Trends, eh? Is Mexico the new Peru? Will pickles punch out baking? And will dude food ever end? To be honest, I couldn’t care less. I hate the idea of culinary fashion, an ephemeral notion if there ever were one. A good restaurant, with fine food, proper service and, just as importantly, soul, will outlast any transient hotspot that burns bright for a few months before slinking away into empty obscurity. So if you’re looking for the next hip and happening place, then go elsewhere.
But 2014 is laden with restaurants opening, both big and small. I still believe that the capital is the best place to eat on earth. Nowhere, not even New York, has the thrilling diversity that London has, and the sheer mass of quality too. At the top end, the big news is that Simon Rogan is taking over the main restaurant at Claridges, replacing Gordon Ramsay. This is an inspired choice, as he’s a brilliant chef who mixes precise technique with huge imagination, along with an obsession with local ingredients. Quite how he’ll source everything within a couple of miles of Mayfair, I don’t know. Still, this is THE opening of the year. Prepare to be thrilled and delighted.
Another top tier chef, Nuno Mendes, will be manning the stoves at uber-hotelier Ander Balazs’ new hotel in Marylebone. Expect high-end cooking, wonderful flavours and a plethora of strange shaped plates. Mendes is one hell of a cook and, paired with Balaz, expect tables to be rarer than a unbearded Dalstonian. Another hugely talented chef, though totally different to Rogan and Mendes in her approach to cooking, is Skye Gyngell, late of Petersham Nurseries. Details are still sketchy, but she’ll be bringing her elegant, and intensely seasonal cooking, to a new restaurant in town. She’s been away too long, so good to have her back.
Then there are the old hands, great London restaurateurs who are constantly expanding their empires. This is no bad thing, as we, the punter, are the grinning beneficiaries. Alan Yau, the genius behind Hakkasan, Yaucha and Naamyaa Café, is opening Duck and Rice, a Chinese gastropub on Berwick Street in Soho, plus a slightly smarter, more upmarket place, Chinois on Dover Street. The man rarely puts a foot wrong. Where Yau leads, thousands follow.
The same can be said for the kings of the London restaurant scene, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King. The duo behind The Wolseley, Colbert, The Delauney and Brasserie Zedel are about to unveil The Beaumont, their first hotel venture. Situated in the heart of Mayfair, expect their usual high standards to apply.
Russell Norman and Richard Beatty might not have owned restaurants for quite as long as Corbin and King, but they’re masters, no doubt about it. Within the space of a few years, they’ve opened Polpo, Polpetto, Da Polpo, Mishkins and Spuntino. Most don’t accept bookings (the pair were the pioneers of this, yup, trend), yet they’re constantly rammed. Ape and Bird, a pub on Shaftsbury Avenue, is set to open any moment now. As is the new Polpetto on Berwick Street, with the immensely gifted Florence Knight, back behind the burners. Expect wonderful regional Italian cooking and queues stretching around the block. They are also opening a Polpo on Notting Hill Gate. At long last, West Londoners can get a taste of this Venetian inspired institution.
We’ve all been waiting with bated breath, and rumbling bellies, for the second branch of the Hart brother’s Barrafina restaurant. The original, in Soho, is utterly sublime, some of the best Spanish food you’ll eat anywhere in the world. The new branch opens next year in Covent Garden. Cause for celebration indeed.
As is news of ex-Caprice Holdings head honcho Des McDonald’s new place, Q. A few years back, those of us craving proper American barbeque had to go hungry, living on smoke tinged memories of the real thing. Then Pitt Cue came along and sated our pulled pork and rib urge. Let’s hope that Q is every bit as ye haw authentic. Knowing McDonald, it will impress. He’s also opening the Holborn Dining room (main picture) in the rather sexy new Rosewood Hotel. Think British classics, both traditional and modern.
Last, but not least, Goodman’s – that Mayfair bastion of fat, well-marbled steak and serious red wine – are opening a new place where king crab will star alongside the rib eyes and sirloin. So will crab be the new lobster? As I said, who cares. But 2014 looks like another cracking 12 months for the London eater. Have a very happy, and well fed, New Year.