It’s a golden era for connoisseurs in London of exotic food, with more restaurants, including some remarkably successful up-market Indian ones, launched in the British capital over the past year than ever before.
The latest edition of Harden’s guide concludes that the restaurant revolution sparked in London a decade ago has reached its pinnacle, with London’s eateries now rivalling their New York counterparts.
In the past year, 158 restaurants opened in London alone, 13 per cent up on the previous year, and well ahead of the previous record of 146 in 2005.
They included a series of celebrity chef ventures, including a new Gary Rhodes venue, Rhodes W1, Gordon Ramsay’s first gastropub, and the first British restaurant of French chef Joel Robuchon, joining his little empire in Paris, New York, Las Vegas and Tokyo.
The number of Indian restaurants, about 250 in the capital, was also pushed up by about half a dozen more spread across the city. Among them two classy ones, Tamara (Lotus in Japanese) and Sitaaray in Drury Lane, the Mecca of theatres, added “spice” to the range of Indian dishes with innovative menu, never served here before.
Their success can be measured from the fact that without advance booking, its impossible to get a table. The number of diners has swelled so much that quite a few restaurants, like Ivy in Convent Garden, have full house notices for weeks in advance.The past 12 months has also made dining out a hunt for the trendiest experience and diners go to them and pay £100 per head without batting an eyelid. For instance, all walls in Sitaaray have pictures of leading heroes and heroines, bad guys and vamps and action and character actors of the Indian cinema from the 30s to now.
Peter Harden, co-editor of the annual Harden guide said, “This is a golden age for the London restaurant-goer, with the restaurant scene reaching a stage which would once have seemed inconceivable.
“It continues to evolve, generally for the good, faster than ever. Perhaps it’s not surprising when you consider the amount of money which seems nowadays to be swilling around the capital.”
However, it was last orders for 89 establishments, a third up on the previous year, including some such as the Portuguese restaurant Tugga, and the Brazilian Mocoto, where the ink had barely dried on the invitations to glitzy opening parties.
The casualties included the Chelsea Kitchen, a London institution on the Kings Road for half a century, a haven for generations of impoverished students where until the day it closed it was still possible to consume a glass of wine and three thoroughly old fashioned courses, and come away with a pocketful of change from a £20 note.
In such a background of closures, it’s a tribute to the up-market Indian restaurants to continue to do brisk business over the year even overcoming recession and fears following 9/11 and 7/7. They include Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy, Les de Portes, Banaras, Tamarind, Zaika, Chor Bizarre, and Gaylord. they are expensive but are always full.