Image-conscious restaurant groups, particularly Sir Terence Conran's empire, leave diners least satisfied, according to a survey published yesterday.

Image-conscious restaurant groups, particularly Sir Terence Conran's empire, leave diners least satisfied, according to a survey published yesterday.

For the second year running, the reviewers in Harden's London Restaurants 2000 guide have put the knife into the Conran group, which includes such places as Mezzo, Quaglino's, Bluebird and Le Pont de la Tour, describing its standards as "simply appalling" and its performance on the "overpricing front" as "impressive".

The guide, which bases its findings on 60,000 reviews from 4,000 restaurant-goers, says: "London's best-known group seems all set to become a collection of up-market tourist traps, exploiting its high (and carefully promoted) name-recognition to charge very high prices for products of a very poor standard."

Half the top 10 restaurants most often nominated for being "overpriced" by those surveyed were members of the group. The diners perceived the Conran group to be "incompetent, greedy and arrogant".

Peter Harden, who compiled the survey, said: "It is striking how those groups who are most adept at self-promotion score least highly in the eyes of customers. Chez Gérard and the Marco Pierre White empire, for example, both offer very mediocre products. But Conran's results are still simply appalling.

"It is very difficult to see how the group could survive in its current form if it were not for the fantastically high name recognition it has so skilfully built up. Conran should be careful, though. You cannot live for ever on a reputation, as Marks & Spencer has so convincingly demonstrated."

Three of London's Michelin élite ­ Chez Nico, Marco Pierre White's Oak Room and La Tante Claire ­ have fallen out of the guide's top 10.

Temperamental Gordon Ramsay was named the capital's unchallenged top chef. The guide says his restaurant in Royal Hospital Road, central London, is "the capital's culinary number one", even if his "hysterics" in the kitchen, as seen in the television series Boiling Point, "may be difficult to stomach".

The top 10 gastronomic recommendations for London, in descending order of the number of nominations, were:1 Gordon Ramsay; 2 The Ivy; 3 Mirabelle; 4 The Square; 5 Le Gavroche; 6 Chez Bruce; 7 Nobu; 8 The River Café; 9 Zafferano; 10 Club Gascon.

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