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Sep 23, 2007 02:07 PM

London Trip Report

I'm happy to report that the food in London has improved 100% since my last visit 7 years ago. The Indian food is already better than we have in NYC. If the food in general improves another 100% and prices (or exchange rates) fall about 30%, it could rival NYC...perhaps thats not fair...maybe the top restaurants would have to improve 50% but the shear breadth of great NYC restaurants and ethnic food is hard to match. I did taste something that was pretty close to a croissant (and something that looked like a bagel...but hey, thats pretty common outside of ny/nj) Had very, very good fish and chips in a's something that I don't understand, London is fairly close to brussels...and paris, two of the great french fry cities of the world and they still serve these hard, tasteless fries.

The wine lists I saw were better priced and more interesting than most NYC restaurants. We did eat at a top Indian restaurant ($104/pp prix fixe, thank god it was expensed) and the wine list, while interesting, was a poor match for the fare. And I noticed that the beer is now odd...when did that happen?

Ate in a gastro goodness, what is the big deal? The food was delicous but hasn't the rest of the world been doing this forever?

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  1. Can you tell us where you ate and give us some specific recommendations? Thanks!

    1. I'm so glad to hear a New Yorker (I was one once) say that food here is good - especially the 'subcontinent' aka Indian). I never once enjoyed an Indian meal in Manhattan and now a new world has opened up to me. I think you had chips at the wrong places. I've had wonderful ones in or around London, and the potatoes here have.. surprise.. surprise.. a real taste! What was your top Indian restaurant?

      15 Replies
      1. re: zuriga1

        I'd agree with you if I thought that was what the poster meant. But unless I missed some hidden irony, I think there was a New Yorker magazine view of NYC's place in the world very much in evidence. I love NYC and its breadth of food (not necessarily the quantity, though), but I don't see the point in indulging in meaningless comparisons between the two cities - we each do certain things well, and a lot of things (very) badly. For instance, to expect an Indian restaurant in London to offer a food matched wine list is somewhat to miss the point of eating in one, where beer and/or lassi arguably make a better accompaniment... although some Indian restaurants in London do offer excellent wine lists, of course. And I can certainly eat bagels and croissants in London which are the equal to those I've ever found in NYC, Paris or Brussels. I can also eat high end food in London that is at least the equal of top restaurants in any of those cities. But you need to know where to look and what to avoid - isn't that why boards like this exist?

        I wholeheatedly second your chips/potato comments, though... :)

        1. re: SpikeyD

          Well, no, I wasn't trying to be ironic in my comparison...I was genuinely impressed with the improvement having gone from basically inedible to very good. I had croissant at patisserie valerie, a recurring recommendation on this board. It was not the equal of paris or nyc...but perhaps there are other, better places to try? And a bagel equal to H&H or Davids? Please do post on that.

          I disagree on the Indian wine list. While beer is a good match, there are certainly teriffic wine matches. If you're going to carry an extensive wine list and charge top prices, why not spend a little time to match the food?

          The top Indian was Tamarind...we were taking a client out and wanted to impress. It was the best I've had outside of India. I stayed on after the business portion of the trip and ate at Masala Zone (spending my own money now) on the recommendation of one of my colleagues from India. It was wonderul and if you arrive before 6pm or so, they discount the menu. I realize the masala zone has been likened to the mcDonalds of indian fast food but I thought it very good and well priced....and my colleague from India thinks its teriffic.

          On my own, I also ate at bosphorus kebab house, another recommendation here. While the food was good and inexpsensive, I can't see myself going back as the seating area was not all too clean.

          I had tickets to Macbeth on saturday night and wanted something close to theater. Cork and Bottle wine bar was recommended here but at $30 an entree, I decided to head over to chinatown and consumed a satisfying bowl of roast pork noodle soup with wantons at wong kei followed by an egg custard from a bakery. The waiters at wong kei lived up to their surly reputation and while it wasn't up to say NY Noodletown standards it was cheap, fast and good.

