Written by Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Prior to the 1990s, Britain was not seen as a destination for foodies. British fare was boiled and boring, making curries the default choice. How things have changed!
According to Tim Zagat, co-founder of the restaurant survey guides that bear his name, "Thirty years ago the food here was a joke but today London is one of the top five cities for dining out in the world."
Let's consider a national top ten list:
1. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London
Reserve early. A full three months prior to opening day on Jan. 31, Dinner was fully booked. One of only four chefs to ever be awarded four Michelin stars in Britain, Blumenthal created an upmarket brasserie serving traditionally-inspired British dishes accompanied by their own fully researched historical footnotes, with names like Salagumundy and Rice & Flesh. Set lunch at £29. Address: 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1.
2. The Ledbury, London
With two Michelin stars, this Notting Hill eatery tops most 2012 and many 2011 lists as the very best in Great Britain. Australian Chef Brett Graham, 32, is being widely mentioned as 'one to watch' and 'best emerging' as The Ledbury quietly climbs up the charts since opening in 2005. Voted #1 by Zagat, Harden's, The Sunday Times, National Restaurant Awards, among others. An emphasis on seasonal, quality foods by a dedicated chef. Set lunch at £30/£35. Address: 127 Ledbury Road, London W11.
3. Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon
Clutching two Michelin stars and a handful of awards for the most excellent restaurant in the U.K., Michael Caines continues to hold forth in the heart of the West Country, since 1994, at the pretty 1928 Arts & Crafts Gidleigh Park country house hotel. Chef's key thoughts on food revolve around sustainability, seasonal and locally sourced from responsible suppliers. Set seasonal lunch at £37 or £47.50 at the Relais & Chateaux hotel, Gidleigh Park, Chagford in Devon.
4. Le Gavroche, London W1
How can it be that the famous Roux brothers' Le Gavroche has been around since April 1967 and is still consistently top-rated? The first U.K. restaurant to win three stars, now under the guidance of Michel Roux, Jr., it has been the training ground for top chefs including Gordon Ramsay. It also has a Guinness Book of World Record for the most expensive dinner bill in 1997. It was in those pre-recession days that I personally saw a single bottle of wine listed on the menu at over £18,000. Yes, a Chateau d'Yquem from 1849 - last bottle! See the simply extraordinary tour with Head Sommelier, David Galetti. Classically, uniquely a U.K. institution. Address: 43 Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1.
5. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire
Another longtime great, Raymond Blanc's two-starred Michelin restaurant and hotel has held that award since just after opening in 1985. In a stunningly attractive setting, connected to both Relais & Chateaux and Orient-Express Hotels, Le Manoir has two-acre garden producing 90 types of vegetables and 70 varieties of herbs. Five-course tasting menu weekday lunches at £75. Address: Church Road, Great Milton, Oxfordshire.
6. The Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire
Run by Alain Roux, son of Michel, (see Le Gavroche) nestled on the banks of the Thames in a 16th century village. Rated top for service by the 8,000 Zagat survey-takers, The Waterside Inn is another longtime success, since 1972, calling itself "unashamedly French". Fabulous cheese board. Often competes with nearby The Fat Duck. Address: Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire.
7. The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire
Named as the best restaurant in the world in 2005 and frequently as the best in the U.K., the restaurant comes at the top on many current lists, including The Sunday Times. The Fat Duck suffered in 2009 from a food scare, sourced to contaminated oysters. Now recovered, the self-taught chef, Heston Blumenthal, has reclaimed its position, regaining three Michelin stars once again. The tasting menu, without wine, is priced at £180 - service charge extra - per person, a 3.5 hour experience. Address: High Street, Bray, Berkshire.
8. Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
The chef has been building a philosophy at Sat Bains around private small group tasting menus, which are all about the experience of enabling guests to interact, hear, smell and feel and ask questions about taste, temperature and texture over ten courses. With a shiny, new second Michelin star, Chef Sat has been called "wildly inventive", "witty" and "ultra-seasonal". £75 tasting lunch. Lenton Lane, Nottingham.
9. The Dining Room, Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire
Unpretentious but just plain delicious. The Dining Room at Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa is in a warm honey colored manor house. Chef Martin Burge has worked with the best and developed a style of his own. Thee chef's seven course tasting menu is £96. The Dining Room at Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa, Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
10. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh, Scotland
The first Michelin starred chef in Scotland some ten years ago, Chef Martin Wishart has helped make Edinburgh the U.K.'s top city for dining outside London. The Restaurant Martin Wishart offers fine French cuisine using Scottish ingredients. Amazing starters of langoustines, oysters, lobster, scallops, snails. Set lunch at £28.50. Address: 54 The Shore, Leith, Edinburgh.
What next? 2013 could see more emphasis on price sensitivity, all eyes on Pollen Street Social in London, increased attention to gluten free menus and on traditional French cuisine. Trending? Gastropubs, of course.
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