The World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards announced in the splendour of the Guildhall last night found just two London restaurants worth celebrating. And both of those in the 40s – St John (43rd) and new entry Hibiscus (49th).
Is this right and fair? Are we heading for another Wimbledon – a worldwide competition where the Brits never win, and hardly ever even figure on the leader board?
OK, there are lots of ‘issues’ about the awards, whose methodology – essentially a family of worldwide ‘panels’ – is clearly open to question. Why is the East still so poorly represented? Is Paris really quite so passé? Why do some entries bob around madly from year to year (in a way which doesn’t happen, for example, with our own survey results). And so on.
But let’s leave all those issues to one side. The Awards are, so far as London is concerned, right.
Yes there is diversity. Yes, there are some very good restaurants indeed, at all levels. But, after the obvious gains of ’90s, and the early years of this century, the top end has for too long been dominated by the stultifying effect of ‘names’ – most particularly that of Gordon Ramsay – whose attention has so obviously been elsewhere. Nothing truly world-class has been happening here.
So is all lost? Well, this is one of those cases where the cliché about it being darkest just before the dawn may perhaps be apposite.
We wrote only recently of what a great and varied restaurant year London has in prospect, and it just keeps looking better and better. And only last night, for example, Jason Atherton – now liberating himself like so many others have from the grip of the Ramsay empire – told us of his intention to open in Mayfair on his own account later this year.
Great chefs striking out on their own is what London needs, and that’s what – finally – seems to be happening.
History suggests that when London’s epitaphs are written, it is our great city which usually has the last laugh.