It’s St George’s Day this weekend and that means there will be endless articles about where to get the best fish & chips in the country or who bakes Britain’s best pie. Subjects upon which we’ve already registered our opinion. Instead, we’ve decided to bring you the best of modern British cooking. Because being a Brit is about so much more than jellied eels, bangers and mash and pints of lukewarm ale. It’s also about tasting menus featuring edible flowers and foraged herbs; sharing plates; local produce; blending classic ingredients with the latest techniques; slow cooking and charcoal grilling – not to mention the froths and foams, jellies and snows and oils and soils that mark out modern British menus.
LONDON’S TOP 10 MODERN BRITISH MENUS
£55 AND OVER
“Brett Graham simply doesn’t falter” at this “utterly brilliant” Notting Hill champion – yet again London’s No. 1 foodie address thanks to his “adventurous” culinary creations “perfectly executed with panache”. The “muted luxury” of the room is all part of an experience combining “subtle understated elegance, and care given to every detail”.
“It just gets better and better!” – Taylor Bonnyman’s “grown up” and “romantic” two-year-old in the heart of Chelsea is one of London’s most deeply impressive all-rounders – service is “impeccable”, and the “exciting” cuisine provides “a beautiful blend of original flavours”.
“Genius!” – “an incredible journey of flavour and excitement” is to be found at Tom Sellers’s “Scandi-style” dining room, near Tower Bridge, whose “spectacular and truly exciting” multi-course menus are “akin to a trip to the Fat Duck, but at under half the price”.
Marianne Lumb’s “tiny treasure” (just 14 covers) in Bayswater is “an absolute joy that’s worth every penny!”, with “passionate” personal service, and “confident”, “exquisite” cooking, which create a “wonderfully intimate” experience; “it’s easier to get into Downing Street than to reserve” though.
“Deserving its many awards” – this groovy pop-up-turned-permanent in Shoreditch’s fine old town hall wins kudos for its “incredibly interesting” cuisine, “perfectly matched” wines and “casual” approach. The setting can seem “Spartan” though, service is a little “earnest” and to some diners “the new ticketing system for reservations smacks of hubris”.
“Well worth the trip to Clapham!” – this notable “Brooklyn-vibe” two-year-old provides an “endlessly interesting” selection of “unbelievable” tapas-style dishes “explained in detail by the waiting team”. Top Tip – “one of London’s best-value tasting menus”.
What is this “fun and original” sibling to Notting Hill’s Shed doing in the heart of the King’s Road? Its “innovative” British sharing plates can be a bit “microscopic”, but are “superbly executed” with “farm-fresh” flavours, and the “creative”, “barn-like” decor “works well in the crazy L-shaped space”.
“Approaching Chez Bruce standards but less expensive!” – this Balham neighbourhood favourite “hits all the right notes”, with its “subtle” décor, “helpful” service and “unfailingly impressive” cooking that’s “really exceptional value”.
“For the perfect first date”, this “magical” (if “cramped”), candle-lit Soho townhouse is second to none – a “shabby-chic treasure” that’s “barely changed in three decades” (although actually, behind the scenes, they put in a big new kitchen this year). The “simple, daily changing fare” is unfailingly good value, but the star turn is the “incredible wines at stunning prices”.
“One of the prettiest pubs in London” – this fine Notting Hill tavern “never fails to come up trumps” with its “always delicious” food and “friendly” (if occasionally “disorganised”) service; “try to get a table outside”.
This list is taken from the results of our 2016 survey, however we do have a few other suggestions for modern, British cuisine in London. Let’s call them our ‘wish list’. Lyle’s E1, Trinity SW4, Bob Bob Ricard W1, Fera at Claridge’s W1, The Ivy WC2, Hedone W4, Chez Bruce SW17, Chriskitch N10. Recently opened: Paradise Garage E2, Anglo EC1, The Woodford E18.
VENTURING OUTSIDE OF LONDON?
TRY ONE OF THESE TOP MODERN, BRITISH DINING SPOTS…
“You have to add this to your bucket list!” – Sat Bains’s famous restaurant-with-rooms won the No. 1 slot this year in our listing of Top-100 UK Restaurants. It certainly doesn’t win its accolades for its location – on the edge of a city-fringe industrial estate, surrounded by fly-overs and pylons (once memorably described by the chef himself as ‘like finding a diamond in a piece of turd’). But in culinary terms, “it’s an experience from start to finish”, delivering “out-of-this-world, quirky and offbeat” dishes, with “amazing flavours”. A seat at the chef’s table provides a particularly good trip, and – for those in search of something even more ‘experiential’ – in June 2015 Sat Bains opened Nucleus, a ‘restaurant within-a-restaurant’ with just 6 seats and its own dedicated kitchen.
