Last weekend, in which I spent three days eating in London on the premise of visiting family and friends, was fantastic. In the years since I left, this sprawling, hectic metropolis has now become home to some surprisingly delicious, high quality and most shocking of all, affordable culinary delights. Shocking in the sense that London is famous for its extortionate restaurant prices, long tarnished by its reputation for providing no real middle ground between cheap, greasy fast food and high end luxury.
So imagine my delight when, exhausted from endless shopping, I stumbled upon Le Pain Quotidien, the café that sets the benchmark for all other cafés as far as I’m concerned. Remember my earlier article about the perfect brunch spot? Well this is it. The menu is so delightfully simple (boiled eggs on toast, blueberry pancakes, smoked salmon quiche with homemade pastry, as well as a wide selection of melt in your mouth pastries) and to be quite frank, faultless. Everything was incredibly fresh, the staff were friendly and though my European readers may be shocked to learn I paid £25 for breakfast (two rounds of smoked salmon on toast with coffee and enough croissants to feed an army), this is what counts as affordable in the English capital. I was more than happy to part with my money however, for such high quality fare. Many establishments do not shy away from charging far more for food of inferior quality.
That was breakfast. Lunch was much cheaper but if anything, even more delicious. Ranoush, widely acclaimed as the place to go for Lebanese food in London, did not disappoint. An enormous spiced chicken wrap with fresh yoghurt, mint and garlic dressing was a measly £8, served with a freshly squeezed glass of mango juice and followed by a pot of mint tea (the baklava was complimentary- top marks for flawless hospitality).
Finally, the day ended on a high note with crab and avocado salad and a good bottle of Prosecco, courtesy of that hallmark of supermarket quality, Marks and Spencer. Very unfashionable to mention supermarkets at this point, I know. But any British expat who loves good food laments not being able to shop here. The place practically screams elegance and refinement.
That was a great day for food. Establishments like these have restored my faith in London’s ability to compete to be the best food capital in the world, something I would have scorned two years ago. Many continental European readers may dismiss the high prices as snobbish, excessive, and a sign of the mentality that got Britain into such serious financial problems when things went wrong. But I applaud the inventiveness, creativity and in some cases, consistently high quality of London’s cafés and restaurants. If the quality is there, many Londoners reason, the idea of ‘what’s worth it’ changes. I enjoy being able to feed my imagination with the vast array of choice on offer, and sometimes lament the lack of such choice elsewhere. Then again, such elaborate, pricey creations are only justified if the quality is there. New York wins hands down in this respect. No matter what your budget, you will feast like a king in the big apple. I’m curious, though, if my nostalgia for my one time home city is clouding my judgement. What do you think? Does London deserve all this praise, culinarily speaking? And which other cities merit closer attention?