Novelty is out as London diners turn to more traditional fare

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The Independent Online

Diners in the capital are turning away from novelty eateries and displaying a renewed appetite for traditional English and French cooking, according to a leading restaurant guide.

The central London fish restaurant J Sheekey, founded in 1896 by a market stall-holder, Josef Sheekey, topped the list of best restaurants in the 16th annual Harden's guide.

Sheekey's has always been discreetly fashionable, but without the high profile of The Ivy (which many of its habitués regard as a plus). Interestingly, Victoria Beckham - who has often been photographed leaving The Ivy - chose J Sheekey as the venue where she unveiled her new image, with a radically shorter, more sophisticated haircut.

The survey of 8,000 restaurant-goers published later this month will reveal the renaissance of "comfort foods" and traditional Gallic restaurants - and a subsequent slide in the popularity of the exotic eateries that have dominated the industry for a decade. Most of the establishments in the top 10 serve classic British and French cuisine. The trendy Japanese eaterie Nobu has disappeared from this year's list (it came seventh in 2005). Alan Yau's Hakkasan is now the only oriental venue in the top 10.

Newcomers at the top of the "most mentioned" list include La Poule au Pot, an intimate French brasserie in Pimlico established in1962, and Andrew Edmunds, which opened in Soho in 1983 serving modern European cuisine.

The Ivy, based in the heart of theatreland since 1917 and operated by Caprice Holdings, which also runs J Sheekey, dropped four places from last year to number seven. The restaurant, a famous celebrity haunt, ceased to top the "Londoner's favourite" category.

Clerkenwell's ultra-Gallic Bleeding Heart, established in 1983, retained the number six spot. Chez Bruce, which has been turning out classic French cuisine for over 10 years in Wandsworth, rose from ninth to fourth place.

The Wolseley on Piccadilly, a three-year-old restaurant in the tradition of Europe's grand cafés - serving coq au vin, Wiener schnitzel and steak au poivre - remained at number five. Gordon Ramsay's eatery Maze rose one place to third position, while his restaurant at Claridge's stayed in eighth place.

The "back to basics" trend reflected a "cooling off" in the London restaurant scene, according to Richard Harden, co-editor of the guide, with just 136 openings recorded this year compared to 142 in 2005.

It is the first time in four years that the number of new restaurants has fallen significantly. "Restaurant-going seems to be returning to its roots, with diners now showing renewed interest in traditional styles of eating out - especially French - as opposed to the oriental/novelty styles which have seemed predominant in recent years," said Mr Harden.

Peter Harden, his brother and co-editor of the guide, added that the "gimmicky" cuisine favoured by young, affluent restaurant-goers with a large disposable income, had been overtaken by more mature diners who had with an eye for quality food from their childhood. "In general, the market has got much less gimmicky in the past 10 years," he said.

Two years ago, Asian cuisine was noted in the guide as de rigueur for new restaurants, but the past 12 months have seen very few oriental newcomers.

Other new entries in the top 40 include Gordon Ramsay's Maze, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, The Ledbury, Cipriani and Bentley's, all European, and, with the exception of Maze, traditional in style. The full guide, which includes the "best and worst meals of the year", will be published on 29 August.

The top 10

1. J Sheekey (established 1896)

2. Hakkasan (2001)

3. Gordon Ramsay (1998)

4. Chez Bruce (1995)

5. The Wolseley (2003)

6. Bleeding Heart (1983)

7. The Ivy (1917)

8. Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's (2001/1898)

9. La Poule au Pot (1962)

10. Andrew Edmunds (1983)

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