London has fine new restaurants, from fancy establishments in luxury hotels to back-street venues where you sit at a crowded bar to nibble snacks, having stood in line for the privilege because you’re not allowed to book.
I haven’t been to all the new openings: Hardens.com in August counted 140 over the previous 12 months. My list of favorites is missing candidates such as Roganic, chef Simon Rogan’s excellent establishment, which I’ve only visited once; and Hedone, which is garnering attention in Chiswick.
Here are my favorite London venues I have reviewed in 2011:
1. Pollen Street Social: Chef Jason Atherton, who created Maze for Gordon Ramsay, finally stepped clear of his mentor with his own London restaurant, which is an expression of his personality as well as his cooking.
The dishes are modern and innovative, the service unstuffy and informal. Best of all, Atherton is in the kitchen most days and Pollen Street is evolving week by week.
8-10 Pollen Street, W1S 1NQ. Information: +44-20-7290-7600; http://www.pollenstreetsocial.com/.
2. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal: Heston Blumenthal’s brasserie serves British dishes based on historical recipes and created with modern cooking technology.
The menu doesn’t seek to emulate the experimentation at the Fat Duck, yet the Meat Fruit starter (chicken-liver parfait in a mandarin-gel skin) is one of the most-talked-about dishes in the U.K. Ashley Palmer-Watts, executive chef of the Fat Duck Group, heads the kitchen.
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA. Information: +44-20-7201-3833; http://www.dinnerbyheston.com/.
3. CUT: Steak restaurants are among the most prolific new entrants to the London dining scene and you might do a lot worse than try CUT, the U.K. outpost of Beverly Hills chef Wolfgang Puck.
The meat, the sides, the desserts -- and even the fish -- are immaculately prepared. The prices are high and you never lose the sense that you are dining in a hotel, yet the quality of the food is what impresses most.
45 Park Lane, W1K 1QA. Information: +44-20-7493-4554; http://www.45parklane.com/cut-at-45-park-lane.
4. Hawksmoor Seven Dials: If you enjoy steak at some place with more buzz, Hawksmoor may be for you.
This was the second outlet -- a third now has opened in the City -- and is notable for the attention to detail that shows up in everything from the bar stools to the bone-in prime rib. Casual dishes such as the kimchi burger and the lobster roll also aren’t to be sneezed at.
11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JG. Information: +44-20-7856-2154; http://thehawksmoor.com/.
5. Spuntino: Russell Norman is one of London’s most influential restaurateurs as well as one of the most active, opening five different establishments in the space of two years. You sit at the bar in Spuntino and order comfort food such as mini-burgers or macaroni and cheese. There are no reservations, so in the early days you may face a long wait.
Norman has just added Mishkin’s to his stable, and you can book there.
61 Rupert Street, W1D 7PJ. Information: http://www.spuntino.co.uk/. (No telephone line.)
6. Opera Tavern: This casual restaurant serves plates of Spanish and Italian food that are small in size and big in flavor, thanks in part to the charcoal grill.
The ground-floor bar buzzes more than the upstairs dining room and the prize seats are at the bar itself. While you can’t book those in advance, there’s no harm in requesting them.
23 Catherine Street, WC2B 5JS. Information: +44-20-7836-3680; http://www.operatavern.co.uk.
7. Cigalon: This low-key Provencal restaurant is bright and charming, with a glass ceiling over a leafy dining room. It’s unpretentious, yet not without ambition.
The dishes are unfussy and there’s an enjoyable selection of Provencal and Corsican wines to accompany them. This is the latest establishment from Pascal Aussignac and Vincent Labeyrie, the business partners who own the excellent Club Gascon.
115 Chancery Lane, WC2A 1PP. Information: +44-20-7242-8373; http://www.cigalon.co.uk/.
8. Savoy Grill: Gordon Ramsay’s popularity in the U.K. isn’t at its highest level, and the TV chef pulled out the stops to get this one right. The Grill at the Savoy Hotel has an illustrious history and Ramsay has the balance right between respecting tradition and embracing modern dining.
The dishes are a mix between classics and contemporary, while the service is respectful without being stuffy.
5 Strand, WC2R 0EU. Information: +44-20-7592-1600; http://www.gordonramsay.com/thesavoygrill/.
9. Riding House Cafe: This large and casual brasserie in Fitzrovia quickly found favor with office workers and others in a part of central London that is only slowly accumulating good restaurants. This is an establishment with simple food and friendly service that offers value for money.
It’s a good formula in the current climate and one that more restaurateurs are envisaging.
43-51 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PQ. Information: +44-20-7927-0840; http://ridinghousecafe.co.uk/.
10. The Gilbert Scott: This is the British brasserie of two-Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing, who made his name as Ramsay’s right-hand man, cooking modern French cuisine at Petrus. The new venue was disappointing in its opening months, with tables too tightly packed and some dodgy service.
Yet the dishes are good and the prices not too steep, so now may be the time to revisit.
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Information: +44-20-7278-3888; http://www.thegilbertscott.co.uk.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.)