3 Great London Restaurants

Feb 19, 2015

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I recently took an around-the-world trip from NYC (with a stay at the new Park Hyatt New York) and then on to Tokyo for 62,500 AA miles and $5.60, with award seats on American’s A321 first class JFK-San Francisco (SFO) and JAL’s Boeing 777-300ER first class SFO-Tokyo Haneda (HND). I hadn’t visited Tokyo for a long time, but it took me no time at all to fall back in love with the city during my stay at the Andaz Tokyo. I then went to Kyoto and The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, followed by a Malaysia Airlines flight bound for a whirlwind trip to Kuala Lumpur, then on to Bali, where I stayed at the St. Regis Bali Resort at Nusa Dua.

From there I hopped a two-leg British Airways flight to merry old England, where I dined like a king at three restaurants—Berners Tavern, Ham Yard Hotel, and Chiltern Firehouse.

If I had a kooky-but-fun British Grandmother, this is what her house would look like.
If I had a kooky-but-fun British Grandmother, this is what her house would look like.

Berners Tavern

Since I was staying in the Edition London hotel, it was a no-brainer to check out the hotel’s restaurant, Berners Tavern. It opened in late 2013, and it’s easy to see why it has won multiple design awards – it’s drop-dead gorgeous. This is no traditional “tavern.” It’s grand, glamorous, and gilded, with intimate lighting and gold-framed art covering almost every bit of wall space. And I haven’t even talked about the food yet.

One of London’s hot chefs of the moment, Jason Atherton, has his name (and style) on the menu, while Phil Carmichael is the Chef de Cuisine. Both worked under Gordon Ramsay and earned Michelin stars at previous restaurants. There are lots of English comfort food dishes on the Berners menu that have been given high-class makeovers, and other dishes have a retro-cool vibe. For instance? There’s a cocktail on the menu called “Cereal Killer,” that includes “Coco Pops milk” and a candy stripe straw.

Berners is in London’s Fitzrovia neighborhood, near the West End and almost equidistant between two Tube stops—Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus. For me, it’s a tie here between the dazzling decor and the amazing food.

The Ham Yard's garden conservatory, just one of its many seating areas
The Ham Yard’s garden conservatory is just one of its many seating areas

Ham Yard Restaurant & Bar

There’s nothing like the tourist-clogged grittiness of Piccadilly Circus to make the peaceful complex of the new Ham Yard Hotel even more appealing; it’s only a few steps from Piccadilly, but manages to feel worlds away.

The hotel’s restaurant isn’t fussy or pretentious—dishes come from different parts of Europe and highlight local ingredients (like the very British-sounding treacle-cured salmon with pickled melon and cucumber)—and the small-plates bar menu is even more approachable. Anywhere you eat at Ham Yard, either in the restaurant or the bar, is a great value. And in warm weather, I’m told the seating area includes part of the quiet, relaxing inner courtyard at the heart of the building, which may well be the best part.

The Ham Yard restaurant is decorated like the rest of the hotel, with a crazy assortment of colors, patterns and ethnic art on display. It’s comfortable without being off-putting, and the restaurant would suit pretty much anyone. It’s an ideal place to duck in and take a break from busy Soho at the Ham Yard—you won’t regret it.

Actually, Santa did come.. I got fried chicken and caviar and couldn't be a happier boy!
My version of a celebrity at the Chiltern Firehouse: their fried chicken topped with caviar

Chiltern Firehouse

Let me say at the outset that nearly every review of the new Chiltern Firehouse is a who’s who of the celebrities spotted there and will include next to nothing about the food. This is the London hot spot right now, and it’s almost impossible to get in.

Yet another successful restaurant/boutique hotel venture from hotelier André Balazs (owner of  L.A.’s legendary Chateau Marmont), the Chiltern Firehouse’s recent diners have included David Beckham, Lindsay Lohan, Bill Clinton, Kate Moss, and Orlando Bloom—and that’s just for starters. The restaurant apparently has a screening process to ensure the clientele is relatively paparazzi-worthy, so if you’re not a celebrity (or dating one) then you’ll need to call for reservations many months in advance.

The thing is, even if it’s not the main draw of the Chiltern Firehouse, the food is actually great. There’s an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs work, and the upscale-comfort-food menu changes monthly.

Originally built in 1889 as one of London’s first fire stations, the modern-day Chiltern Firehouse is set between Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, and the closest Tube stations are Baker Street and Bond Street. Although, let’s face it, most of the people dining at London’s “it” spot of the year are not riding the Underground!

What are your favorite restaurants in London?

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