July 18 (Bloomberg) -- An area of London that each day draws thousands of bankers, traders and other well-paid people with large appetites should have many good restaurants.
So how come there isn’t more choice when it comes to eating out in the Square Mile? While the City financial district isn’t a culinary desert, nor is it a dining destination.
Restaurants come and go. The Hakkasan-owned Chrysan, which closed recently, lasted only a few months. Even successful establishments such as Galvin La Chapelle and L’Anima are feeling the squeeze of tightening expense accounts.
New to the mix are the two restaurants at the South Place Hotel and they are very good indeed. Angler and 3 South Place Bar & Grill don’t attempt to push any gastronomic boundaries. The chefs create attractive dishes with good, seasonal ingredients and then serve them without fuss.
The grill is well suited to the City, with lots of steaks and pies and as much comfort food as you need when you don’t know where your next million is coming from. But there’s an attention to detail that dispels cynicism: 3 South Place is better than it needs to be when diners have limited choice.
The prawn cocktail is generous in portion size and flavor, while the Kashmiri curry is filled with Welsh lamb shoulder that has been braised for 36 hours. It is just so good that you’d be happy to try it anywhere. It tastes even better in the City.
Executive Chef Tony Fleming has worked with Marco Pierre White and focuses on sourcing the best produce. Nowhere is freshness more important than with fish, and Angler is as good as anywhere in this part of London.
You might start a meal with a dense and deeply flavored soup with croutons and gruyere and then move on to something a little more exotic, such as roast brill with brown shrimp, capers, butter and parsley, which costs 26.50 pounds ($41). The daily specials are probably more of a temptation. It’s the set lunch that is the real steal, at 25 pounds for two courses.
Recently, I enjoyed slow-cooked lamb breast, pea puree, anchovy mayonnaise, confit cherry tomatoes, followed by pan-fried bream, prawn and potato saute, baby fennel and lime salad. The dishes are balanced without being boring or timid.
The room is light and bright and there’s an outdoor terrace that is great for drinks in the afternoon or evening. At least I thought that was the case until a sunny day when the service came to a standstill and one customer was reduced to walking into the bar to plead for a drink.
On the other hand, two staff members did find time to discuss whether one should resign by letter or by e-mail. Let me save them the trouble. D&D London: A resignation is imminent and I suggest hiring two replacements as the terrace is understaffed.
Angler doesn’t quite escape the corporate ambience it shares with other outlets of D&D -- the former Conran Restaurants -- such as Coq d’Argent. I don’t blame D&D. I blame us, the customers: We’re all there in our suits, checking our BlackBerrys and talking about work. South Place has just about doubled the number of good restaurants in this part of the City.
(D&D split with Conran in April when LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group, led a 50 million-pound management buyout of the group.)
There’s one reason to hold onto your cynicism: the wine list. Any restaurant that serves Moet & Chandon as the house Champagne looks focused on fattening the bottom line. The list http://bit.ly/ZT1VD6 is ungenerous. To make a single comparison, 2009 Blanc Fume de Pouilly, Silex, Domaine Didier Dagueneau is 195 pounds, compared with 140 pounds at Hawksmoor (http://thehawksmoor.com/wp-content/uploads/menus/SF-WINE.pdf.)
If greed is good, this is the Mother Teresa of wine lists.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 30 pounds for food, a la carte; watch out for the generous set menus.
Sound level? About 75 decibels in the grill and 70 in Angler.
Inside tip? There’s a secret bar in the hotel.
Special feature? It’s a hotel in the City
Date place? See answer to previous question.
Rating? *** for the food.
Will I be back? Yes.
3 South Place, Eldon Street, London, EC2M 2AF. Information: http://www.southplacehotel.com/ or +44-20-3215-1270.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(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. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris culture, Rich Jaroslovsky on technology and James Russell on architecture.
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