“At the top of UK gastronomy” (No. 3 in our Top-100 Restaurants this year); Simon Rogan’s converted smithy in a “hard-to-find” Lakeland riverside village provides an “exciting and unique” venue, “full of Cumbrian stone, Scandinavian furnishing and eye-catching art”. The “exquisite” menu is “ever-changing to reflect the seasons”; presentation is “worthy of a Turner prize”; and “no-one uses way-out ingredients to such eye-opening effect” (although nowadays “a foraging ethos now prevails, with no foams to be seen, thank goodness)!”. “Genuine” staff led by “star of a maître d’”, Sam Ward, “prove the English can do high-end service as well as the French or the Italians” (although the run-down of each dish can risk appearing as something of “a well-practiced spiel”). Stop Press – In July 2015, long-standing chef, Mark Birchall, quit to open his own restaurant.
“An ideal location next to the River Cam adjacent to Midsummer Common” provides a glorious setting for this fine Victorian riverside villa, where “Daniel Clifford is pushing on to new levels” – reporters rated it No. 2 in our Top-100 UK Restaurants this year, and some would argue that Michelin should bestow it that third star. “The level of detail is second-to-none” and the “spectacular and surprising food combinations” create “complex” and “exciting” dishes, delivered by “attentive but un-cloying” staff. Even many fans though feel it’s “too expensive”.
“The Fat Duck is to food what Cirque du Soleil is to circuses – a wonderful, and unique, experience”. And in spite of the terrifying prices, it is striking how satisfied most reporters are with its “pure theatre and pure gastronomic experience”. For much of this year, this world-famous converted pub has been closed for a complete overhaul, and in September 2015 it re-opened promising ‘a nostalgic trip full of playful memories, filled with curiosity, discovery and adventure’ (for which you have to buy your ticket up-front!) We’re looking forward to hearing what this means in next year’s survey, but – despite the absence of snail porridge and egg-and-bacon ice cream from the new menu, and the addition of a new £150,000, Willy Wonka-esque roving sweet dispenser – our rating is a bet that it will turn out a case of ‘plus ça change’.
“Unique, esoteric, a bit mad, but ultimately one of the UK’s most interesting restaurants!” – Michael O’Hare’s “thrilling” city-centre venue – a space over a men’s clothes store – leaves most reporters “blown away”. “It’s a bit weird entering through a shop”, and the “airy, light and barn-like space”, while a tad “strange”, is “not unpleasant”. A meal comprises “a never-ending set of startlingly presented dishes”, and though “some of them sound outrageous” the food that arrives is “exquisitely composed and brilliant”, and “with remarkably little gimmickry or striving for effect”. It is robbed of our highest marks by one or two refuseniks who found the performance too “bizarre, and very expensive for what you get”.
“Witty, subversive, delicious, surprising, serious….” – Paul Kitching’s cuisine is certainly anything but predictable, and especially “for something different” the open kitchen at his “romantic” Calton Hill townhouse is just the job for an “unusual” culinary experience that fans find nothing short of “sublime”.
“Tucked away in the Durham Dales”, James Close’s restaurant (with two rooms) revolves around “an ethos of showing off local ingredients to their best effect”. “Down-to-earth” staff provide a choice of “clever and delicious” tasting menus, of which the best dishes are “a revelation in simple but confident cooking”.
“Off-beat, irreverent, and exciting!” – the “experimental” cuisine is “really surprising” at this “progressive” but “no-frills” and “cramped” gourmet experience to the south of the city centre. When it comes to the tasting menu, “it’s so much fun, as you don’t know what you’re going to get”, but “the flavours are always firing on all cylinders”, and there’s “a very original wine flight accompaniment”.
“Don’t let its slightly gimmicky reputation put you off!” This year-old, “blingy” office block venture – with “trendy 12th-floor cocktail lounge (limited views)” and “glam industrial-chic” 2nd-floor restaurant (complete with open kitchen) – is “very professional”, “very classy”, and Aiden Byrnes’s “ornate” cuisine is seriously “accomplished”. That all said, it can still seem a bit “forced”, not helped by the punishing “London prices”.
“It has to the best restaurant in Northern Ireland by a long stretch!”; this “old harbourmaster’s building at the marina” – “owned and run by two Dutch brothers” – has been sensitively restored, and wins the highest esteem for its “understated” and “professional” approach, and its “eclectic” cuisine “taking a serious approach to the use of organic local produce”; “interesting wine at really good prices” too and a well-stocked gin bar. Top Tip – “great-value tasting menu”
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Part of the Wildsmith Hotel collection (Hipping Hall, The Ryebeck) this beautifully-restored 19th-century Victorian hotel opened minutes from Grasmere in the Lake District this winter after an extensive year-long, £4million renovation. It vaunts 20 bedrooms and a 50-cover restaurant, helmed by Kevin Tickle (former chef and head forager at L’Enclume), where many ingredients are picked from the kitchen garden. We can vouch for the fact that his tasting menu is extraordinary!