          I just realized that I didn't write about the great pubs. My colleagues from London took us to great pubs situated on beautiful, windy, cobblestone streets. Really enjoyed them.

          1. re: SpikeyD

            You make a good point that one has to know where to look for certain items. Maybe you can tell me where to find a great croissant in London.. or a really good bagel. So far, I haven't been very successful, although I can easily live without either. It's not all that necessary to compare cities, but it's almost impossible not to do that if one has lived a length of time in two - or three - different great food cities. It's just human nature to make comparisons about anything - food included. It wouldn't be much fun eating in different places if they all were equal. :-) I guess some of my mentality is still a bit tourist-driven even though I have a permanent resident visa in the UK.

            1. re: zuriga1

              Zuriga, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that comparisons, though somewhat meaningless, are inevitable when you've spent lengths of time in different cities. Which is why I respect the views and opinions of people like yourself and Howler even though we don't always agree about stuff.

              What I find extremely irksome are definitive and complacent pronouncements from people like the original poster based upon 2 short stints in London seven years apart. I spent years in London and a couple of years in NYC and I still struggle to properly gauge the relative strengths and weaknesses in each city in part because there's so much to discover and in part because the food scenes in each city are so dynamic. FWIW, overall I prefer the restaurant scene in NYC but prefer the produce in, and gastronomy related travel options out of, London.

              And I actually disagree with the OP about the respective calibre of the London eating scene in 2000 as compared with 2007. I certinly didn't find version 2000 "inedible" and I probably preferred London 2000 because there was more individuality and ethnicity and it wasn't all about designer this, michelin that, celebrity chef culture, absurd pricing etc. I think that there's been a gradual erosion in London and I for one don't really like the direction the London restaurant scene in particular has taken in the last few years.

              Oh let's put something else to bed. NYC ain't a premier patisserie city any more than London is. Beyond Continental Europe, I'm not sure there are any.

              1. re: oonth

                oonth, I am probably the oldest one around this forum and my memories of great cake and pastries in NYC go way, way back. Unfortunately, many of the bakers were even older than I and are long gone. There was a French bakery called Dumas on the UES. It was my aunt's special treat after one of her famous dinners.. nothing could compare.

                I'm only sorry I don't get the opportunity to eat out more often in London, but I love reading about others' experiences. My first trip here was in about 1988 or so and the food was not good at all, and we were trying out the top places of that era. I'm happy to think tourists can now find a lot more to be happy with than back then.

                My main question to all the diners here is how do you afford to eat out so often and are you all making lots of money at work and have fantastic jobs. :-)

                1. re: zuriga1

                  thanks for the insight, there are a number of aspects of yesteryear NYC that i would love to experience, i'm just waiting for someone to invent the time machine :-)

                  as for eating out, i tend to mix it up and am lucky enough to travel frequently and spend lots of time overseas so have been able to sample superb food in different places for very reasonable prices especially throughout Asia.

                  in London i tend to steer clear of so-called fine dining these days, partly because of the scandalous pricing, partly because the novelty has well and truly worn off and you can find similar offerings in most principal global cities nowadays. we're all agreed that London lacks a casual, affordable, [predominantly ethnic] eating scene but whenever i'm in town i just redouble my efforts to find whatever value and individuality remains. and luckily i love eating in just as much as i do eating out.

                  note no mention of earnings. asking a guy that question is the equivalent of a guy asking a woman her age :-)

                  1. re: oonth

                    I like that part about the novelty wearing off. I've found that to be very true in my case. And no one mentions it, but eating at 50 or 60 the way one did at 30 or even 40 just doesn't keep one looking in very good shape most of the time.

                2. re: oonth

                  >>What I find extremely irksome are definitive and complacent pronouncements from people like the original poster based upon 2 short stints in London seven years apart.

                  How do you know that my visit 7 years ago was a short stint? I would agree that a week this time results in nothing more than a snap judgment...but I did eat at a number of places recommended here and in zagats.

