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Square Meal is predicting big things for 2012, from a South American invasion to headline-grabbing openings from Corbin & King (of The Wolseley and The Delaunay fame) and Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings. Plus, trends that were starting to emerge at the tail-end of 2011 are really establishing themselves in 2012 – expect to see increasing numbers of iPad wine lists, plus budget-tastic gourmet lunches with wine included. Want to be in the loop when it comes to six of the main developments on the London dining scene? Read on for the low-down (click each title for a link to the full story).
Increasing numbers of the capital’s top restaurants are now offering great-value set lunches that include wine, so customers know exactly how much they are going to spend before they have even sat down at the table. Find out where to lunch for less.
Get ready for an iPad invasion. Top London restaurants – and their customers – are falling for this nifty gadget when it’s handed out in place of the traditional wine list. Find out where to get technical.
A new wave of Russian émigrés are using their hefty purchasing power to set up London restaurants and offer their compatriots a real taste of home. From Burger & Lobster to Mari Vanna, find out about all the new and upcoming launches.
The recession has undoubtedly had an effect on the capital’s dining scene, and the dominant trend has been towards mid-priced eateries set up on a shoestring, permanent pop-ups and ventures located in – gasp! – zone 2. Read more about London’s recession-beating restaurants.
Londoners have fallen in love with a cuisine that was the definitive forerunner to sharing plates. Read about 2011’s biggest hits – and what’s on the menu this year.
‘Latin American cuisine will be important – the ingredients are incredible.’ So said Ferran Adrià when Square Meal interviewed him last autumn. He was right: this year, the capital will welcome restaurants specialising in Peruvian and Brazilian cuisine, and more.
Not since Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay squared up in the 1990s has a professional rivalry been this interesting. Caprice Holdings owner Richard Caring’s history with Chris Corbin and Jeremy King is complicated. Now the gloves are off, as both parties launch high-profile restaurants that will do battle for Londoners’ hearts in 2012.
With company expense accounts under closer scrutiny in these straitened times, a claim for a pricey business lunch in a top-end restaurant may well raise eyebrows in the accounts department. Alive to this fact, increasing numbers of the capital’s top restaurants are now offering great-value set lunches that include wine, so customers know exactly how much they are going to spend before they have even sat down at the table. It’s good to know that belt-tightening need not spell the end of top-end corporate dining – you just need to be selective in your choice of restaurant.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester (£50 for three courses, including two glasses of wine, coffee
and half a bottle of water)
China Tang (£23 for three courses, including one glass of wine)
Corrigan’s Mayfair (£27 for three courses, including a 250ml carafe of wine)
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught (£35/£42 for two/three courses, including two glasses of wine)
Hibiscus (£33.50 for three courses; £42 for three courses, including one glass of wine, coffee and petits fours)
Le Gavroche (£52 for three courses, including half a bottle of wine and water, amuse-bouches, coffee and petits fours)
Marcus Wareing (£38/£50 for two/three courses, including two glasses of wine)
Wiltons (£45 for three courses, including one glass of wine)
Get ready for an iPad invasion. Top London restaurants – and their customers – are falling for this nifty gadget when it’s handed out in place of the traditional wine list. Digital wine menus are light, easy to navigate and able to store much more information than their paper counterparts, including pictures of labels, tasting notes, and descriptions of wine styles and regions. Be warned: they’re addictive.
Pockets of the capital – Knightsbridge and Mayfair in particular – have always welcomed floating populations of wealthy Russian ex-pats who inject money into the area. They populate London’s eateries and bars, dining in top-end restaurants such as Zuma (sushi being massively popular in Russia). But now, a new wave of Russian émigrés are using their hefty purchasing power to set up London restaurants and offer their compatriots a real taste of home.
Last year saw the expansion of Russian-owned chain Goodman, and the opening of its new venture Burger & Lobster (pictured), which aims to serve London’s best-value crustacea. In November, Georgian-run Colchis launched on Bayswater’s Chepstow Place, followed by Novikov, from prolific Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov. Meanwhile, Moscow’s Mari Vanna will offer Russian home cooking in Knightsbridge in early February.
At the start of last year, Janina Wolkow, Russian owner of longstanding Japanese restaurant Sumosan in Mayfair, told Square Meal that the time was ripe for a Russian invasion. ‘Attitudes have definitely changed,’ she said. ‘I’m sure the newcomers will be welcomed with less scepticism than I was.’
Although London remains largely buoyant in the face of recent economic austerity, the recession has undoubtedly had an effect on the capital’s dining scene. However, as in the 1990s, when the gastropub was born, many restaurateurs see the downturn as an opportunity for creativity and risk taking.
Some are setting up exciting, pitch-perfect operations on a shoestring – witness the success of Russell Norman’s Spuntino, da Polpo and Mishkin’s. Others have taken the plunge and established pop-ups in a permanent home (such as Meatliquor in Marylebone, pictured), while Brixton Market is booming with independent eateries. Meanwhile, acclaimed chefs from elsewhere in the UK are making innovative first forays into the London scene, for example Simon Rogan with his ‘extended pop-up’ Roganic.
