Eating London (part II)

Small dishes and the most elegant restaurants. Palling’s second part of his London guide

09-08-2013
The entrance to Bocca di Lupo, opened by Jacob Ken

The entrance to Bocca di Lupo, opened by Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo in Archer street in London. It’s an excellent place where you can share many small tastings (photo credits www.arbuturian.com)

(read part one)

The small plate theme has developed in London the same way that Neo-Bistrots have in Paris – places where you can opt for a selection of four or five shared plates rather than the conventional starter main course and pudding. My firm favourite is Bocca di Lupo, which is located in what was once one of the seedier back streets in Soho but thanks to this and Gelupo, their granita bar directly opposite, the place has begun to take on a respectable tinge.

Mishkins, a Jewish deli with cocktails

Mishkins, a Jewish deli with cocktails

Around the corner is Spuntino, which doubles as a cool bar as well as serving fairly ordinary small plates but the vibe is brilliant, helped along by their apparent policy of only hiring staff adorned with tattooes. This is only one part of the new empire of Russell Norman, who started the concept with Polpo and has since added a handful of other places, with Miskins, his take on a New York Jewish place the latest.
Of course, other great small plate places exist in Soho but the most arresting one, 10 Greek Street, has only opened since Easter 2012. Talking of places with bizarre backgrounds, the chefs here came from the Wapping Project, a former nineteenth century pumping station in the East End of London, where diners sat amongst the now dormant pumps and turbines next to the Thames.

I don’t want to give the impression that I only care about fun dining and not fine dining, even though I hate that expression. My quartet of favourite places to explore the ultimate culinary adventures should probably start with the River Café, which serves immaculate northern Italian cuisine using only the finest ingredients either locally sourced or from the Milan market. And then there is Hedone, an obscure Scandinavian restaurant in Chiswick, on the outer edges of suburban London. Chef Mikael Jonsson is a self-taught chef who produces inspired dishes using only three or four ingredients, ranging from turbot, red mullet, venison and steak, whose ageing he personally supervises.

Scallops and peas at The Square in Mayfair

Scallops and peas at The Square in Mayfair

Then at the very pinnacle, there are two two Micehlen starred restaurants – The Square in Mayfair, where Philip Howard produces superb subtle European-inspired haute cuisine. Beyond even here, is The Ledbury in Notting Hill, where 33 year-old Brett Graham is showing the skills that should propel him to become the next Three Star London chef. He is passionate about game, so expect to find a beautiful creation using either pigeon, hare, roe deer or muntjac. Like any great chef, it is not just the skill in preparing all of the ingredients on the plate, but the skill in integrating them all so there is a seamlessness in the eating experience. As I said, there are enough surprises to keep any sceptic occupied for weeks and I haven’t even mentioned Brawn, the simple place in Shoreditch where they create brilliant dishes from offal or the numerous Pop Ups, especially those masterminded by Isaac McHale and James Lowe. Move over New York, you may have met your match.


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