                  >>Oh let's put something else to bed. NYC ain't a premier patisserie city any more than London is.

                  I don't recall claiming that NYC is a premier patisserie city, simply that if Patisserie Valerie is the best croissant London has to offer, it comes up short. We do indeed have very good croissant in NYC (Patisserie Claude for example).

                  1. re: vinouspleasure

                    OK, I'll be honest, I guessed that your previous visit was a short one because, reading between the lines, you don't seem particularly knowledgeable about the London food scene and I'm also guessing that you read that New York vs London Adam Platt feature in New York magazine from a few months ago (or something similar) and came with preconceptions. If you're putting Masala Zone forward as an example of quality Indian food in London, then I'm not taking you seriously, it's as simple as that. It's a funny thing to me, New York/New Jersey really doesn't do that badly for Indian food although most NYers seem to think that Devi is the best place around which makes me laugh.

                    Correct me if I'm wrong but there's more to patisserie than croissants. I never recommended Patisserie Valerie and I can't get too excited about Patisserie Claude, it's fine nothing more, personally I don't really care for patisserie in either city.

                    Good for you that you got your recs from Zagat and Chowhound. Me, I also have my trusted sources for recs but I like to use my own instincts and curiosity to explore and discover at different price points and in different neighbourhoods and that simply can't be done in short visits.

                    1. re: oonth

                      - I don't read NY magazine and I don't know who adam platt is.My sense has always been that NY mag is not for NYers.
                      - The masala zone was cheap and good....a category of restaurant that it seems London is lacking. Of course, you don't have to take my word for it, my colleague from India thinks its better than most of the places in ny and nj.
                      - I don't think you'll find anyone in NY that thinks devi is the best place around since it is now closed.
                      - The point about patisserie is that you changed the discussion ("oh lets put something else to bed") from croissant to patisserie. Well, its good that you put it to bed, but it was never being discussed.

                      since it seems we are no longer talking much about food in london, this will be my last reply on this sub-thread. Have your comeback if you must and lets move on.

                      1. re: vinouspleasure

                        Yip, we've well and truly proved the pointlessness of this debate (one which you instigated, rather unnecessarily) and I'm sure that we've bored the hell out of other hounds who use this board but I'm more than happy to have the last word here.

                        I love the optimism of NYC and NYers but sometimes you've just got to know when to back down and defer, in this case, to someone with more experience of eating in the 2 cities and, as it happens, of food from the Subcontinent, specifically Punjabi, Tamil, Gujurati, Rajasthani, Goan and Pakistani.

                        I'm not really bothered what your Indian colleague thinks, what do you think? I grew up in an Indian Punjabi household and I've eaten a lot of Indian food around the world (including 20+ visits to India) and so am pretty trusting of my tastebuds where food from certain states of India is concerned. MASALA ZONE IS NOT GOOD INDIAN FOOD, I can't say it any more clearly. Send me the email address of your colleague, I'll tell him/her that myself.

                        Yes Devi has closed as of about 1 month back, what's your point? Latest word is that it's reopening in due course, I can read and keep abreast of NYC developments too. Go back over the last 1 year of posts on Manhattan board and Devi emerges as the most highly rated Indian restaurant. It makes me think that Manhattanites don't really know their Indian food.

                        1. re: oonth

                          Even I think Masala Zone's quite average, and I've been slapped down by howler at least once for admitting that I like Brit-style curryhouses.

                        2. re: vinouspleasure

                          "The masala zone was cheap and good....a category of restaurant that it seems London is lacking. Of course, you don't have to take my word for it, my colleague from India thinks its better than most of the places in ny and nj."

                          i truly love this argument - my friend is indian and HE likes it. so sensible.

                  2. re: zuriga1

                    Zuriga, we had terrific croissants from Brompton Corner Cafe when we were in town last spring, very flaky and buttery, especially when fresh in the a.m.

                    1. re: Westjanie

                      Thanks - I'll remember that. Unfortunately, I rarely get up to London early in the a.m., but one never knows. My son and his family will be there in December so I'll save the idea for them, too.

