hate anchovies, but in this dish they were sparse enough that I could ignore them and concentrate on the mouth-watering tart. Go for the stuffed-pig feeling and finish the meal with some pistachio soufflé and sorbet. You only live once. Open for lunch and dinner.
London is having a Peruvian moment. First came the low-key, late-night Ceviche (17 Frith St.; 44-207-292-2040), now the more grown-up gastronomic Lima, and on the horizon is Coya. Lima was started by a renowned team including Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez (who has had stints at Lutece in New York, the Ritz in Paris and Astrid y Gastyon in Madrid). The look is minimalist with a touch of Inca.
The food is interesting, delicious and beautifully presented. With dishes that combine seasonal UK ingredients with specifically Peruvian additions. My starter of braised octopus al olivo, organic white quinoa and pink botija olive bubbles was so yummy that I greedily didn’t share. But then again, my friend seemed equally as focused on devouring her duck crudo, algarrobo tree honey, shaved foie gras and ghoa cress. Next up was crab with a purple corn reduction, huayro potatoes and red kiwacha. My friend loved her halibut with Andean herbs, cancha corn parfait and mirasol alioli. And for dessert I polished off a very rich chocolate pudding with mango granita, while my dinner partner went for the dulche de leche ice cream topped off with some beetroot emulsion and Amazonian maca root honey. Foodies and non-foodies will be wowed by the cuisine here.
Mount Street Deli
No tables at Le Caprice or Scott’s? Don’t fret and head to the Mount Street Deli in Mayfair instead. Le Caprice Holding’s latest food foray serves such classic gastro-pub food as Scotch eggs from Mark’s Club, pizza from Harry’s Bar, fishcakes from the Ivy and chocolate cake from Annabel’s—and at a fraction of the price. Where possible, the Mount Street Deli sources its products locally, like homemade bread, locally produced cheeses, free range eggs from Suffolk and, of course, lots of fine U.K.-produced teas. Perch at a low-key communal table or get a lovely picnic basket (called “deli hampers”) to eat en plein air in nearby Grosvenor Square.
Plenty of hedge fund bonuses have been spent at this relaunched Mayfair restaurant, which has become the “it” spot under new owner Richard Caring, a fashion magnate who also owns Le Caprice, the Ivy and J. Sheekey. Sit at the oval-shaped oyster bar, the see-and-be-seen focal point of this chic seafood eatery, and people watch over a glass of bubbly and some delicious dover sole or stargazy pie. Original works by such British artists as Gary Hume, Michael Landy and Fiona Rae adorn the walls. And celebrity doorman Sean McDermott (ex-Wolseley gatekeeper and the ultimate thermometer of a restaurant’s hotness) is there to greet and to bid adieu. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that its neighbor the Connaught has been gloriously refurbished and that Mount Street has become one of the best shopping streets in the city, with its mix of high-end (Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, et al) and avant-garde boutiques.
The latest offshoot from Da Polpo, Spuntino has no phone but oozes charm with its bar seating, distressed tile wall and menu featuring such American comfort food staples as mac and cheese.
The Centre Point skyscraper has been a lightening rod of controversy since it opened in 1966 and was declared a monstrosity marring the city’s skyline. The reason that people are talking about it this fall, though, is that a stunning new private club has opened on the top three floors. Tom Dixon, who recently spiffed up the Soho House, has brought 21st-century glamour to complement the stunning city views. Rather than enter via the main lobby, guests climb an exterior stairway to a mezzanine level, where a receptionist ushers them to a private elevator. On the 31st floor, which can be rented for private parties, a thirty-foot zinc bar cues the Austin Power’s ambiance. One floor above is where most members gather in the main lounge (dominated by Dixon’s updated take on Eames lounge chairs). The various restaurants all emphasize the view, as does the Champagne bar on the top floor. In another modern twist, this is probably the first private club in the city to donate a percentage of membership fees to charity.
Presided over by a specially commissioned Damian Hirst installation, Tramshed, in Shoreditch, is worth the trek from central London. Launched by restaurant impresario and chef Mark Hix, Tramshed is an exciting departure from the usual upscale Hix restaurants serving seasonal British fare. The menu is pared-down: a choice of three appetizers to be shared, then a whole free-range chicken or marbled sirloin steak, as well as a few delectable desserts. Tramshed’s location in an airy, light-filled ex-generating station for the old Shoreditch tram line has received much buzz, as has the incredible, original artwork. Style and substance are in perfect harmony at Hix’s latest.
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