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Living in London, we are lucky to be in a city with one, if not the most, vibrant food scenes in the world. It was not always thus; when I moved back from France in 1984, things were a little different!
I believe that the lack of a strong local culinary identity has created a void, which has been filled with great international food. Surely no other city has the amazing diversity of cuisines as are found in London.
The creative team at Oliver Sweeney asked me to draw up a list of my five favourites and, whilst this was a difficult task, I found it both fun and interesting.
For me, different restaurants work for different moments; an evening out with the team from work is not the same as a celebratory dinner or a quiet romantic supper. I have therefore tried to include a variety within my top five to reflect different occasions. They are in no specific order, as each is excellent for a specific moment in time.
Asakusa – Mornington Crescent : A great night out after work
I love all things Japanese and especially the food. Asakusa is one of North London’s best kept secrets, and whilst its décor hasn’t changed since I first started to go in the late 80s, the quality and value of the food is amazing. Try the grilled mackerel with grated radish, or the tofu with ginger and spring onions as well as the amazingly good sushi and sashimi, washed down with a great selection of sake.
Barrafina - Adelaide Street : Saturday Lunch
I loved the original Soho branch and was a little concerned when they opened a second and third branch. I was wrong – it still feels like you are in Barcelona and the food remains exceptional!
I personally prefer lunch as the queues are less of an issue. The menu changes daily and according to season, but the staples such as the tortillas (pictured) and pan con tomate are also excellent. Great fish and Iberico ham complete a fabulous lunch, washed down with a glass of their own Manzanilla en rama.
Rochelle Canteen – Rochelle School, E2 : Romantic evening
It doesn’t sound like I should like it – way to ‘hipster’ on the surface for me – and yet I’m enchanted by Melanie Arnold and Margo Henderson’s restaurant in a converted bike shed at the back of an off-the-beaten-track school in Shoreditch.
In the summer, and now open in the evenings, this fantastic, modern, British restaurant is great for a romantic evening. The menu is constantly changing, but last time I went I loved the devilled crab and mince and tatties. With the lovely addition of the restaurant being unlicensed, you can take your own wine with you.
Trullo – St. Paul’s Road, Highbury East : Great for a relaxed evening with friends
I love Italian food and my role at Oliver Sweeney takes me to Italy often. The honest cucina povera of the Marche - in perhaps my favourite restaurant outside of London – Il Picciolo di Rame, in the foothills of the Sibilini mountains – is a special place. It is perhaps in this context that I find most Italian restaurants in London a little disappointing, with the exception of Trullo on St. Paul’s Road in Islington. The menu is short, self-confident and always changing, but the pasta, as at their new offshoot, Padella, is perhaps the best I have ever had outside Italy. The wines are interesting, unusual and reasonably priced.
Marcus – Berkeley Hotel, London : Special occasion
Sometimes a celebration calls for a special meal and for me my favourite London restaurant for this type of occasion is Marcus, Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel. The food and wine are as you would expect, superb. A recent favourite being Tropea onion with Tunworth cream, black truffle and Winchester cheese, but what also impresses me is the total experience; the precision of the plating, the service – never too much, but always there almost before you need it. This is what sets it apart from many other high-end London restaurants – never stuffy, but still special.
The list could go on: I’ve forgotten my favourite Vietnamese and that little hidden Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown, but they are for another day. After careful consideration the five above are my current favourites ... but that may well change in six months as the London food scene evolves.
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