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  London - Where to Eat

Variety is the key word in London, where the culinary specialties of a couple dozen countries and regions reflect the cosmopolitan nature of the city. Different areas evoke different cuisines: For the best Chinese, go to Gerrard Street, W1, in Chinatown; for cheap, authentic Indian food, head for Brick Lane, E1; for Middle Eastern, try Edgware Road, W2. For something cheap and filling, try a pub—traditional meals with beer or wine by the glass. Wine bars are a more upscale version of the same theme (though usually serving bottled, rather than draft, beer).

Traditionally, London has had good restaurants offering cuisines from its former colonies, but now a renaissance of sorts is happening within British cuisine. Londoners are suddenly obsessed with good food. Celebrity chefs are vying to open newer and trendier restaurants in Soho and Kensington. The “New British” cuisine consists of traditional English (or Scottish or Welsh) ingredients blended with Continental styles. When the combination works and the ingredients are fresh, the result is delightful. It’s a good idea to book a table at the better restaurants, since they’re often filled early.

Dining out is expensive in London. Most restaurants accept major credit cards. Menu prices always include 17.5% VAT but do not usually include the gratuity, which may be added to the bill by the waiter. If no service charge is added, you are expected to tip 10%-15%. Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, including tax, but not tip, and not including drinks: $ = less than 10; $$ = 10-20; $$$ = 20-50; $$$$ = more than 50.

Best In Town

Le Gavroche—The haute-cuisine establishment of Albert Roux. Exceptionally high standards recognized by numerous awards. Monday-Friday noon-2 pm and 7-11 pm. Reservations. $$$. Credit cards. 43 Upper Brook St., Mayfair W1 (near the U.S. Embassy), phone 408-0881.

Chez Nico—Self-taught chef Nico Ladenis has created a temple to haute cuisine at his Mayfair restaurant, although the atmosphere has won fewer accolades than his cooking. $$$$. Monday-Friday noon-2 pm and 7-11 pm, Saturday 7-11 pm. 90 Park Lane at Grosvenor House Hotel, W1, phone 409-1290.

The Dorchester Grill Room—Holds its place at the forefront of the hotels for dining excellence. Quality British cuisine in surroundings of pure elegance. Breakfast Monday-Saturday 7-11 am, lunch daily 12:30-2:30 pm, dinner Monday-Saturday 6-11 pm, Sunday 7-10:30 pm. $$$. 55 Park Lane (facing Hyde Park), W1, phone 629-8888.

Aubergine—Chef Gordon Ramsay turns out modern British versions of classic French dishes. This Chelsea hot spot is also renowned for superb service, but it’s often difficult to book a table, because of the restaurant’s popularity. $$$-$$$$. Monday-Friday 12:15-2:30 pm and 7-10:35 pm, Saturday 7-10:45 pm. 11 Park Walk, SW10, phone 352-3449, fax 351-1770.

Italian And French

Bibendum—British design guru Terrence Conran’s flagship restaurant serves New British cuisine in a high-style setting. Also some of the best (and priciest) fish and chips in London. Lunch Monday-Friday 12:30-2:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 12:30-3 pm; dinner Monday-Saturday 7-11:30 pm, Sunday 7-10:30 pm. $$$-$$$$. Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd., Fulham SW3, phone 581-5817.

The River Cafe—This place is almost as famous for its decor, created by world- famous architect Richard Rogers, as for the inventive neo-Italian cuisine prepared by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. After a delightful meal with an enchanting view, diners can take a stroll along the Thames. It’s hard to reach via public transport, but not too difficult in a taxi. $$-$$$. Monday-Saturday 12:30-3 pm and 7:30-9:30 pm. (Because of local planning restrictions, the restaurant must be emptied by 11 pm.) Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith W6, phone 381-8824.

Al San Vincenzo—Tiny and plainly decorated restaurant run by a Neopolitan family— acclaimed by Londoners as one of the best Italian restaurants around. Monday-Friday 12:30-2:15 pm and 7-10 pm, Saturday 7-10 pm. $$$. Credit cards. 30 Connaught St., W2, phone 262-9623.