              2. forgot to mention the proliferation of starbucks coffee shops! Pretty scary. Also grabbed some sandwiches for takeout at EAT for lunch. Very good bread, delicious sandwich.

                1 Reply
                1. re: vinouspleasure

                  EAT are good enough as chain sandwich shops go (I used to work near one of the first ones that opened), but the bread is nothing special at all.

                2. Mmm, interesting that my comments stirred so much controversy! The OP must clearly have touched the same nerve with other posters here as it did mine... I hve to admit that my original reaction to the OP was intense irritation at what I could only describe as its snitty tone of voice. But rather than get into a pointless scoring contest, I toned down my reply to what I thought was a simple point about not comparing apples and pears - which is still the main point to be made. Of course everyone will agree that London's improved in both restaurants and produce in the last 10 odd year - but NYC and Paris have also changed - and not always for the better - in that time.

                  On some misc food details, though, I'm as happy chomping a Brick Lane Bagel Bake bagel as one from H&H (although I have to say that they do fantastic fillings in Brick Lane - not just tubs of Philadelphia and a plastic knife like you get at H&H!). Croissants? Maison Blanc, to name but one marvellous outlet. I'd take that over most of the pre-fabricated ones passed off as artisan-made in Paris.

                  Fries? Somewhat bizarrely I had some fantastic ones just recently at the Ebury (the only standout item in an otherwise offensively mediocre lunch). The taste of a real potato.

                  I would also argue that while you'll not get the breadth of cuisines you can find in NYC, London has plenty of seriously good ethnic restaurants - many of them, though, are based inside their communities outside the centre - Wembley, Southall, Tooting, Hackney etc. Not places many NYC visitors tend to get to, I would guess.

                  Someone mentioned that the OP got their recs from Zagat and Chowhound... Well, the latter is OK, but do please replace the miserable Zagat with Time Out's Cheap Eats guide and maybe Charles Champion's London Restaurant guide. Better still, find a knowledgeable and curious Londoner to guide you.

                  May this thread now rest in peace :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: SpikeyD

                    I think your point about comparing cities is well taken...similar to who is the prettiest girl but its makes for fun discussion...and thats the whole point, isn't it? From my perspective, my tone was not "snitty". Certainly posting numbers like 50% was intended to be controversial, but I tried to be fair about what I liked and didn't like.

                    In the end, it would have been nice to have garnered more specific recommendations rather than defensive behavior but Brick Lane Bagel Bake and Maison Blanc are on my list for my next visit.

                    And i hope this thread doesn't rest in would be great to hear about other must try recommendations. I have found zagats to be fairly reliable...and we do have an office in London where the staff took us to off-the-beaten-track restaurants.

                  2. cant believe that anyone think the Indian food in Manhattan is even close to that in the (better) London establishments. yes it improves in NJ, but so does it the minute you leave center of London. Have you tried Sabras in Willesden? its all home made vegetarian, mothers and aunts working away in the kitchen, and so good you forget its Veggie. very affordable too. amazing. or try Tayab on East End if you want to escape the Brick Lane ghetto, and pay next to nothing for good food, though its best done as a large party - its loud and raucous.

                    I hate city comparisons too, but have done 15 years in London and 5 in NY, where I am now. both are excellent. You fail to mention great UK places like Moro, which when its on form is one of the finest kitchens in UK, sit at their zinc bar, have a glass of sherry and order form their wonderful Spanish appetisers - I had the finest rabbit paella there I've ever tasted, and the best squid too. wonderful.

                    Gordon Ramsey in his heyday at L'Aubergine remains the ultimate dining experience for me anywhere in the world, although some Japanese restaurants (Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima) have come damn close, nothing in NY has rivaled those experiences as yet.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: narikin

                      Thanks, those sound like terrific recommendations and I'll definitely make a point to try them on my next visit, towards the end of october. Actually, I enjoy the wine of Emilio Moro...any relation?