David Usborne: Our Man In New York

Look out McDonald's, the British are coming
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The Independent Online

I have a strange block about the British Memorial Garden in lower Manhattan. I can't count the number of times I have been chivvied by its patrons and supporters to pay it a visit. It will soon be a pleasant patch of yew-lined urban park donated to the city by English expatriates in memory of 11 September 2001.

It's possible that petunias on Wall Street aren't my thing. And Hanover Square, where the garden is being built for dedication next spring, is a long way from my pad on East 21st Street. I am constantly being told that the tail end of town is becoming the new hot zone to live and carouse but I remain sceptical. Normally, I hot-foot it to British-themed events in New York without drawing breath. Take tomorrow evening. I am first due at the newly refurbished London Hotel on West 54th Street for a reception to celebrate the imminent opening inside of the first Gordon Ramsay restaurant this side of the water. It too will simply be called The London.

From there, it will be a short cab ride to East 54th and the American headquarters of Sony for a private screening of Casino Royale, the remake of the James Bond film first released in the Fifties. All right, so Sony is from Japan, but surely no brand is more British than 007 and Ms Moneypenny.

Actually, it will be my second time at The London since work began to remake it into a haven of genteel Britishness. Until a little while ago, it was the Rhiga Royal. They had a little ceremony the other afternoon with the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, showing up to say some encouraging words and raising an oversized Union flag outside.

It was one of those curious promotional events, the effectiveness of which is hard to calculate. Mini scrambled-egg sandwiches were served on silver trays as well as flutes of champagne. On leaving, we were given a handsome oval box tied in black ribbons containing a silver-plated bulldog. With a wobbling head, it was a posh version of what you used to see on the back ledge of people's cars. What better image of British pride than the bulldog? Tomorrow, we will sample Ramsay's cuisine. I am curious because it was about a year ago that I spent an evening, on assignment for the newspaper, with three of Ramsay's UK-based chefs whom he had dispatched here to scope out the restaurant scene and decide what options he might have for cracking New York. Now I know. He is making the brave leap from London to The London.

Bond, Borat -Sacha Baron Cohen's film is still number one - and Ramsay too. At what point, you wonder, will Americans begin to squeal about British cultural imperialism? They should defend their shores, before McDonald's becomes Wimpy.

Sometimes we conduct our invasions incognito. About 20 million Americans are right now under the spell of a thrice-weekly television programme the origins of which, you've guessed it, lie with the BBC. The show is called Dancing with the Stars on the ABC network and it is a spin-off from our own Strictly Come Dancing. Even executives at ABC will tell you that they were less than convinced when the show was first pitched to them last year. Men and women spinning around a dance floor to music beloved by their grandmothers hardly seemed like a must-have property. What they needed was something to go head to head with the unbeatable American Idol on Fox and surely this wasn't it.

Well, what do you know? Dancing with the Stars is the second biggest reality show ever on US television and is nipping at the ratings heels of the number one, American Idol, itself a British export, of course. The show pairs vaguely famous people - the biggest name on the current season was Jerry Springer - with professional dancers. On live TV they show off their newest routines, from tangos to paso dobles, and each week a pair is eliminated.

While its audience is mostly women and older viewers, latest figures show that Dancing with the Stars has become a top 10 programme with the 18- to 49-year-olds too. Is it Mr Springer slipping and falling clean off the stage they are waiting for? More likely it has something to do with the scantiness of some of the dancers' outfits and the curves of their bodies. A Dancing with the Stars stage show is now in the works, touring no less than 38 US cities beginning in San Diego next month. I will be skipping it.

Meanwhile, I have been hearing great things about a British restaurant downtown called the Spotted Pig. If I go I shall be at least halfway to the British Memorial Garden.