Since the British waste so much money on soccer, dogs, horses, warm beer, cold women and breakfast, there is not much left for decent dining on most of the island. If you want to eat well in England, have breakfast three times a day, postulated savant-vivre Somerset Maugham. London is different, however, because of its large foreign population. It is due to the numerous French, Italian, Indian and Chinese restaurants that cuisine standards improved over the past decade. Many nationalities still consider British cooking an affront to the palate, but there are a few specialities which win general approval: smoked Scotch salmon, potted shrimps, jugged hare, Welsh lamb, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Dover sole, steak and oyster pie. Stilton cheese, mincemeat or treacle tart and summer pudding. Even if the English don't take their food seriously, they do care where they're seen eating it. Lunch and dinner clubs are the favourites of successful actors, writers, advertising directors, fashion photographers and wealthy landowners. If you can't sit with the peers at Boodles or millionaires at Brooks, you might at least find the likes of Terence Stamp and Royal snappers Patrick Litchfield and Tony Snowdon at Burkes; acclaimed scribes Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser and Auberon Waugh at Harry's Bar; international polo-pro Julian Hipwood, PR-rocket Billy Hamilton and socialite designer Nicholas Haslam at Mark's. Gossip columnists, fashion followers and film stars eat at Langan's Brasserie (on the ground floor, never upstairs!), while Fleet Street editors and proprietors choose The Boulestin and Rue St. Jacques. However, true English aristocrats take little interest in the hangouts of the trendies or in the latest rave restaurants. They settle instead for the privacy of their club.
The Dorchester Terrace is still the best place in town for the over thirties to enjoy a civilized dînerdansant celebration. The spacious, luxurious intérieur is the perfect setting for Anton Moisimann's artistic cuisine of world renown. Let the maître d'hôtel advise you on the impressive and opulent menu. The comme-il-faut service is suitable accompaniment to the polished cooking. If you have over-indulged in the irresistible sweet trolley, lovingly and carefully composed by Maestro Mosimann himself, fox trot it off on the newly-decorated dance-floor, then catch your breath in the super-elegant Bar with its Murano chandeliers, mirrored columns and soft leather chairs. For dignified dining in subdued splendour on one of the finest dishes that Britain can offer go to the traditional Grill.
The English House's cuisine makes all the snide remarks about Britain's culinary malheur sound like communist propaganda. Situated at a quaint intersection of streets with a suburban pub en face, the little white townhouse from the 1850's glitters of warm lighting and Le Beau Monde in Dior, dinner jackets and designer jeans. The Bel-Etage restaurant -- and the upstairs sitting room, with Chippendale fauteuils before a cozy chimney -- are glowing with charm, the walls done up in colourful textiles, the five tables set with chandeliers, original accessories all over the tiny dining room and the minuscule séparée for lovers. Dried flowers under glass, elaborate mirrors and Old Masters adorn the intérieur, as well as Valentino-clad proprietor Malcolm Livingston who came over from Walton's to set up this relais de charme with culinary historian Michael Smith. Watercress soup, potted smoked salmon, steak, kidney and mushroom pie, crab in puff pastry or real pork sausage served with applesauce, hot apple and mincemeat crumble, brown bread ice cream and the best fudge this side of the Atlantic all contribute to its prominent standing as one of England's foremost restaurants. With Haute Cuisine Anglaise! Margaret Thatcher loves it as much as Michael Foot.
Connaught. London's snobs make it a rule to lunch in the Restaurant and dine at the Grill. The specialities (Sole Soufflé Mayfair, Coulibiac de Saumon, Mousse d'Homard Neptune), as well as national favourites (grouse, pigeon, liver and lamb), have earned the Connaught coveted Michelin stars, The wood-panelled dining room (try to sit at the far end corner by the window for the best view of who is arriving -- outside and inside) is as dignified as the service. Michel Bourdin tries to keep the kitchen on a par with the atmosphere, and this is the place --outside of the top clubs -- to get acquainted with English cuisine. Bon-vivant publisher Lord Weidenfeld swears by the Connaught's partridge, steak, oyster pie, and bread and butter pudding.
