I like food – cooking as well as eating – and food is very important in our family. We’d rather cook at home and eat out once in a while somewhere great, than eat out every night. So clearly I was bound to like Steve Plotnicki’s Opinionated About empire-in-the-making. He has a forum, a blog, and now a great little guide book too – The 100 Best Restaurants of North America & Europe. This is the first in a series, and I cannot recommend it enough. Steve’s basic idea was that Zagat did not work for him because everyone’s vote had the same weight (including people for whom fine dining is an annual visit to the Olive Garden), so he came up with an algorithm where the more great restaurants one ate at, the more weight one’s vote had.
I voted in the last survey – though I have since changed my mind about some places, and reserved judgement on restaurants I had not been to for some time – and am currently voting in the new survey. Steve has a great following in the US, but I understand that there has been a shortage of European voters. If you’d like to take part (I think you get a free copy of the guide, but do check first), you can find the Fine Dining Survey here.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been to some great restaurants in London over the last couple of weeks. We foreigners used to make fun of food in London, but these days the average is much better than in Paris (they are great at the top, but stuck in a dated bistro food mode most places).
On Friday I went to one of the few disappointments. Make that disasters. I went to Locanda Locatelli with Steve (see photo). The tagliatelle with goat ragu was good, but I managed to make equally good pasta for lunch yesterday. The veal was ... well my Mother makes far better veal, and I was tempted to send it back (but was feeling polite). Then came the tiramisu. I can honestly say that my brother made better tiramisu when he was six. I sent it back after an animated discussion with the waiter – it was pure sugar, tasted of sugar, and had amaretti biscuits in it. Yuck. The chef used to be at Zafferano, which I like, so this was an unpleasant surprise. It would also healp if the staff could answer basic questions - are the morels in the gnocchi or the sauce? what are the cheeses? Overall, highly over-rated restaurant which might be acceptable as a local at half the price, but is best avoided.
Like Locatelli, Cirpriani is WAG Central. It’s fashionable to be rude about their food, but actually it’s very good simple Italian. I don’t like their habit of keeping people waiting, so that they drink at the bar, but the tables are generous and the service is very good. I think I had the carpaccio, then the calf’s liver (yes, I did stop being vegetarian last year). Plus they have paparazzi outside who are fun to gossip with whilst having a cigarette (I told them who the Blackmail Sex Scandal Royal is; they explained who the various footballers are).
After the ballet on Wednesday we went to J. Sheekey. It’s the same owners as Scott’s and The Ivy, but with smaller, more intimate rooms, and without the celebrity nonsense. I love the simple fish dishes – the salmon fishcakes on a bed of spinach with sorrel sauce are my top choice, followed by skate with capers – and the fact that they keep serving until late for the post-theatre crowd. They also know end times of plays, so if you say “I’m going to see X at the Donmar,” they will calculate what time you’ll get to them for the booking.
But my favourite this week - and my top culinary crush – has to be Tom Aikens. He very kindly squeezed me in at the last minute for a cooking demonstration last week-end, so I spent several hours watching him prepare a whole series of classic French dishes, which we also got to sample. I went back for lunch with a friend. It was sunny when we sat down, so we ordered the summery dishes off the very good value set lunch. By the time they came, it was thundering of course, this being London ... I could rave for hours about how much I love the place, and how I want to move in.
If you too like food, think about taking part in Steve’s Survey.