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London (Mayfair) and York and Edinburgh

On my home board (Seattle) I am always startled when someone comes in with a general and unhelpful question like, what are the best places to eat? There are so many answers! So I am coming here for help, but trying to be specific. I have done some research but I am still overwhelmed with choice for London. I am planning a trip to London, leaving in two weeks (eek!), with side trips to York and Edinburgh. In London, we will be staying in Mayfair. Given that I have left it to the last minute to make reservations, here are my questions.

1. Recommendations for a good place for a nice, but not to formal or stodgy, place for a celebration dinner. We are interested in local ingredients and creative chefs who represent good cooking in London today.

2. Good Indian, more traditional North Indian or Mughlai for dinner, with kids.

3. Places in York for lunch or dinner that again are interested in local ingredients.

4. for one upscale lunch, we are trying for Hibiscus, unless there are other recommendations.

5. are there recommended gastro pubs or cafes in Mayfair?

I hope I am not being too general, and thanks for your help.

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  1. Well, you were expecting a Brit but got a Yank from L.A. instead. I can help some with London, but was looking for Edinburgh information myself. We are not of Indian heritage ourselves but learned to love Indian food in London a few decades ago. We've visited London many times since, and almost all we eat there is Indian. We are spoiled by the choices we have at home, but London is really better for Indian food. Most of what you'll find is North Indian, though we have had good South Indian food in London.
    1. Must go, best in the world: Brunch buffet at Bombay Brasserie. Probably in £15-20 area, but worth every penny. Wonderful dishes cooked to perfection. You don't need fancy dress--though the room and the service would suggest it--but I myself would not go there in shorts. OK for grade-school kids and up, and not too spicy for them; they just need proper buffet behavior or adult supervision. A 5-minute walk from the Tube--you go out one side, cross a street, and you're in the "Close" on which it is located. As usual in London, study your map thoroughly. Worth a detour--we are doing that ourselves on our way to Heathrow.
    2. Sarkhel's. If you want a celebration dinner of modern, upscale Indian food, you cannot do better than this. Mr. Sarkhel was exec chef at Bombay Brasserie before he opened his own restaurant in about 1990. (You may hear of Chutney Mary's in this category. Don't go.)

    More generally, you will probably be in good hands if you go to an Indian restaurant that has been around for awhile. Oddly, ordinary guidebooks (Frommer, Lonely Planet, etc) may be a better resource than Zagat. (There is a Zagat for London but it is unhelpfully organized for tourists and has delivered us enough bad meals that we won't use it again for anything. It continues to list a "modern Indian" in the Soho area that we found atrocious.) Time Out, which is based in London, may help you on your celebration dinner if you don't want to go Indian. (Bombay Brasserie serves dinner, too, a la carte and excellent.)
    Happy travels.

    1. For your celebration dinner, you could try Wild Honey which is in Mayfair. One Michelin star and great food but not at all stuffy. I went there for my birthday and loved it. I have also heard good things about Le Boudin Blanc in Shepherd's Market (Picadilly end of Mayfair).

      For an upscale lunch, Le Gavroche is very reliable, but I'd go for Hibiscus if possible.

      The only gastropub that springs to mind in Mayfair is The Only Running Footman. Haven't been there personally.

      2 Replies
      1. re: greedygirl

        Has anyone tried the Guinae Grill in Bruton Place just off Berkley Sq?

        I have often stood outside having a pint or three and been intrigued by their dining room. Looks like it does solid traditional food including good beef and pies.


        1. re: greedygirl

          I will strongly second the suggestion of Wild Honey. I had a wonderful meal there.

          On the other hand, my meal at The Only Running Footman was very disappointing. I have to believe that it doesn't show the highest quality of london gastro-pub. On top of the food, the place (we ate upstairs) had the overwhelming smell of incense - offputting for me. (greedygirl - don't bother trying it - I'm sure there are better options)

        2. Thank you everyone. We are between Wild Honey and Galvin for dinner, if anyone wants to weigh in.

          Also, I have been told we will be spending more time in Marylebone, not Mayfair, if anyone has anyother ideas.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cocktailhour

            Marylebone is a great foodie area, with a farmer's market on a Sunday, if you're interested in that kind of thing. For lunch, try La Fromagerie, just off Marylebone High Street, or the Golden Hind for fish and chips. Caffe Caldesi is another option. I had a great lunch several years ago now at the Wallace Collection restaurant - no idea if it's still good but the museum is a small gem. My friend loves Providores on MHS, but I wasn't so keen when we went.