Tiger Lee is one of the few Chinese restaurants in England to have been awarded the renommé rosette by that fastidious French tyre company. The Haute Cuisine Cantonaise par excellence is based on the freshest produce held in viviers d'eau de mer on the premises, bred on private farms in the home counties or flown-in from the motherland. Miss Thailand and Miss Hong Kong have vouched for their authenticity -- Members of Parliament, bankers and fashion executives vouch any day for the likes of Miss Thailand and Miss Hong Kong.
Bombay Palace. Although there are Bombay Palaces in New York, Washington, L.A. and Chicago, this is the first in Britain -- indeed the first in Europe. Quietly opulent in pale turquoise and cane, with a red uniformed doorman to usher you into the bar, this is a suave background for some delicately-spiced starters and mouth-watering sikh kebabs marinated in ginger, coriander and other spices, and cooked in the tandoor oven.
Ninety Park Lane. Lord Forte, who owns more hotels and restaurants than most people have had hot dinners, and who is currently casting lustful eyes on The Savoy, has set out to make Ninety Park Lane the best restaurant in London. Paintings from his own collection dignify the walls, the specially commissioned china is elegant -- it matches the menu which offers some of the most spectacular dishes in London, such as the saffron-flavoured Mediterranean fish broth, the delicately scented cucumber soup with whipped cream and caviar, the breast of duck in a coriander sauce with pine kernels. Gourmets go for the Menu Gourmet here; ordinary mortals make a virtue of indecision in the face of so much choice and opt for the Menu Surprise -- eight courses of light specialities à la the famous French restaurant, L'Oasis, whose Chef Louis Outhier has cooked here so often that guests suspect he has taken up residence. Although the address is Park Lane, the ambience is pure English country house -- flowers, paintings and antiques.
Le Gavroche is run by the Roux Brothers -- Michel and Albert. This, the golden link in their chain (Le Poulbot, Le Gamin, Waterside Inn), has achieved the proper smoothness which accompanies the extravagant prices. The Roux Brothers received their culinary training in the kitchens of ambassadors and billionaires (among them the Rothschilds), rather than in restaurants, and you can taste la différence. Accolades abound. Among the constantly varying specialities are Mousseline de homard au Champagne, Soufflé Suissesse, Suprème de barbue Silvano, Caneton Gavroche, Sablé aux fraises and Soufflé à l'orange. Dinner at Le Gavroche is not only a culinary highlight in London but also a social affair. French diplomats, francophile foreigners and the more informed food fans from the island crowd the small room nightly. (If you are impressed by this Roux Brothers affair, you should pay Michel a visit in his riverside idyll at Bray-on-Thames, the Waterside Inn, which is particularly pretty on a summer's evening, but equally when the nights draw in. The raison d'être: Haute Cuisine -- not àl'Anglaise.)
La Tante Claire is not only a serious restaurant but also a gastronomic experience. Unfortunately, many true gourmets have discovered Pierre Koffmann's talents, so book well in advance to get a table. Small, elegant and exquisite service, it attracts discerning diners in couture and Cartier. The superb menu includes specialities such as gâteau de foie de volaille au coulis de homard, foie de veau au citron vert and pied de cochon farcie aux morilles.
Boulestin, a grand old restaurant in the classic French style that fell on hard times, has been refurbished and -- looking smart again -- led to new fame. Three magnificent chandeliers illuminate marble pillars and velvet drapes. The rich quail mousse or the luscious langoustine provencale illuminate the image of the chef manager, the attentive service justifies the indulgence with dignity.
Ménage à Trois. Princess Diana -- who certainly doesn't look as if she overeats -- is fond of Ménage à Trois: it serves rather delicate portions of incredibly tasty starters and desserts. Equally royally appetizing are its caviar and eggs en cocotte and delicious hot pastry parcels followed by peaches filled with pistachio ice cream. It is holed up in a basement in fashionable Beauchamp Place and has a décor which must have been designed by the Sloane Rangers' favourite store, the General Trading Company. Fashionable or not however, this is a place to avoid if your appetite is robust.
