Restaurants: Where shall we meet ... in America?

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The Independent Culture
America: land of opportunity. And fast food, sex scandal, pollution, kitsch, greed, obesity, therapy, robotic serving staff and Hollywood. The elements any country exports to the rest of the world are almost invariably its worst. America is no exception. Jingoism, militarism, materialism and parochialism are such universal joke subjects that we often forget the excellent things a sybarite can find there. Seriously good service, for a start, and, when you're not gorging on burgers and chilli fries, seriously good food. You won't wait 20 minutes for a drink in the States, and when you get one, you will actually be able to see the measure in the glass.

The trouble is, finding a good example of Americana in the UK is a hard, hard job. Which is why the American Bar at the Stafford Hotel is one of the most popular well-hidden secrets. The American Bar, quietly famous for some of the best short-sharp-shock cocktails on the circuit, is always full, in a quiet, discreet sort of way, but those in the know rarely broadcast the fact because they don't want everyone else knowing about it too.

It's a darling little place, lined with squashy banquettes, the walls covered in the most bizarre collection of Americana, from baseball caps to Margaret Thatcher iconography, and noticeable for the number of American accents scattered about. If you are like most of the rest of the British in thinking that this would be a disadvantage, remember how pleased everyone always is when they find a Chinese restaurant full of Chinese.

The American Bar was run for 30 years by the same man, the legendary Charles Guano, and, though his wonderful hand with a shaker and a friendly word for the lonely barfly is sadly missed after his death, the replacement staff are doing a fine job of keeping the atmosphere unchanged. This is one of those places where business people drink sidecars and pick the smoked almonds out of generous bowls of mixed nuts and crackers. They murmur in low voices about multi-million-dollar deals, or revel in the surprising peace of a tiny courtyard garden fenced off from an unprepossessing alleyway with trellising. Okay, so there will also probably be one of those men who will be telling his escort about her lack of table manners in a laboured manner, but a good evening's drinking isn't complete without someone to hate.

The American Bar, The Stafford Hotel, St James's Place, London SW1 (0171-493 0111)


American Bar

The Savoy, 100 Strand, WC2 (0171-836 4343) Grand banquette bar with strict dress code. Good service and splendid, if expensive, cocktails.


18 Wellington St, WC2 (0171-240 4222). Basement bar, ground-floor restaurant serving up-market versions of steak and onion-ring cuisine. You'll need a lie-down to digest afterwards.

Ed's Easy Diner

362 King's Rd, SW3 (0171-352 1952)

Brash barstool diner with the best milkshakes in London, and burgers that remind you there was life before McDonalds.


72 Regent Street, London W1 (0171-494 3322) Anonymous cavern themed after the sitcom, with none of the charm. The house wine is very good value.