          2. I have a couple of places to recommend in Edinburgh: The Kitchin (one Michelin star) in the Leith neighborhood and David Bann (vegetarian but creative and delicious) in the middle of town. As for special dinners near Mayfair, you can't go wrong with either Wild Honey or HIbiscus; both are excellent. If you want to venture further afield for new British cooking, I'd recommend St. John (if it has reopened) or Hix--both in Clerkenwell--or Magdalen near Tower Bridge. These are some of my favorite places to take out-of-town visitors who think British food is bad! Enjoy.

            2 Replies
            1. re: New Yorker in London

              In Edinburgh for upscale places, Martin Wishart or No 1 at the Balmoral are good. Valvona and Crolla is a great deli and one of it's locations has a restaurant. In Marchmont a lot of people like Sweet Melindas. I have heard David Bann is good for veggie. The Grainstore also has a good rep and a menu that features Scotiish produce.

              In London The Square or Foliage at Mandarin Oriental.

              1. re: rekha

                Glad to see a recommendation for The Square, I have a reservation there in a few weeks and I'm very excited about it!

            2. We had an absolutely wonderful lunch at Martin Wishart in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. In York, we had probably our best dinner of our 2-week trip at the Ivy, in the Grange Hotel. It has since become more casual, with a somewhat less elaborate menu, but I would bet the quality of food is still the same.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rrems

                alexthepink, I am going to the square this coming Friday, will post about it. I too am excited but a bit worried, recent reviews on london eating have been variable and Jay Rayner wrote about it in his book and seemed underwhelmed. I think too much research can be a bad thing! I shall go with an open mind.

              2. We had a wonderful trip and I wanted to report back:

                We had lunch at Hibiscus, and it was our best meal of the trip. They offered a 3 course for 25, but we went for the 6 course for 70 pounds. It was creative and delicious. We started with a cucumber and melon "cocktail," which was an amuse bouche served to all. It was rather sweet, bright green with a white foam, smoked olive oil and pepper, and then some little melon "balls" that were encapsulated liquid. THe first course was the best course, a white onion ravioli with a lemon mint pea vine sauce, and favas (cut in half lengthwise!). Second was spider crab wrapped in melon, like a sushi roll. It was topped with toasted almond and served with melon sorbet. Third was Cornwall halibut served with a sage and onion sauce, gnocchi, black truffle shavings and citrus reduction. The fish was very dense and buttery, different from the Pacific halibut I am more used to. This was a great course. Next was foie gras ice cream served with a brioche mousse (thick and warm) and pomegranate seeds, and a wafer thin cracker of brioche. I did not like this. The ice cream tasted salty and like foie gras, but the texture was a rich ice cream. The brioche mousse was thick, creamy and warm, but also salty. THe dish needed more sweetness, but I think overall I would prefer my foie gras to be more intact. Next were beef medallions with Brittany white beans, which was delicious. Women got pink handled knives, men black, which I thought was charming. Our "re-dessert" was a foam made with tomato skins, vanilla gel, and frozen raspberry pieces. It was a wonderful texture and very tomato-y. Our dessert was a creamy, bright green pea custard in a chocolate crumb crust, with sheep milk sorbet and coconut paper. It tasted like pea, but very much like dessert. Finally, with coffe, there were brown sugar truffles and homemade marshmallows. The service was exquisite and I highly recommend Hibiscus.

                We also went to Wild Honey for dinner. The food was also very good, but the service and creativity was not in the same class as Hibiscus. The atmosphere was more relaxed and bistro-like, as opposed to fine dining. There were some misses in the service, but I also very much recommend it.

                We ate at Anchor and Hope for lunch and it was quite good, unless you are vegetarian or want standard pub food. We had Woodlands in Marylebone for South Indian--I have eaten at Woodlands in Bombay, so it was very nostalgic for me. We had take away Indian from Rajdoot, picked for its location, but it was far better than standard Indian in Seattle. I liked both. For a pint, we really liked The Beehive off of Baker Street. We didn't get to eat there, but the drinks were good and the people watching as well.

                In York, we ate at Cafe 8 and J. Bakers. Both were good, but not great. We should have tried the Ivy, since we were staying there, but we didn't. In Edinburgh, we ate at Fisher's--great seafood, lively atmosphere, would recommend. (Also, the Scotch Whisky Experience is charming, hokey, and fun!).

                Finally, we went to Borough Market on Friday and it was fabulous--an amazing assortment of cheeses, charcuterie, and everything else. I wanted to cook and cook! And La Fromagerie is a wonderful cheese shop in Marylebone, and you can also get light breakfast and lunch. Great to stock up for train or plane rides--we had a delicious trip home.

                Thank you everyone for all your recommendations.