Only our concept of celebrity has become more debased than our definition of luxury today. We now have those for whom a ‘VIP event’ constitutes an evening spent in a Surrey Aston Martin showroom in lurid Paul Smith shirt and huge watch, drinking warm Piper Heidsieck, looking smug and paunchy whilst waiting for a similarly-attired ex-England sportsman to regale them with motivational anecdotes worn to the nub on the after-dinner circuit. Stumbling into such a motley gathering Nero or Peter the Great would probably have assumed they had interrupted an assembly of their grooms.
Our declining appreciation for quality is evidenced by the very existence of laughable websites like – BestLondonRestaurants.com (featuring Cafe Rouge and Spaghetti House to indicate the depths of their credibility void), the lead reader review of whose top-rated establishment included the unintentionally apposite comment ‘the whole experience was superfluous’. Aside from furthering my belief that although everyone has the right to an opinion, few have the sense not to express it, I paused to consider, in the run up to the recent San Pellegrino’s annual World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards: ‘Which are London’s best restaurants’?
There are two categories of “best” restaurants in London: Those you always recommend to die-hard gastro-tourist acquaintances who want to experience the city’s finest (with
or without your company), and then those places you enjoy taking people yourself. Whilst you’d expect some overlap, the list will not be identical. The former are based almost wholly on the consistent high quality of the food, divorced from other considerations; the latter more dependent on other contributing factors mentioned above (see full article in B Beyond magazine).
Thus my top 10 choices in the first case would be:
Galvin La Chapelle
The River Cafe
Pied A Terre
In the second case:
The Opera Tavern
Great Queen Street
This last list is more humble (less expensive and Michelin driven at least) and closer to my office, so the more often frequented. If I had the time, resources, desire to dress for the occasion and a driver waiting outside then more of list 1′s choices might start appearing on it, but expediency, convenience and pricing have led me more often to the latter selection. So a benign circle ensues, where your treatment in regularly-patronised establishments improves and visits correspondingly increase in frequency. This is still arguably the most important aspect of eating out for many London diners – who are happy to overlook a bad meal, or poor wine choice in a regular haunt so long as we are greeted effusively by name on the door, led to our preferred table and comped an aperitif Champagne by the management. Its these restaurants that remain our favourites – the best to and so for us. Through the lens of luxury redefined we prove a preference for the experience over the extravagance, the value added over the VIP.
N.B The full article appears in the summer edition of B Beyond magazine