* Part I only: I’m not as rich as I’d like, so can only review the few I’ve been to so far. There are many more that I hope to try over the coming years though, so Parts II, III and IV to come soon (hopefully!)…
Its your birthday, his birthday, your anniversary, your best friend just got engaged, your mum’s in town, Valentine’s day; you’ve tried some fantastic restaurants in London, but you really want to treat yourself. These places ain’t cheap (but can be cheaper than you think – see Chez Bruce) but you are pretty much guaranteed a wonderful gastro experience that you are likely to remember for years to come.
My experience is limited (for cash reasons) and there are loads in London (see this guide or this one) so I’ll do my best to add more as time goes on. In the meantime, here’s my reviews on the 4 that I’ve been to:
1. Chez Bruce
My favourite dining experience in London. What I like about it most is that there is no pretention, no snootiness. They have an extensive wine menu and one of the joys of going here is to ask for the wine somellier who will go through what food you are eating, what you like, and pick an incredible bottle of wine at the price you want. Don’t be embarrassed to ask.
I ate downstairs the first time I went there, but the second time (El G’s birthday), we sat upstairs, which I actually preferred. There are about 5 tables and it’s more intimate and romantic, with views over Wandsworth Common.
Slightly old-fashioned, the food is modern French and incredibly delicately done. For starters there’s typically foie gras, delicate soups, or fish dishes like ceviche of tuna. Mains vary from gamey dishes like guinea fowl and rabbit, and tasty fish. All I’ve had were superb (sadly I’ve lost the menu from that wonderful night, and it changes regularly). The cheese course is wonderful – with a serious cheese platter arriving that you can pick from. Make sure you leave some room if you can.
All in all, we paid around around £75 each, for a 3 course meal, a bottle of wine and 2 digestifs – considering you can easily pay £50 each for an OK meal in London this is incredibly reasonable. My Scottish tip is to crack open some bubbly at your flat beforehand – its always tempting to have some fizz when you get to a posh restaurant but it always hits you on the bill (or ignore me and live a little..!).
2. Pied A Terre
We had the tasting menu – the second ever time I’ve done this. At 10 courses, it was really far too much (I felt sick on the tube home from being over-stuffed) but it was the most exciting gastronomique experience of my life so far. The amuse bouche themselves were incredible, including a ginger foam thing that bubbled in the mouth and was so good I giggled. Starters included marinated Scallops with Brandade Mousse, Cauliflower and Truffle Salad, Lemon Oil and Baby Wood Sorrel – I’m allergic to scallops but they managed to make me something even better. Mains included cod and venison and the puddings seemed to go on forever. We loved the coffee and petit fours at the end (if only we could eat, or see, properly – see below). I don’t regret doing the tasting menu – it was a wonderful experience and the food was original, experimental and delicious - but next time, I’d like to order a la carte.
We also did the wine flight with this menu which meant a new wine for every course. The glasses are about half full, but still I was pretty tipsy by the end and the last few courses were a little hazy. However, it was really fun guessing the wine, there were some really interesting choices, and the whole experience sent us into giggling schoolchild mode.
I loved how the chef and wine sommellier were both Aussies – shows how good Australian cuisine has become, meant that there was a lot of experimental cooking, and that the wine choices were eclectic - New World and non-French European as well as some good French wines. I loved how the French aristocrats asking the nationality of the chef were shocked – ha! It is also unlike other Michelin-starred restaurants, as you can book it through toptable.
First downside is the money – if you do choose the taster menu plus wine flight, you’re looking at around £170 each – ouch. Second downside is that it was filled with Eurotrash and bankers, and the atmosphere wasn’t great even on a Saturday night – it didn’t seem full of regulars or the cool crowd like the River Cafe…
3. River Cafe
If I had money, I’d go here every week as it definitely had the best atmosphere. Filled with interesting, media types, and celebrities; and with a buzzing atmosphere even on a quiet Tuesday night, we were treated like kings and ate a wonderfully simple, fresh, seasonal, Tuscan feast. Perhaps not as delicate or intricate as Chez Bruce or Pied a Terre, this is great Italian dining.
You are given a choice of antipasti, primi, and/or secondi, followed by amazing organic cheese or dessert. I chose as primi the risotto with langoustines, mint, peas and pinot bianco which was simple and delicious. For secondi I had the anjou pigeon which was delicious and heavy, but next time I’d go for the great-sounding fish – chargrilled cornish monkfish, turbot tranche, dorset blue lobster.
El G’s boss treated us to a bottle of champers as he had to work late so the rest of the bill was good value – about £75 each for 3 courses and a glass of wine with our cheese. See my full review here. Also the best decor and outside space of the lot.
Glamorous, minimalist, and very Sex and the City, I went here years ago for my friend Marit’s birthday. We were a big group of girls and I recall rather snooty staff – for example we weren’t allowed to take photos of the birthday girl (presumably to stop anyone annoying the slebs). We had amazing green tea martinis and the food was spectacular “Asian fusion” – beautiful dim sum, intricately spiced, fresh and delicious, and pretty reasonably priced. A bit too cool for school for me though sadly. It has recently re-opened however, so worth another look.