Chez Nico. Smart Londoners are apparently unaware that half their city lies south of the River Thames, which they may not even notice when they venture that way to watch cricket at the Oval. Old customers come to sample Nico Hedenis' exceptional dishes. Nico has departed from London to open a restaurant in the country but his partner and protégé Phillip Britten is following in his master's footsteps with brilliant specialities of terrine de foie grass, supreme de canard au fumet de cépes and, naturally, that sensational selection of sorbets originated by Nico. Rave reports of a passion fruit sorbet -- chez Phillip -- which is covered by two huge almond tuiles, looks like Sydney Opera House and is served with a kiwi fruit salad, are filtering through to the good food guides.
Waltons. A chic yellow and gray stage setting for a sophisticated clientèle (including lots of the trendier politicians as well as the Establishment who often come with their wives or even en famille when it's the au pair's night off). It is not unknown for Waltons' to host a royal or two in the sumptuous corner -- all glass and glamour -- set aside for discreet and very special dinner partieis. Small and intimate, Waltons is known for its wine list -- nearly hundred clarets alone -- and for its seasonal cuisine which includes many British dishes such as moneybags of salmon -- a small purse-shaped pancake filled with salmon and onions and served with a watercress sauce.
Interlude de Tabaillau is a welcome addition to Covent Garden and a frequent après-Rigoletto retreat for the aficionados of gargantuan pleasures. It is the creation of Jean-Louis Taillebaud, late of Le Gavroche, whose set menu -- with a champagne apértif and half a bottle of wine -- stands out among the culinary francophile routine in the capital. He serves classic French cuisines ranging from simple seafood to an exquisite Barbue. Karpinski and Feuilleté d'agneau sauce moëlle. The sweets destroy every dieter's will power and discipline.
Scott's, a luxurious landmark in the heart of elegant Mayfair, has been around (although not in the same premises) for over three hundred years, and some of the staff seem to have been here since the opening. The menu is English, the clientèle rather mixed. Occasionally, there's royal cracking lobster limbs or indulging in bread and butter pudding, but usually Bavarian dialect, Southern Drawl and Jet Set Esperanto outweigh the nasal Oxford accent. Concentrate on the day's catch -- salmon, sole, plaice, skate, turbot, halibut, or trout are prepared to perfection. Smoked cod roe and gull's eggs are tempting starters, and lamb cutlets, calf liver and bacon and carpetbag steak are meaty alternatives. For a quick lunch, Scott's Oyster Bar is the chic-est between-business rendezvous in town.
Cecconi's the Savini of London, is super-elegant, refreshing, spacious and ludicrously expensive. Don't give your lunch partner that rose from the vase on your table: this throw-away gesture on your behalf will land squarely on the bill. It is utterly pleasant to eat here -- there are beautifully groomed women at every table. Here well-known interior decorators lunch their clients, ladies their best girl-friends, photographers their latest models. Vogue editors, musical wunderkind Daniel Barenboim and man of many faces Alec Guiness join the fashionable Fetuccini-Set frequently. But you are never too close to anyone to become disillusioned -- especially if you're immersed in the sheer pleasure of homemade pasta. Taglierini verdi, grilled scampi, vitello tonnato, piccata and zabaglione are an attractive diet for the clients of neighbouring Zandra Rhodes and Emanuels.
Wilton's is very, very British and very, very old, having been established int he fashionable area surrounding St. James' Palace sin 1782. Redevelopment of its old site in Bury Street forced it to move to its present location only a tiara's throw away, but so many of its most familiar features -- the photographs of the Royals above the oyster bar, the paintings, the Chinese embroideries, the lights and banquette seats -- were relocated too, that Wilton's noble patrons hardly noticed the transition. The clientèle is distinguished, exclusive, and rich. Most have been coming for years, as their fathers and grandfathers before them, for splendid British roasts, oysters and lobsters, fresh Devon dressed crab, Dover sole and creamy Stilton.
Simpson's-in-the-Strand is a British institution, with its charm and foibles carefully treasured. Among the former are the clear turtle soup, the roast sirloin of beef and Yorkshire pudding, the roast saddle of mutton and red current jelly, the roast Aylesbury duck and the boiled syrup roll. Among the latter are vegetables, and the no-ladies restriction in some of the dining rooms at lunch. What is so pleasing here is that time has stopped, not only in the décor -- from the revolving mahogany door to the vaulted ceiling -- but also in the service. (Don't forget to tip the carver who will wheel the silver trolley with the choice of roast to your table). Through eight reigns -- from George IV to Elizabeth II -- and under the patronage of Charles Dickens and other literary personalities of the times, Simpson's has been an oracle to the bon vivants of the day.
