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Jan 28, 2010 08:05 PM

[London] dining assistance needed please

I've been reading through the UK/Ireland board and am hoping for a bit of assistance. My partner and I are fairly adventurous eaters from Seattle, WA who are returning to London for our 2nd trip. We learned a lot from our last trip (April 2007), and more from a trip to Paris in Jan 2009. Namely: we do best at planning our trip around superb meals and letting other cultural events fill in the gaps.

Our last visit to London was spectacularly poor in terms of the food. We weren't properly prepared and were frequently unhappy with what we ended up with, except for the Italian restaurants. (As an example, the story we tell of the worst meal ever was at a place called The Abbey [in Victoria, underground] where the "nachos" were fried wontons covered in ketchup.)

We're staying in a flat in the Westminster area (near St. James Station) so, local recommendations are welcomed. Breakfast will be at home. Otherwise, I have food stall listings, street vendors to look out for in various areas, and a specific dim sum (Pearl Liang in Paddington) to try.

What has us flummoxed is 'fine dining.' It seems like the best restaurants, the ones consistently recommended and raved about serve primarily . . . well . . . *parts*. My partner and I haven't ever had non-standards bits of pig or cow or chicken, and we're not sure we want to. I know that isn't very adventurous, but when we're paying 150 pounds for a meal, we want to know we are going to like it before we order. We tried many new foods in Paris, but in comparison those foods were relatively close to things we already knew.

(As a matter of perspective, we've talked it over, and agree that while a roasted ox bone would be interesting to try, it can't be the main part of the meal. It's akin to how I discovered -- the hardest way possible -- that I am allergic to scallops.)

We like seafood, not a lot of spice (flavor, not heat is our preference), most meats (not veal) including game, vegetables, dairy products . . .

Your help is much appreciated!

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  1. I was intrigued so I checked the menus at some of London's top restaurants: Hibiscus, The Ledbury, RGR, and Ducasse. All the menus have lots of fish and normal meat, most have one or two dishes with foie gras and a I think Ramsay had the odd pigs trotter, but I really couldn't see where you got this from. Which restaurants are you looking at?

    5 Replies
    1. re: PhilD

      At a guess, I'd say St John and Hereford Rd, especially as they mention roasted marrow.

      lmscherr: I'd say you have nothing to worry about, as even the "nose to tail" restaurants like St John will also serve more "regular" meat and fish.

      I'd recommend Madgalen near Borough Market for great modern British food and The Harwood Arms in Fulham for the best gastropub experience (the latter recently got a Michelin star). Other places you might like are Wild Honey in Mayfair or Launceston Place in Kensington.

      1. re: greedygirl

        Reiterating the posts above, you will be fine with any 'fine dining' restaurants - they will offer you a meny to choose from and wont force you to eat bits!
        If you are staying in Westminster, you are close to the Cinammon Club for some high end Indian. Wild Honey, as already mentioned or its sister restaurant Arbutus in Soho are also worth checking out. For seafood, try Bentleys (great oyster bar) or Scotts, both in Mayfair.

        It's a shame your previous experience in London has been less than good, although I would say this is not unique to London (despite what people may think) - it's just about knowing where NOT to go, as with any city!

        1. re: pj26

          I do think its easier to end up with overpriced disasters in London than most cities. Though granted, that is changing. Nevertheless it is really disappointing to hear people having food nightmares in London, so heed the advice of others here and just go to known good places and you can't be disappointed. London is one of the best cities in the world for food if you're in the know.

          And even with regards to St John, yes they have a lot of off cuts (indeed they're famous for it), you can EASILY eat there only having "normal" food. Nevertheless if that is a major concern, there's dozens of other restaurants to try without such a reputation. Also, I too am confused by the statement that fine dining restaurants in London serve off cuts. Other than a select few restaurants, I'm actually sometimes disappointed they all don't do a little more! (though that is me)

          1. re: chief1284

            Maybe my impression came from what the diners were raving about/had for their meal? It's absolutely true that I did NOT actually look at menus (shame on me!)

