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two day london dining blitz

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my wife and i will be in London for the first time for two days in august before heading off to San Sebastian. Since we have reservations in SS at Mugaritz and Akalare, we've decided it would be financial overkill to try and get reservations at the Fat Duck...but would still like to do one of London's "destination" restaurants, perhaps for lunch. we touch down monday around 1pm, and are staying in the tower hill area, so we'd thought a late lunch at Tayyabs/Needoo Grill, and then a late (midnight!) dinner reservation at St John Hotel. we'll probably hit a pub (or two) inbetween, maybe the Harp in convent garden, though we are certainly open to suggestions. we have a reservation at Harwood Arms for quiz night dinner tuesday, and were wondering where to go for lunch. while i'd love to head out to Whitstable and visit the Sportsman, my wife is unimpressed with that idea...so where should we go? the Ledbury has consistently fantastic reviews on site, but is it a place that could be in any world class restaurant city? would we be better off trying to get a reservation at Dinner for a more "only in London" experience? chowhounders, any thoughts?

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St Johns Restaurant
24 Sir Thomas Street, Liverpool L1 6JB, GB

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  1. Without question The Ledbury. Brett's cooking is quite special. I think The Sportsman would be a great idea as well, but it requires a travel time commitment that may be too much given your schedule.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Nancy S.

      In a funny coincidence I will also be heading to SS in August to eat at Akelarre and Mugaritz.

      I think your wife is probably right about the Sportsman, it would be a pretty serious round trip given you are only in London for two days.

      The Ledbury is an excellent restaurant but I certainly wouldn't choose it without question particularly given it's a weekday lunch. Dinner is far more of a unique London experience and I actually think the food at Pollen Street Social was more interesting than The Ledbury, albeit not quite as well executed.
      I would also suggest taking a look at the Opera Tavern in Covent Garden, it's less formal than the other ones but it is the latest exciting tapas food in London and no one who has eaten it can stop talking about their iberico ham and fois gras burger.

      1. re: ManInTransit

        actually i've read some of your threads about SS while making our choices about where to dine. as far as the Ledbury goes, it sounds great, but it seems like it could be anywhere - so i'm torn. i did do some checking on the Opera Tavern and the pork/foie burger looks great, but i'll be eating tapas for 3 nights in SS so i don't know if i want to eat them in London as well. Dinner sounds appealing (esp the apps) but all the hype has me a little worried

        1. re: yosh1

          The Opera Tavern looks good in pictures but it seems to me that it doesn't satisfy the "unique" criteria.

          1. re: Nancy S.

            Why eat tapas in London when you are heading for SS the best place for tapas in the world...?

            For my next trip I have: The Ledbury, Dinner, Pollen Street Social and The Gilbery Scott in my sights. Dinner because Heston is so English, PSS because Jason has that quirky English touch, TGS because of the architecture and I suspect Marcus is going to get the trad British food right by the time I get there.

            And whilst The Ledbury isn't "English" (after all Brettt is Australian and cooks in a french style) I think it standsout as world class and thus worth being on the itininary. Whilst in theory you can eat like that "anywhere in the world" I challenge you to actually do it. If not the Ledbury try Brets other place The Harwood Arms - a very good British menu usually with game as the co-owner raises a lot of it.

            1. re: PhilD

              My list is similar for July. I'm also including Simon Rogan's soon to be open 2-year pop-up, Roganics, also Bull & Last and St. John Bread & Wine for Sunday breakfast, and my continual favorites where I dine several times a year: The Square and Harwood Arms.

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              St. John
              26 St John Street, London EC1M 4AY, GB

            2. re: Nancy S.

              Have you been to the Opera Taven Nancy? Because I find it very hard to believe that anyone who had been would be anything other than raving about it.
              The sort of 'tapas' you ate there would be very different to anything in SS for sure but I guess it would belong to the same family.