Understandably, Londoners are reluctant to kick their dining-out habit despite tighter budgets, opting instead for informal, mid-priced restaurants. To reflect this, many of these start-ups have responded by offering small plates to share, wines by the glass and comfort food (mac ‘n’ cheese, for example, has seen a huge revival). Self-promotion via social media, especially Twitter, has been fundamental in luring diners out of their comfort zone.
What’s interesting about many of 2011’s new ventures is their location: Riding House Café and Roganic, to name just two, have put down roots on the ‘wrong side’ of Oxford Street, in Marylebone and Fitzrovia. José Pizarro’s restaurants José and Pizarro are even further afield, on Bermondsey Street, while the restaurants in Brixton Market are – gasp! – in zone 2. But people are still making the effort to check out the buzz surrounding the newcomers, wherever they pitch up.
So, why do restaurateurs see dicey economic times as a golden opportunity for their business? José Pizarro believes that a recession forces people to fine-tune their business plan, although setting up a restaurant ‘always carries risks, whether you are in a recession or not,’ he says. ‘If you are serving up good, honest food at reasonable prices, watching margins and not wasting anything, you’ll be fine.’
Daniel Willis, part of the group behind extended pop-up Young Turks at The Ten Bells, makes a practical point: ‘We had to take the rise in VAT into account in terms of pricing – that was our biggest consideration.’ But he adds that, in general, Londoners are riding out the storm without too much belt-tightening. ‘In a recession people don’t go on holiday but they treat themselves in other ways. Their disposable income is spent on going out.’
Spanish food was big in 2011. From Soho’s Copita (a sibling to Barrica) to José Pizarro’s two eponymous ventures in Bermondsey and Abel Lusa’s Kensington tapas-and-sherry bar Capote y Toros, Londoners have fallen in love with a cuisine that was the definitive forerunner to sharing plates. Even the City has joined in, with Iberica branching out to Canary Wharf. For spring 2012, look out for a second Barrafina on Covent Garden’s Drury Lane.
‘Latin American cuisine will be important – the ingredients are incredible.’ So said Ferran Adrià when Square Meal interviewed him last autumn. In the coming year, Peruvian-born Martin Morales will launch casual eatery and pisco bar Ceviche on Soho’s Frith Street (scheduled for March), while Lima-based chef Virgilio Martínez will bring the food of Peru’s capital to London when he opens Lima in Shoreditch later this spring.
British restaurateurs are jumping on the South American bandwagon, too: Jamie Barber (of Hush) and David Ponte (co-founder of Momo) opened two branches of Brazilian barbecue joint Cabana in 2011, while Arjun Waney (Roka, Zuma) is launching Coya, a Peruvian restaurant, on Piccadilly in spring.
Also keep an eye out for Brazilian-Japanese fusion destination Sushisamba, which is expected to wow City diners from the lofty heights of Bishopsgate’s Heron Tower early in the summer. ‘With the handover of the Olympic Games to Brazil, and the World Cup to look forward to, everyone’s giving time to Brazil, and there’s a real swell of interest in all the Latin American countries,’ says Rio-born Ponte.
Waney agrees that Latin America is generating a significant buzz, especially from a culinary perspective: ‘It is the large quantity of unexplored ingredients combined with a strong food culture of family and history that makes Peruvian and indeed South American cuisine so exciting,’ he said. Well, if it’s got Ferran Adrià’s endorsement, then it’s got ours, too.
Not since Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay squared up in the 1990s has a professional rivalry been this interesting. Caprice Holdings owner Richard Caring’s history with Chris Corbin and Jeremy King is complicated. Caring bought the company off the pair in 2005 in a simple-enough transaction. But when Corbin and King’s new company, Rex Restaurant Associates, put in an offer for the former Old Theatre Museum site in Covent Garden in 2010, Caring snatched it away, gazumping their bid at the last minute.
Now the gloves are off, and Corbin and King, who had previously seemed content to limit high-profile projects to The Wolseley, are fighting back. Last December, they opened Covent Garden’s The Delaunay, which was swiftly followed up with The Counter, a standalone café linked to The Delaunay, serving informal Wolseley-style breakfasts, a carvery lunch and comfort-food suppers. There’s plenty more in the pipeline for 2012, including Brasserie Zédel, a ‘Parisian grand café and brasserie’ opening on the site of the former Atlantic Bar & Grill on Regent Street this summer, as well as a similar venture on the corner of Sloane Square (where Oriel used to operate). Plans are also in place to develop a luxury hotel in Mayfair called The Beaumont, which will launch in 2014.
And what has Caprice Holdings got up its sleeve? At the tail end of 2011, the group launched steak and seafood restaurant 34, and this year Mayfair’s Curzon Street will welcome CH’s next project, Little House, an offshoot of Soho House. Rumour has it that Caring is also in talks with Thomas Keller, the celebrated chef behind last year’s French Laundry pop-up in Harrods. The pair would like to bring Keller’s US bistro Bouchon to Mayfair. As for the Old Theatre Museum site, it’s set to house the first and much-hyped London branch of Keith McNally’s Balthazar, one of Manhattan’s perennial ‘It’ restaurants, in early 2013. Let’s hope both sides’ projects are knockout.