GrEAT British, 14 North Audley Street, London W1

British food 'barbarous'? Clearly, Orwell never got to eat at this Mayfair café

In late 1945, the British Council commissioned George Orwell to write an article called "British Cookery". Though it was never published, in it Orwell captured a peculiar mood of English despondency. Rationing, the drudgery of war, and the Depression of the inter-war years had voided our diet of its previous lustre, so that many classic dishes and wonderful ingredients became the preserve of the aristocracy.

Now the national cuisine, reflecting the temper of the people, was exhausted. Orwell described it as "simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous". The article, though variously positive, is studded with gloomy statements: "British pastry is not outstandingly good." "Fish in Britain is seldom well cooked."

Five years later, Elizabeth David published a book which did much to deepen the gloom. Though, perhaps more than any other writer of her generation, she created the dinner party, giving great swathes of people the confidence to cook spectacular dishes. David's A Book of Mediterranean Food implored this nation of middle-class cooks to raise their horizons and be inspired by the exquisite dishes not of England, but the European south.

In recent years, however, there has been a remarkable revival of English cuisine. This can be traced back not to The Great British Bake Off, or Mary Berry, but an extraordinary work called English Food, published by Arabella Boxer in 1991. Precisely because of her aristocratic pedigree, and her exposure to the best of English cuisine in the inter-war years, Boxer attached modern ingredients to a tradition that stretched back to the Middle Ages. With immense erudition, she rescued all manner of herbs and spices from oblivion, celebrated local game, and brought new fame to recipes that long ago reigned in palaces and stately homes.

Everywhere in our food scene today, you find evidence of the Boxer rebellion. And GrEAT British feels to me like a temple devoted to it. It's basically a posh workers' café that serves British wine, with black-and-white tile flooring that makes you feel as though you're eating atop a giant chessboard. The walls are grained dark mahogany, the upholstery is the same, and whiter tablecloths you'll never see. The all-female staff sport pressed aprons and (as you'd expect) their hair is tied in neat buns. I half-expect Mr Carson off Downton Abbey to sidle up and ask whether everything is to Sir's satisfaction. In a downstairs toilet, the wallpaper sheets declaim the best of Richard III.

For Mayfair, it's affordable: full English breakfast for under a tenner, two courses at lunch for £21.50, and three for £27.50.

The starters are magnificent. You can have seared lamb's liver and lamb faggots with bacon and celeriac; white-onion soup with spiced curried fritter; potted salt beef with pickles and sourdough toast; and, best of all, exquisite kedgeree with smoked haddock and a quail's egg of unimprovable flavour and moisture.

I move on to a Loch Duart salmon with pearl barley and oxtail. Boy, oh boy, I wish I could raise Orwell from his eternal slumber, sit him beside me and ask if he still believes fish in Britain is seldom well cooked. This is a magisterial bit of flaky pink flesh, and the almost-sweet, deeply spiced pearl barley is just magic. Vegetarians can get a Sussex cheese sausage with bubble and squeak; carnivores can have either Maize Farm Longhorn beef or Yorkshire saddleback pork loin, both with all the trimmings.

Naturally I feel sceptical on reading of apple crumble with "proper" custard on the menu, but it is a sensational and sweet sauce. The chocolate pudding with the now ubiquitous salted caramel and hazelnuts is very good, too.

George Hammer (who brought L'Occitane, Aveda and the Sanctuary to the UK) and Tony Zoccola (East Dulwich Deli) say they opened GrEAT British because it was so hard to find great British food in London. Now, evidence of our native cuisine's revival can be seen far beyond the capital. But their elegant restaurant and simple, solid dishes, strike me as something like an apogee of that revival. Whatever the opposite of "simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous" is, this place is it.

8/10

SCORES: 1-3 STAY AT HOME AND COOK, 4 NEEDS HELP, 5 DOES THE JOB, 6 FLASHES OF PROMISE, 7 GOOD, 8 CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK, 9-10 AS GOOD AS IT GETS

GrEAT British, 14 North Audley Street, London W1, tel: 020 7741 2233 Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. About £65 for lunch for two without alcohol

Best of British

Sam's Chop House

Back Pool Fold, off Cross Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 834 3210

Real old-fashioned British food served in enormous portions at this pubbily-styled city-centre basement; can be very busy

The Hour Glass Inn

21 Melbourne Street, Exeter, tel: 01392 258 722

Off the beaten track, this authentic old-style pub offers a delightful modern take on French and British cuisines; book a table or you may have to eat in the jostling bar

The Alford Arms

Frithsden, near Hemel Hempstead, Herts, tel: 01442 864 480

A lovely gastropub in a peaceful rural setting, with a deserved reputation for excellent British cooking, and genuinely friendly style

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine