DINING AND DRINKING
It took 20-odd years for London to shed its reputation as a dull, uninspiring culinary wasteland to become a Mecca for gourmets worldwide. Today, Michelin-starred chefs are catering to the rich and famous, (Ramsay, Wareing, Blumenthal, Ducasse, Roux et al?) while a sprawling assortment of cheap and cheerful world cuisine eateries delight locals and visitors alike with the taste of India (MasalaZone, for instance), Bangladesh (restaurants along Brick Lane), Thailand (Busaba, Patara), Japan (Japan Centre, Wagamama), Mexico (Wahaca) and healthy fast food (Leon). As Prime Minister Macmillan once said, London has “never had it so good.”
But then again, while fashion comes and goes, in a city so old, so wide, one mustn’t overlook the institutions to which gentlemen have flocked over the years, and which remain, to this day, the guardians of a certain spirit, a tradition, a know-how.
Fortnum & Mason, purveyors of groceries to the royal court, is one such institution, famous for its marmalades and preserves; its honey, harvested on the roof of the building in Piccadilly; its teas, some of which were specially formulated for members of the royal family; or its biscuits, chocolates and cakes, including the famous Dundee Cake which Churchill refused to surrender even at the height of the war.
For a more “countryside” mood, jump over the Thames into Borough Market, where hundreds of stalls sell fruits and vegetables, cakes, bread, olive oil, fish, meat, cheeses, pastry, pasta and fast food. The onslaught of scents, sounds, sights and flavours is a treat for the senses, as most products on offer are grown organically and served as fresh as they come. Notable eateries include Brindisa (tapas), Le Marche du Quartier (French), Shellseekers (scallops), Elliot’s (burgers) or La Tua Pasta (fresh pasta). Please do try to leave room for dessert. And finally, for a drink. Tucked discreetly off St James’ Street, the Dukes Hotel is an unassuming 5-star hotel which oozes understated charm and old-world elegance. It is home to the Dukes Bar, a bar with restrained, club-like decoration and atmosphere (dark wood furniture, dark blue leather chairs, light patterned carpet, marble fireplace) that most hotel bars around the world try, but often fail, to imitate. The resident barman, an Italian called Palazzi, will expect you to order a Martini. You duly oblige. That man is reputed to make one of the finest martinis in the world. And so he should. This is, after all, the bar where Ian Fleming sat for countless hours, dreaming up stories of one Mr. James Bond, who famously ordered his martinis shaken, not stirred.
Fortnum & Mason Department Store
Above: Bread Stall at Borough Market Below: Wagamama Restaurant Left: New Spirit Room at Fortnum & Mason Right: Leon Restaurant Above: Kotteri Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen at Shoryu Restaurant Below: Japan Centre Food Store