After fourteen years I no longer live in London.
To begin with I lived in a flat in Battersea with a couple of Afrikaans bears and an Irish gamer. The bathroom was at the back of the flat. Whilst I was watching TV the bears would walk through hand in hand in towels to shower together, 15 minutes later they’d walk back leaving wet footprints.
I was skint, single and oh so desperate to be a bright young thing; I was dreadful. Luckily I loved Sam Smith pubs and those cheap but reliable French bistros; Savoir Faire, Pierre Victoire and Bar Du Marche. Bar Du Marche was on Berwick street and even as a 25 year old I could tell it was terrible. I once found a live earwig in my salad. Savoir Faire remains on the shit end of Oxford Street and Pierre Victoire at the top of Dean Street. Both were solid date options of mine up until my last days of dating, with my now wife. I still love the sloppy mess which is rib eye steak with peppercorn sauce and blue cheese mash at Pierre Victoire. It arrives a great big ecru splodge then becomes steadily blood soaked as you find and eat the buried steak.
Soon I fell for things not available outside London (or at least not then, to me). Magical places that rammed home the uniqueness of London. I never wanted to leave;
Belgos- you descend in a metal lift, the waiters wear habits and it’s a bunker of long tables full of people eating mussels!!! I always took friends from home here hoping it’s amazingness would rub off on me.
Brick Lane- I grew up in a town with two Indian restaurants, both owned by the same Bangladeshi family, who also provided the only non white kids at my school. We used to go to them as sixth formers, get served beer and know we were proper LADS. Objectively of course most of Brick Lane is terrible, but a whole road of neon signs offering curry was thrilling. Where to eat when one guys offering you free poppadoms, and the next 20% off cans of warm Carlsberg from the off license next door?
Thai food in pubs – This was a big thing in 2006, particularly around Clapham. My girlfriend at the time persuaded me that serving overly sweet, sloppy Pad Thai instantly made any pub more sophisticated than the one next door. I dread to think how much Pad Thai I vomited up after a night on Clapham High Street.
From 2008 until 2015 I lived in various places in and around Brixton. By pure coincidence I was living in one of the coolest, up and coming-est, food focused places in the Western world. I didn’t realise this at the time and certainly did nothing to contribute to it. But I did eat and drink a lot.
I never understood the appeal of Franca Manca but loved Bukowski, Honest and Mama Lan’s in the market. We went to Honest when it first opened and was still BYOB. I’d heard they used Ginger Pig meat and was a bit obsessed with their sausage rolls at the time (still am). Bukowski expanded too, but last time I went to it’s Soho branch we were the only people in, it died a few months later.
Outside the market Asmara was a weird and wonderful Eritrean restaurant that always made me smile. Dollops of stews served on giant spongey breads. There was a ceremony around your boiled egg, and end of meal coffee.
By my 30s I had a few quid more in my pocket, and more importantly was trying to impress a girl out of my league. Like any tosser who covets being described as “foodie” I began to fetishise Michelin stars. Here was a way of knowing that where I was eating was impressive (and hopefully delicious).
The first starred place I ever went to was Arbutus and my memory is of a great night. They did a tripe dish which allowed me to feel all daring, and it seemed to pair with the second cheapest wine (red and white).
After that there have been starred missteps like Marcus, Hedone and Clove Club; at all of which the tasting menu became a chore by the end.
Lovely starred places which just worked; anything “Social” immediately comes to mind.
And then there have been the truly fantastic, mind blowing London meals which were worth every Amex punishing moment; The Ledbury and Core.
Finally as I’ve grown older and worked out what I like I’ve developed a stable of favourites, place I visit and recommend often. Places I would go to whatever a critic said;
Quality Chop House- the Barnsley chop with confit potatoes will shorten my life but I just don’t care.
The Coach – calves brain with lemon and caper butter was the best thing I ate in 2018 (and probably 2019)
Freakscene- we went when it had just opened. Scott and Phar were incredible hosts and so keen to create a great restaurant. We desperately wanted to love the food and were so relieved when it was such a delight. We’ve back since with all our greediest friends.
The Brown Dog- last but by no means least our local pub. 200 yards from our house but worth a trek across London. Helen swears by the pies, the fish and chips is as good as any pub version and the burger cheered us up after our exhausting anniversary lunch at Clove Club. But for me it’s the bavette steak every time. It’s the sort of steak frites you get at Parisian cafes. Squidgy, bloody steak, a giant mushroom and shards of crisp, salty chips for textual contrast. I’m a bit in love with this dish, when we first moved to Barnes I was ordering it once a week.
And now I’m gone, I live in New York. I planned to write this as a sort of reflection on my amazing time in London; how the food I’ve eaten has changed as I have. Now though it feels different. When I left I was pretty confident all the great restaurants would still be there, and have been joined by a load more. Alas, with this virus that may not be the case, and that’s awful because there’s nothing more joyful than eating in a restaurant; whether it’s alone with a book, intimately with someone I love or noisily with a group of fun people.