The Guinea Grill, a tiny mews pub-restaurant tucked away off Berkeley Square, is bliss for carnivores. Have a pint at the bustling bar before climbing a couple of steps to arrive in front of a spectacle of prime sides of beef, lamb, pork and veal. Make your choice and indicate to the cook exactly how you want it prepared, and then proceed into the small labyrinth of dining rooms. The plastic-flowered wintergarden room attracts J. Walter Thompson executives, Bond Street nymphettes and contemporary antique dealers. The portions are so enormous that they tend to spill off your plate, but the empty dishes which return to the kitchen attest to the delightful satisfaction of the patrons.
Café Royal Grill Room. It is doubtful if the Café Royal's famous artistic and literary habitués of the past -- Oscar Wilde, August John, Aubrey Beardsley, Bernard Shaw et al -- could afford to eat in the Grill Room with quite the frequency of today's expense-account regulars, but the Belle Epoque extravaganza of gilded mirrors and riotous gilt caryatids still remains one of London's most beguiling backgrounds for a classical French-inspired menu which includes such choices as Scampis Oscar Wilde, Suprême de Volaille Guiliana and the use of the famous duck press. Service is faultless and the wine list legendary. If you can plead special interest you might be invited to visit the Café Royal cellars which are so extensive they run under Piccadily Circus as far as the statue of Eros.
Claridge's Restaurant is to London what the Régence-Plaza is to Paris -- utterly beautiful, sophisticated, and elegant endroit for lunch. The room, recently redecorated by Colefax &;Fowler, the sumptuous tables and the stealthy waiters create a calm for the wealthy, the noble, the leaders of finance, the diplomats and the politicians, and a sprinkling of stars from Hollywood and Cinecitta. It has retained its time-honoured custom of having no bar, nor dancing. Before lunch and dinner a Hungarian orchestra plays softly in the foyer and drinks are served by frocked footmen. The cuisine lives up to the long-standing tradition expected by the Old Guard regulars.
Claridge's Causerie, on the other hand, is less formal and the menu lighter. Here, guests may help themselves to smorgasbord from a centre table, or lunch simply on Eggs Benedict, slices of roast beef and fresh fruit.
The Savoy Grill, Chef Escoffier's old turf, is resplendent in panelled yew and a menu which attracts the Upper Crust as much as do their nostalgic feelings. They come for the straightforward grills, for the tasty steak, kidney &;oyster pudding, for smoked salmon, caviar, (Beluga naturally) or for a sophisticated Zephir de Loup de Mer Marguerite, a fillet of sea bass grilled with fennel, served with cucumber and grapefruit flavoured with mint.
Brasserie St. Quentin. Famous restaurant critic Quentin Crewe has come out of the closet and from behind his typewriter to put his opinions bravely on the line here and to offer an unusually wide range of menus from a lavish breakfast starting at eight in the morning until an after theatre snack at one. Eat your way through the imaginative menu or just indulge your way through the imaginative menu or just indulge in a gourmet snack. Conveniently situated for the shopper tired from braving the Harrods crowds, one can either relax at the attractive chrome-and glass bar or on the gold chairs.
Langan's Brasserie. Le tout-Londres enjoys itself at this large, buzzing well-known brasserie. The owners do too: Irish entrepreneur Peter Langan, Chef Richard Shepherd and actor Michael Caine. With its steel and mirrored interior, parquet floor, tropical fans and an enviable collection of prints and paintings reminiscent of 'Casablanca' and La Coupole, it sets the perfect stage for Claire Bloom, Ursula Andress, Deborah Kerr, Thea Porter, Harold Pinter, David Bailey, Mick Jagger -- in fact, everyone. Langan, who boasts drinking six bottles of champagne a day, snoozes in a corner of the bar throughout dinner to oblige the gossips and infuriate his competitors who can't figure out how he does it all. The inventive menu, illustrated by habitué David Hockney, includes duck pâté, spinach soufflé with anchovy sauce, smokes trout with horseradish, suprême of sea bass with fennel, crème brûlée.
