Friday, 30 December 2011

Where to eat in London in 2012

Crabs at Gergovie Wines
@ 40 Maltby Street

I love visiting other European towns and cities.  The food I eat is almost almost always the local style, and that is what I want.  It is just as well because, with the exception of Berlin and Paris, local cuisine is mostly what's on offer.  International hotel restaurants, serving standard "European dishes they fondly believe we visitors want, and the inevitable burger chains hold no appeal for me.  Good as 'local' usually is, if I were to stay longer than a few weeks I'm pretty sure I'd be scouring the back alleys for something a bit different.  That is, I think, the result of living in London.  London is different.  Here you can eat your way across the globe in a few square miles.  That's not to say British food isn't desirable.  The bad reputation it acquired after the 1940's has long gone but we do seem to be uniquely open-minded in our food tastes.  There's good food to meet all budgets in London, if you know where to look, and your palate need never be jaded. 

You do need a little help to sort the wheat from the chaff though.  Of the printed guides, Hardens is pretty good as the reviews are based on punters' reports as as well as those of the editors.  It's the one I mostly find myself agreeing with.  Food blogs give a more personal view and an internet search can turn up some very up-to-date reports, which is what we really want.  Here is my personal view looking back over 2011together with places on my radar for 2012.

2011 has seen Bermondsey Street blossom into a great place to find good food at fair prices - JosαΊ½ and Pizarro, Zucca, The Garrison, and more.  London has developed an appetite for both Mexican and Vietnamese food but the rise in popularity of Street Food, Pop-ups and Supper Clubs was the big story of 2011.  Closely, and laudably, aligned with an interest in foraging and food miles, they have a fleeting existence in any one place - which adds to the excitement.  It has to be said they are a mixed bunch, spawning some crackers along with the inevitable duds.  The writer Richard Johnson's site is worth checking out for its annual Street Food Awards.

The biggest buzz has probably been around the collaboration named Young Turks - being James Lowe (former head-chef at St John Bread & Wine), Issac McHale (a spell at Copenhagen's Noma and development chef at The Ledbury), and Ben Greeno (Noma and Sat Bains in Nottingham).  Currently offering £39 set four-courses at The Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields until 25 February.  Celebrated Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes is exciting similar interest with his Loft Project.  Though even these outfits divide opinion. It's an ever-changing picture and part of the appeal is finding out where they'll pop-up next.  The Mexican street food van Luardos is parked at Whitecross Street market each weekday 11-3. La Grotta Ices superb freshly made ice creams are sold from a tiny Piaggio van on Maltby Street some Saturdays (check site for updates).  Last, but far from least, is Street Kitchen.  Chefs Jun Tanaka and Mark Jankel park thier Airstream van in the heart of the City on Finsbury Avenue Square EC2 and have a second home, The Hatch by Ransome's Dock SW11 - both Monday-Friday lunchtimes. 

As I'm looking back here as well as forward, it's a good excuse to use my favourite photograph of those I took in 2011.  This is apt as it was taken in the place which has served me the most consistently good food and wine this year.  So, where to eat in London in 2012?

The places in London I'm certain to return to regularly in 2012:

Gergovie Wines at 40 Maltby Street Natural wines and David Cook's food.  Consistently good.

Pizarro  Jose Pizarro in the kitchen, in Bermondsey - this makes me very happy

St John Bread & Wine  for when you need steadying in Spitalfields

Zucca  River Cafe style at Bermondsey prices

Arbutus  Great value unfussy Michelin * lunch in the heart of Soho

The places I hope to visit more often in 2012:

Bocca di Lupo  Jacob Kenedy's exceptionally good Italian-influenced food in Soho

Brawn  Straight-up unpretentious British/French/Italian food in Bethnal Green

Barrafina Arguably London's best Spanish tapas bar in the heart of Soho

Roti Chai  Unpretentious Street Food from around India re-located to Marble Arch

Gauthier Soho  Seasonal, great flavours, good value classic French Michelin * from Alexis Gauthier

Le Gavroche  Michelin ** in Mayfair, Michel Roux Jnr in the kitchen.  Exceptional value 3 course set-lunch menu but book ahead.

Places I want to try in 2012:

Magdalen  So many friends have recommended this one in Bermondsey

Tinello  Giorgio Locatelli's influence but more affordable prices in Pimlico

Duck Soup  Natural wines and simple food in Soho - sounds tempting

Elliot's  Showcasing Borough Market traders - I like the ethos here

Pied a Terre  Fitzrovia Michelin **.  Straying from the good value set-lunch menu may call for someone else's wallet

If you get to any of these before me, let me know what you think.  Meanwhile,

Happy New Year