              I wouldn't worry about the hype about Dinner - almost everyone I know who has been has said it is justified although there are the odd complaints about under-seasoning and how interesting the main courses are. As a reference point Dinner reservations for the whole month of August open at 9am BST on 1st July so you have a couple of weeks to decide.

              If choosing between Dinner and The Ledbury for a one-off I think it's fair to say you wouldn't be disappointed whatever you chose and which is 'better' is going to come down to very personal preference.

              1. re: ManInTransit

                As I mentioned above, I have indeed read excellent reports of Opera Tavern, but if the requirement is that the selected restaurant be "unique" to London, I would imagine that Opera Tavern, as wonderful as it may be, would not qualify.

                1. re: Nancy S.

                  Without wanting to sound like a broken record I've not seen the Opera Tavern burger on another menu. And judging from critics/blogs/twitter and websites such as this it is probably the standout dish of the year in London along with Meat Fruit. Personally if in Covent Garden I'd pop in for one each as an afternoon snack if nothing else.

                  1. re: ManInTransit

                    Come to New York City, where a high end burger like that is "invented" almost daily.

                    1. re: Nancy S.

                      It's on the list, I've not been since 2008. London has gone a bit burger crazy recently with all the fuss about the Meatwagon, the Hawksmoor Burger, the Bar Boulud one, the success of Byron at the lower end and now the Opera Tavern.
                      I'm sure to all our American visitors it isn't quite so revolutionary.

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                      Hawksmoor
                      157 Commercial Street, London E1 6BJ, GB

      2. Bull and Last near Kentish Town, Sedap near Old Street, El Rancho de Lalo (for chicharrones) in Brixton Village, Newman Arms in Bloomsbury for pie and ale, Ishbilla (Knightsbridge), Alwaha (Westbourne Grove) would be obvious choices.

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        Sedap
        102 Old St, Islington, Greater London EC1V 9, GB

        1. The lunch deal at Launceston Place is an excellent one. It was one of my most memorable lunches in quite awhile. The chef uses a lot of current crops and builds the menu around what's seasonal....plus the service is wonderful.

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          Launceston Place
          1 Launceston Pl, Kensington, Greater London W8 5, GB

          1. having woken up at 4am (local time) July 1st, i've got a dinner reservation for the first day at Dinner, and a lunch res for the second day as well. i'm obviously only keeping one - we have an existing dinner res for Ledbury on the first night too, so my question is there much of a drop off between lunch and dinner at either Dinner or the Ledbury? it looks like the menu at Dinner is the same, unlike the Ledbury, and having a late lunch at Dinner after sight-seeing would be more convenient as well. also, since i think we're going to the Ledbury now, should i skip the Harwood Arms and maybe do the Bull and Last for our "pub night"?

            1 Reply
            1. re: yosh1

              Oh no! Persuade your wife to go to the sportsman. It is truly wonderful! (really, it is far better than all of the below -- with the possible exception of the harwood arms when you factor in travel...)

              I would say Harwood Arms is definitely a few notches above the Bull and Last for food (though both are great!). Just really depends on which side of London you're staying, and whether the quiz night is conveniently timed. I have just moved from living 200m from the Harwood Arms to very near the Bull & Last... Handy! If you do end up at the bull & last, then make sure you take time to walk off a little of the food on Hampstead Heath -- just opposite, and beautiful by the ponds at this time of year, and a great view across london just 10 mins walk up parliament hill.

              Ledbury has a slightly similar feel to the Harwood in its food -- such that it's recognizable. However, I don't think you'll find the overlap too much if you did decide to go to both.

              Afraid I can't comment on the Ledbury or Dinner's lunch menus as have only recently been for dinner at both. As you said before, Dinner has a LOT of hype. So much so that when I went I was incredibly disappointed. The food is very good. As in incredible-Sunday-lunch-in-a-very-good-pub-with-mates food. Hence delicious, but not quite what you'd expect in such a loudly acclaimed restaurant for dinner. Therefore I'd probably suggest here for lunch, with a couple of ales; keeping the Ledbury for dinner.

              Enjoy!