Langan's Bistro. Quality over quantity. Brown paper over the tablecloth. Seasonal dishes takes precedent over what is considered chic, with fresh fare like trout and oranges, chops with white onion sauce, kiwi vacherin. Peter Langan does it again, this time with simple, plain-stated style.
Capital Hotel Restaurant is renowned among the gourmets this side of the Channel as well as on the Continent. Located in the clean, modern town hotel in the neighbourhood of Harrods, this designer-restyled dining room, presided over by the industrious German Maître Schuldt, offers such delights as duck breast with a tangy-sweet lemon and honey sauce, and a marquise au chocolat blanc. The wine list is well researched and offers some excellent Moselles among the German hocks.
Le Poulbot is one of the better French restaurants in London, but tends to be the neighbourhood property of the high-powered pin-striped gentlemen of the 'City', London's financial district. Disregard any thoughts about the cheapside address, it's a most misleading label. The proprietor is a protégé of the Roux brothers, who have a vested interest (including a financial one)in the success of the business, so monogrammed silver plates, waiters in livery, and the Michelin star, all set the scene for Grande Cuisine: Terrine de homard aux artichauts, Brochette de bar et saumon aux poivrons, Terrine de fraises des bois. Wines are Paris-priced; cheeses, province-fresh. One-nighters in London who wish for a second helping at Le Poulbot come for breakfast. Croissants and café au lait with the early-rising bowler-hat brigade is a most civilized way to start the morning.
Ma Cuisine continues to be everybody's favourite bistro in Chelsea. And with good reason. Guy Mouilleron added a new flair to the conservative cuisines scene with his sweetbreads stuffed with veal and cooked in lettuce leaves, the delicate Feuilleté de saumon, Oeuf Vert Galant. Noisette d'agneau pastourelle, Mousse brûlée. The amiable young chef has no social ambitions, the atmosphere arises from his and his guests' love for good cooking -- and eating. Reserve a year in advance to procure one of the handful of tables.
Bombay Brasserie's opening by the Taj group owners of many of India's best hotels, was delayed until astrologers advised on the most propitious day. And lo, the Stars augured a fortune: in spite of being off-beam as far as the West End is concerned, Bombay Brasserie attracts the gilded in crowd. The décor is in keeping with London's current Raj nostalgia -- all wicker chairs, sepia photographs, palms and languidly rotating fans, plus a glasserie for the feeling of dining alfresco. The food is lusciously Indian: from tikkas and kebab à la North-West Frontier to the Parsee wedding speciality of tender mutton cooked with dried apricots. Buffet only at lunch, à la carte evenings.
The Red Fort, with its rose-coloured walls (after Delhi's famous landmark) is the up-market version of a co-operative of eight London restaurants all noted for their splendid Indian and Bangladesh cuisine, and notorious for their North Indian cooking (subtle rather than fiery spices and herbs) which never fails to draw raves from food critics.
The well-stocked cocktail bar fronting the restaurant isn't as decadent as it appears -- many of the cocktails are exotic -- mango-based, for instance -- rather than alcoholic.
Chanterelle. There are two ways to make sure your restaurant is always overcrowded: either build it very small, or cook such delicious food that people can't stay away. Chanterelle's management has taken both precautions. Sloane Rangers pop round the corner to eat here and when there's absolutely nothing in the house. Pretty and smart, Chanterelle is always full. Interesting hors d'oeuvres including lentil salad with anchovies and hot oeuf mollet (an egg boiled just right on a bed of pastry and sorrel); entrées include Filets of pork with cream and paprika and vol-au-vent with scallops and haddock; and British brown-bread ice cream for dessert.
Inigo Jones was converted from a stained glass factory -- hence the decorative pieces of coloured glass which stand out against the walls of red brick and polished wood, creating a fanciful setting. Tarte à l'oseille, Blinis au saumon fumé d'Ecosse, Carré d'agneau en croûte sauce à la menthe, or just a plain steak tartare are some special dishes which have earned it esteem.
