At Your Slurvice: Holiday Drinking in London
Dining out in London can be punishingly expensive at the best of times -- and Christmas is not the best of times if you are looking for value.
How about lunch at the Fat Duck? Chef Heston Blumenthal is serving a special Christmas menu on the first three Sundays of December for just 350 pounds ($563). Or perhaps the Ritz? Lunch on Christmas Day costs 390 pounds for a six-course meal.
If you’d rather not have to park up your private jet in order to be able to afford to celebrate, you can eat and drink well in opulent surroundings for considerably less.
Take Bob Bob Ricard for example.
This Soho restaurant and bar is designed like the interior of a luxury train, only with marble walls and terrazzo floors. You sit in booths with individual buttons marked Champagne. Press and a light goes on above the bar, summoning a smartly dressed waiter pushing a cart of emergency supplies.
“The Champagne buttons help set the mood for people to splurge and to have a good time,” says Leonid Shutov, 47, who founded Bob Bob Ricard with his business partner Richard Howarth in 2008. “They embody the spirit of the restaurant. Yes, they are a gimmick, but people absolutely love them.”
The menu features Petrossian caviar, and Chateau d’Yquem is served by the glass as you are surrounded by staff intent on your wellbeing. It’s the kind of place where you worry about your credit-card limit. Fortunately, you don’t need to. Louis Roederer Cristal 2005, for example, is 199 pounds a bottle, compared with 530 pounds at Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus, according to the wine list, which helpfully gives price comparisons.
There are starters below 10 pounds and mains below 20 pounds. If you fancy the Three Birds Burger -- made with crispy quail, guinea fowl and Magret duck, layered with game stuffing and orange & cranberry chutney -- that will be 23.25 pounds.
Not that you need to stay in the U.K.
Holidays in Lapland are popular with those who are unafraid of the cold or of bumping into a bearded man on a sleigh: http://www.lapland.fi/en/travel. One of my best Christmas Days ever was skating on the lake near the Forbidden City in Beijing.
More from the Luxury Holiday Guide:
Alternatively, you might go Bavarian in Munich. That city’s Mandarin Oriental has opened a wooden chalet for dining on the rooftop, with views of the Alps. Or you could head to the Mandarin in Paris for a luxury package with menus by Thierry Marx. He’s a former paratrooper who says he avoids shouting in the kitchen because he doesn’t want to scare people.
That’s reassuring. I think.
Back in London, I enjoy the elegance of the Connaught Bar, where the only thing to fear is the strength of the martinis in this quiet spot at the back of the hotel. (Not to be confused with the Coburg Bar out front.) It’s the perfect spot for cocktails when trying to escape the Christmas shoppers.
The Italian barman, Agostino Perrone, from Lake Como, provides tableside service with a cart containing seven home-made bitters: cardamom, coriander seeds, ginger, grapefruit, lavender, licorice and vanilla. The prices start at 19 pounds.
(Once, when I was finding it difficult to choose, Perrone offered to make me three mini-martinis. That’s what I call service, though I probably pronounced it slurvice at the time.)
Another great spot for a martini is Duke’s, where Alessandro Palazzi will look after you. You are safe to leave the more famous American Bar at the Savoy to the tourists.
If you want to dine out on Christmas Day, you are generally forced into the warm embrace of hotels, which need to provide food for their guests and are happy to create festive menus whose prices make diners feel like they are the turkeys.
Relief is at hand this year. The Wolseley, a restaurant so fashionable that everyone is a celebrity, will open on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve for the first time. You don’t have to put on a funny hat and order overpriced treats. The usual a la carte menu will be served, so you could order a tankard of black velvet and half a dozen oysters and escape for 25 pounds.
That’s if you can get in of course. True luxury dining is eating where you are happy and feel comfortable and can get a table. There’s already a waiting list at the Wolseley, but some tables will be available for people who show up on the day.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech in London at firstname.lastname@example.org