Are London's Restaurants Really Better Than Those of New York? I Doubt It. (Food)

By Skidelsky, William | New Statesman (1996), July 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Are London's Restaurants Really Better Than Those of New York? I Doubt It. (Food)


Skidelsky, William, New Statesman (1996)


How good are London's restaurants? About five years ago, the prevailing I wisdom was that they were very good indeed. For a while, it was almost impossible to pickup a newspaper without coming across some article describing London as the "restaurant capital of the world". Today, while we no longer feel compelled to proclaim our gastronomic superiority quite so loudly, we still take it for granted that London's restaurants are at least as good as those of other major cities. A few weeks ago, in the Evening Standard, the former Times restaurant critic Jonathan Meades (who usually has nothing complimentary to say about contemporary British cooking) casually asserted that London's food is better than New York's.

But is it true? Are London's restaurants really better than those of New York, not to mention those of Paris, Sydney and Rome? I very much doubt it. I have lived in London for the past four years and, for the most part, I have not been particularly impressed. Admittedly, for much of that time I have been an impoverished freelance writer, so my opportunities for fine dining have been limited. But paradoxically, I consider that this places me in a better position to judge the quality of London's restaurants than those with access to more ample funds. The true test of a city's cuisine is surely not how good its most expensive (and therefore most exclusive) restaurants are, but what it offers to the majority, such as myself, who cannot regularly afford to spend u50 on a meal.

Judged from this perspective, London is a lousy place to eat. There is simply a dearth of good-quality, modestly priced restaurants. Go to the supposedly buzzing parts of town -- Soho, for instance -- and try finding a decent meal for less than [pounds sterling]20. You will find it very hard indeed. You could try one of the cheap Italian restaurants that flank Greek Street and Frith Street. But having made this mistake a few times, I know never to so again. Chinatown is another option, but finding a good meal there is surprisingly hard: for every well-cooked chow mein you come across, you will have to endure a lot of MSG-smothered gloop. …

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