The Bombay Brasserie—Carries diners to the Age of the British Raj. Yards of space between tables, potted palms, overhead fans and fine cuisine deliver an authentic (if expensive) taste of India. Daily noon-3 pm and 7:30-11:30 pm. $$$. Credit cards. Courtfield Close, Courtfield Road (South Kensington), SW7, phone 370-4040.

The Oriental—Located at the Dorchester Hotel, this is the premier Cantonese restaurant in London. Sumptuous, carved decorations, low lighting and private rooms provide the setting for a sublime dining experience. Monday-Saturday noon-3:30 pm and 7 pm-midnight. Closed in August. $$$-$$$$. The Dorchester, 55 Park Lane (facing Hyde Park), W1, phone 629-8888.

The Red Fort—Upscale Indian restaurant, tastefully decorated, with a regularly changing menu of North Indian foods. Daily noon-2:30 pm, Monday-Saturday 6-11:30 pm, Sunday 6-11 pm. Around $$$. Credit cards. 77 Dean St., W1, phone 437-2525.

Standard Tandoori—Large, inexpensive Indian curry house with consistently good food and friendly service. Daily noon-3 pm and 6 pm-midnight. $$. 21-23 Westbourne Grove, W2, Bayswater, phone 229-0600.

Poons—There are several Poons, all serving delicious Chinese food. We recommend the crispy duck with pancakes. The original on Lisle Street doesn’t take credit cards and has a very minimalist approach to atmosphere. Daily noon-11:30 pm. $-$$. 27 Lisle St., WC2, phone 437-4549, and 4 Leicester St. (just off Leicester Square), WC2, phone 437-1528.

Additional Dining Experiences

Atlantic Bar & Grill—A much-talked about restaurant popular with trendy media types. Serves modern British cuisine from a long, imaginative menu. Loud rock music and a bouncer at the door. Monday-Friday noon-2:45 pm and 7 pm-12:30 am, Saturday 7 pm-12:30 am, Sunday 7-11:30 pm. $$$. Credit cards. 20 Glasshouse St., W1, phone 734-4888.

Blah! Blah! Blah!—Vegetarian cuisine at its trendiest and most beautiful, with a strong international influence. High on taste; low on atmosphere. Two or three vegan options per menu. Monday-Saturday 12:30-2:30 pm and 7-11 pm. Reservations recommended for dinner. $$. 78 Goldhawk Rd., W12, phone 0181-746-1337.

Wagamama—One of the most fashionable and popular places to eat cheaply. This designer diner offers Japanese noodle soups and main courses alongside Japanese beers. Open Monday-Friday noon-11 pm, Saturday 12:30-11 pm, Sunday 12:30-10 pm. $. 4 Streatham St., WC1, phone 323-9223.

Texas Embassy Cantina—This big, loud restaurant will remind you of places in Texas. Perhaps because it’s owned by restaurateurs from the U.S., it’s one of the only places in London to get credible Tex-Mex food. Expensive margaritas. $$. Monday-Wednesday noon-11 pm, Thursday-Saturday noon-midnight, Sunday noon-10:30 pm. $$. 1 Cockspur Street (at the bottom of Haymarket), W1, phone 925-0077.

The Cafe Royal—Founded by a Parisian wine merchant—and it shows, especially in the heavily gilded baroque of the mirrored Grill Room. Royals and celebrities sometimes appear at this intimate complex of wine bar, cocktail bar, brasserie and restaurant. The Grill Room has just been taken over by one of London’s hottest chefs, Marco Pierre White, so the food, which was already excellent, should now be exceptional. Reservations recommended. $$$$. Credit cards. Monday-Saturday 6-11 pm, Sunday noon-3 pm. Brasserie open Saturday noon-4 pm and for afternoon tea, 3-5 pm. 68 Regent St. (near Piccadilly Circus), W1, phone 437-9090.

Simpson’s- in-the-Strand—Atmosphere of an exclusive gentleman’s club. Excellent traditional English meat and fish dishes; wide choice of fine wines and ports. Breakfast Monday-Friday 7 am-noon, lunch daily noon-2:30 pm, dinner Monday 5:30-11 pm, Tuesday-Saturday 5:30-1 am, Sunday 6-9 pm. Reservations recommended. $$$. Credit cards. 100 Strand, WC2, phone 836-9112.