            Y'all are helping me immensely. Please keep the recommendations coming, I'd like to start crafting a dining itinerary this weekend (so we can make reservations as needed, oh, and plan for other cultural events).

          2. re: pj26

            I agree, we did not do our homework properly the first trip. We were all too willing to 'wing it' and found it unbearably daunting in the moment.

      2. I would second the idea to have some good Indian food while here. It is so much better than anything I ever tasted in my many years of living in the States. I happen to be one who likes The Cinnamon Club and have taken a lot of my visiting American friends and family there for a meal. They all came away satisfied with the experience - a setting unlike most anything one finds back home. Do not be tempted by those who say to go to Brick Lane. There are many fine choices other than that area.

        J. Sheekey is another well-known fish restaurant.

        8 Replies
        1. re: zuriga1

          I have a question for you zuriga1: is Biryani normally a very spicy dish? We like it here at home, and thought it'd be a safe bet in London, but the one time we had it (with 'no stars') it was inedible becuase of the spices used as the base.

          1. re: lmcsherr

            I'm not the 'subcontinent' food expert here, but biryani is usually one of the mildest of Indian dishes. In fact, it was the first thing I ever ate of that cuisine when I first was a tourist. If you stick with a korma or something like a kashmiri, there will be no problem with spicy. Many restaurants have indications on the menu to let one know how hot a dish is. My British husband likes his food very spicy, but I don't.

            Do you know Shamiana in Kirkland? They have terrific Indian food, and my son (lives in Redmond) always takes me there when I visit. His wife enjoyed a London meal at Amaya a few years ago.. just another name I can throw out.

            1. re: zuriga1

              lol... I don't know that restaurant, and it's a bit further out from our usual haunts. Thanks for the confirmation that biryani is usually a very mild dish. We'll be a bit more proactive about making sure it is mild when we order in London. You've now given me several recommendations there!

              1. re: lmcsherr

                A Biryani may be quite mild, but finding a good one in a restaurant is tricky as it requires some skill and finesse to cook it well. My advice is to avoid ordering it as it will be a risky proposition unless you are in a place recommended for being able to cook them well.

            2. re: lmcsherr

              If you go to any of the better Indian restaurants - so Cinammon Club mentioned here, Indian Zing in Hammersmith (quick ride on the tube for you from St James and they do very lovely biriyanis) you won't have the issue with overly fiery heat. It's the cheapie Indian restaurants who have standard gravies and then just add loads of chilli powder depending whether it's a Madras or a Vindaloo. The better places are more about fragrance than straight heat. And your waiter in a good place will be able to advise. Howler and JFores on here have some really good recommendations if you search.

              Butter Chicken, an invention for the British in India in the 60s (I think) is also very mild. But, again, eat it at a good place otherwise it'll just be orange gloop.

              1. re: helen b

                thank you for your kind words helen.

                now. butter chicken is an absolutely delish punjabi dish invented at moti mahal in delhi many, many decades ago; the version served at moti mahal here in london is excellent too. it wasnt an invention for the british in india - it was an invention designed to use the scraps of chicken left at the bottom of the tandoor when making tandoori chicken.

                1. re: howler

                  Ah! I knew about the Moti Mahal thing, I didn't know it wasn't invented especially for us and our mild/sweet tooth - so now I feel MUCH better for ordering it occasionally, thank you!

                  lmcsherr - there was a recent thread on top Indian places here so have a search. The temple of Indian dining at the moment is Taayabs, but that might be a bit down and dirty for you, not to mention a hike from St James. Moti Mahal that Howler mentions is good, and on Great Queen St between Holborn and Covent Garden so good for touristy activities. Practically next door is 32 Great Queen St is a very good gastropub, though the Harwood Arms mentioned above is better.

                2. re: helen b

                  We've split the discussion on the origins of butter chicken and chicken tikka masala to the General Topics boards since these dishes are available in many parts of the world, and we'd like everyone to be able to chime in and benefit from the discussion.

                  Please continue the general discussion on the origins of these two dishes here:

            3. If you want to sample a variety of Indian cuisine, you could try the weekend lunchtime buffet brunch at the Bombay Brasserie, which is well regarded.