Poons of Covent Garden keeps to the true tradition of genuine Chinese restaurants -- spartan in décor, concentrating solely on cuisine. The glassed-in kitchen in the centre of the spacious, brightly-lit dining room allows one to observe Bill Poon and his frenzied team steaming, grilling, frying, chopping, slicing, grinding, arranging, spicing. Among the hundreds of dishes available, nay of which you will never have heard of -- let alone tasted -- baked lobster or crab with fresh ginger, wind-dried meat, pork belly, duck liver sausage, steamed rabbit and the home-made noodles are simply superb. Mr. Poon's grandfather was cook to the Empress of China. Mr. Poon's wife, Cecilia, will receive you with imperial courtesy.
Joy King Lau is Cantonese and authentic. No stars or stumpers here, but ninety-five percent of the patrons are Chinese, and that speaks for itself. Norman Han offers superb dim sum with a simple decor.
Odin's. Paintings and drawings form the décor of this small restaurant. The kitchen caters to both French and English palates, but most people feel the English dishes are best, especially the crab soup, lamb, pork with walnuts, all the fish dishes and the vegetables. Owned by Peter Langan (of Langan's fame), it really is a delight for lunch, if a little too quiet in the evening.
Mr. Chow was one of London's most fashionable restaurants in the seventies; today, the chrome-and-glass interior is still cool and stylish, but the shine seems slightly dimmed. Service is lax, and the waiting clientèle betray a serious misinterpretation of the meaning of 'style'. It is as if those who used to dine here have followed the Society-Darlings, Michael and Tina Chow, to New York and Beverly Hills, for film food in fairy tale surroundings.
Rue St. Jacques. The rise to fame of Rue St. Jacques has been spectacular, the number of milords and politicians booking tables only exceeded by the number of media people all anxious to be seen in the one and only table by the window. Try not to end up in the back portion of this snug pink cave full of mirrors if you want to be amongst famous and fashionable faces. But once you find time for your food -- the terrine de crabe au coulis de homard, or the filet de chevreuil et ris de veau perhaps -- you'll get absolutely diverted from the faces and simply delight on the sauces. The cheese-board is a tour-de-force with no less than thirty five different varieties seductively displayed. The final hurdle in the battle of the waistline is the Soufflé au Chocolat au Rhum. But you may not want to offer any resistance to the vintage champagnes and Armagnacs.
Le Soufflé. Sophisticated and up-market, this is the type of discreet surroundings to which foreign royalty keeping a low profile go to indulge in a spot of high living. You don't have to have a soufflé here, but it's the master chef's speciality, just as truffles are his hallmark. The pastry chef is equally talented, his creations no easier to resist than Peter Kromber's sensational Soufflé au fromage blanc et au coulis d'abricot.
Ken Lo's Memories of China. When he is not playing veteran tennis at the Hurlington Club, broadcasting, launching his latest cookery book, leading gourmet tours through China or generally proselytizing on Chinese food, Ken Lo can be seen in the spare yet elegant restaurant he started in Ebury Street. To get the best out of your dinner, order a day or two in advance, but such rare specialities as Mongolian barbecued lamb in lettuce puffs or the more ubiquitous Peking Duck with pancake and Shantung chicken in garlic are regulars on the menu. Ken Lo's cuisine democratically represents the four main culinary regions of China -- Szechuan, Peking, Shanghai and Canton -- and deserves therefore its place before every prestigious delegation and diplomatic mission from China as well as appreciative show biz personalities much nearer home. And just what are Ken Lo's memories of China? Marvellous meals of course.
Maxim's de Paris. Pierre Cardin is the man behind this lavish replica of the nineteenth century Parisian original. The Belle Epoque décor adds a notable sense of occasion to dining here on langoustine consommé and scallops with a chevril-flavoured beurre blanc, but the promise of the wine list tends to exceed the promise of the menu. Maxim's is one of the few places outside of the big hotels and nightclubs where -- should you feel inclined -- you can dance to live music.
Fortnum's Fountain (at Fortnum & Mason) is in a category of its own when it comes to snacks, sweets and light meals. Try omelettes, Welsh rarebit, chicken pie, sandwiches, sundaes or any of the ice creams. But don't do it at high noon, which is high tide among clients. Come when the tide subsides -- just before twilight.