The Ark—Intimate, atmospheric modern French bistro. Lunch Monday-Friday noon-3 pm, dinner Monday-Thursday 6-11 pm, Friday and Saturday till midnight. $$. Credit cards. On a back street between Kensington and Nottinghill Gate. 122 Palace Gardens Terrace, Nottinghill (North Kensington), W8, phone 229-4024.

Food for Thought—A longtime favorite of vegetarians in central London, this cozy Covent Garden spot serves up large helpings of hearty but delicious vegetarian fare. The desserts are especially tasty. Come early if you want a seat. Monday-Saturday noon-9 pm, Sunday noon-4 pm. $. 31 Neal St., phone 836-0239.

Belgo Centraal—Huge, modern basement restaurant serving wide range of Belgian dishes, from the famous moules et frites (mussels and fries) to wild boar sausages with stoemp (mashed potatoes) and berry sauce. Discounted options during lunch (such as lunch-for-a-fiver) and hundreds of Belgian beers. Service can be rude and rushed. If you make a reservation, you’ll sit in the restaurant; otherwise, you are likely to sit on crowded benches in the beer hall. Monday-Saturday noon-11:30 pm, Sunday noon-10:30. $-$$. 50 Earlham St., WC2, phone 813-2233.

Rock & Sole Place—Traditional British fish-and-chips in simple surroundings with outside tables. Daily 11:30 am-10:30 pm. Around 12. 47 Endell St., Covent Garden WC2, phone 836-3785.

Mezzo—One of the most talked about restaurants in London is also one of the best for sampling modern British cuisine. This boisterous mega-restaurant in the heart of Soho is the latest creation of style guru Terence Conran. Monday-Wednesday noon-2:30 pm and 6-11 pm, Thursday-Friday noon-2:30 pm and 6 pm-1 am, Saturday 6 pm-1 am, Sunday noon-2:30 pm and 6-11 pm. $$$. 100 Wardour St., W1, 314-4000.

Afternoon Teas

The Dorchester—Elegant afternoon tea served daily 3-6 pm in the Promenade. Selection of sandwiches, fresh scones with clotted cream and jam, crumpets, fresh pastries and tea or coffee. Pianist. Reservations essential. $$ (18.50 per person including gratuity). 53 Park Lane (at Hyde Park Corner), W1, phone 629-8888.

Fortnum and Magnum—The famous department store serves both traditional High Tea and Afternoon Tea. (High Tea includes a hot dish such as Welsh Rarebit or other traditional English foods.) Violinist or pianist. Monday-Saturday 3-5:15 pm. $$ (12.50-19.25 not including gratuity). 181 Piccadilly (near Piccadilly Circus), W1, phone 734-8040.

The Savoy—Afternoon Tea served daily in this elegant hotel, with a stream of sandwiches, cakes and teas. 3-5:30 pm. Pianist. $$ (17 including gratuity). The Strand, WC2, phone 836-4343.

Late Night/Breakfast

Bar Italia—One of the liveliest late-night coffee bars in bustling Soho—an authentic blast of Italy, complete with sports TV, frothing cappuccinos, snacks and formica-top tables. There’s a small selection of meals available (around 6), including cooked breakfasts. Always packed. Monday-Thursday 7 am-5 am, Friday-Sunday open 24 hours. $. No credit cards. 22 Frith St., W1, phone 437-4520.

Ed’s Easy Diner—A mock 1950s American diner, with mini jukeboxes. Centrally located on a prominent corner of Soho. Burgers, fries and milkshakes cost around 8. There are also veggie burgers on the menu. Sunday-Thursday 11:30 am-midnight, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am-1 am. Credit cards. 12 Moor St., W1, phone 439-1955.

Fox & Anchor—This pub traditionally served the meat porters in the Smithfield Market; now it’s a regular haunt for tourists, local lawyers and stag parties. Two hundred years old, this place turns out huge, traditional English breakfasts, and it’s perhaps the only place in London where you can buy a pint of beer at 7 am. Monday-Friday 7 am-8:30 pm. Average breakfast price: 6.50. Credit cards. Charterhouse St., EC1, phone 253-4838.