Friday, 26 March 2010

An introduction

While not famous for its cuisine, London has long been a splendid city in which to dine. When Auguste Escoffier was appointed to head the kitchens at the Savoy Hotel, London was the imperial capital. A city of grandeur and pomp that attracted famous visitors from around the world. It was during his time at the Savoy with Cesar Ritz that Escoffier transformed London's public dining into a fashionable and desirable pastime under the patronage of Edward, the Prince of Wales. Dining room mirrors had, hitherto, rarely seen the splendour of a Countess's jewels or the magnificence of a Duchess's tiara but those first nights at the Savoy, with Escoffier's French staff and the meticulous management of Ritz, heralded a new age and a new style which lasts to this day; the fashion of eating out to 'see or be seen.'

One of my favourite words in the English language is 'bastion' - a term pertinent to many of the establishments which will soon be discussed on these pages. For they are the remainder, and indeed the reminder, of London's dining past. They have withstood fashions, revolutions, air raids and modernisation. There is no test that they have failed; the cannon fire of decades of critics, the incendiaries of public whim. They are remarkable places that, whatever one might say about the changes in ownership, food or the guest lavatories, are evidence that restaurants can flourish and, more importantly, survive in a frenetic and cosmopolitan capital.

Many of these restaurants are no longer amongst the top dining choices in the city and rely, understandably, on former glories. They are ageing dowagers but still worthy of consideration; they have a magic and a palpable sense of history that is utterly intoxicating. The food is rarely the star at such places, no matter how competent the kitchen so I encourage the reader to appreciate these venues for what they were as well as what they are - this is not a food blog on which I pour hot lava critiques on poor restaurateurs. For one thing, I am not qualified to judge food to that level.

These pages serve as a guide to those interested in London's most historic eateries; whether you are interested in dining in one of these venues, or simply browsing through I hope to make this endeavour worthy of your time.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps include Wiltons as an ageing dowager - an excellent example of the more discreet and, thankfully, unfashionable London establishment. Owned by the Hambro family (which is how I became aware of it whilst working for a member of the family in the 90s). The story of the acquisition of the restaurant by Olaf Hambro is classic.

    "The license was taken over in 1930 by Mrs Bessie Leal until 1942, mid-war, when Olaf Hambro, who happened to be eating oysters alone at the bar as a bomb landed on St James's Church, Piccadilly, asked for the restaurant to be added to his bill as Mrs Leal folded her tea towel and apron and declared Wiltons closed."

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