If you keep tabs on the London restaurant scene, you can't have failed to spot the city's growing infatuation with all things American and, in particular, food from the Southern states. Where there were once only posh burgers and glammed-up hot dogs, now you can eat shrimp and grits (a type of maize porridge most associated with the South) such places as Soho's Jackson and Rye (020 7437 8338; jacksonrye.com) and The Lockhart in Marylebone (020 3011 5400; lockhartlondon.com) where the Mississippi-born chef, Brad McDonald, also serves mallard gumbo with Carolina gold rice.
McDonald is typical of a new breed of American chefs who have applied classical French training to inspirations from closer to home. You might call it New Southern Cooking, a cuisine perfectly in tune with uncertain times, where people are searching for national identity and comfort through food.
As splendid as the cooking by McDonald might be, there's good reason to travel to try the food in its native setting. "What makes a meal so satisfyingly soulful in the south is the vibe. The heat off the kitchen, the warmth of the people," says Meredith Erickson, journalist and co-author of the cookbook of Southern-influenced Le Pigeon (001 503 546 8796; lepigeon.com) in Portland, Oregon, itself an example of how far Southern cooking has travelled. Others include Carriage House in Chicago (001 773 384 9700; carriagehousechicago.com) and Acadiana in Washington (001 202 408 8848; acadianarestaurant.com).
For an evolved take on the style, Erickson recommends 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky (001 502 636 0783; 610magnolia.com) where Korean-American chef Edward Lee's contemporary menu includes pork osso bucco, mustard greens, black-eyed peas and gremolata bread crumbs.
Leading light of the New Southern Cooking movement is chef Sean Brock, who opened a second branch of his Charleston restaurant Husk in Nashville (001 615 256 6565; husknashville.com) last summer.
Linton Hopkins is another chef enamoured with the South's bounty. At Restaurant Eugene (001 404 355 0321; restauranteugene.com) in Atlanta, he offers refined Southern dishes such as trout and shrimp with Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice), pot likker (collard greens cooking liquor) and Tennessee bacon.
New Orleans-based chef John Besh prefigured the current movement with his France-meets-Louisiana menu at August (001 504 299 9777; restaurantaugust.com) a decade ago. His latest opening Borgne (001 504 613 3860; borgnerestaurant.com) focuses on coastal cuisine, with shrimp-toast rissoles and seafood-stuffed flounder.