Working in a wine shop, the conversation often turns to food, and one of the questions I’m asked almost every day is: “But where do you like to eat?”
Going back through the diary, this turned out to be a much bigger piece of work than it seemed. Why? Well, while we no longer have the corporate salaries we used to earn, we’ve always loved eating out. And we don’t have kids, a major drug/gambling habit or drive flashy cars. So the spare cash we do have is more often than not used to try out somewhere new or revisit somewhere we love.
So here’s the list. And let’s be clear - this is just my list. These are all great places that I’ve been happy to spend my time and money at in the last 18 months. Also these are in no other order than the notes I made while I was going through the diary. So let’s sit down, order all the specials and dig in...
In Acton, the places we really love include The Chapati Club, (full disclosure: we supply their wines and write their wine list) for brilliant Indian food, Rod Fai for excellent Thai food and cocktails and The North China for great neighbourhood Chinese. For breakfast it has to be Fed & Watered and for a quick lunch on the go, I love Tony’s wraps at L’Oriental. We both also like Hasu or a few of the specials from Ezo for a different take on Japanese food.
Further afield we’re looking at The Swan pub in Chiswick for great staff and atmosphere (plus their Monday night reserve your sharing T-bone and bring your own wine for £5 a bottle), The Urban Pantry for walk-in brunch and - of course - La Trompette.
Now, let’s just pause here for a moment. La Trompette is my favourite restaurant bar none. I love it. If it was on the other side of London or in Alaska, I’d still love it. But happily, it’s just walking distance away in deepest Chiswick. It’s my happy place (and we’re always being told we should all find our own happy place and spend more time there...) The food is excellent, the atmosphere is wonderfully relaxed and the whole team works like a well oiled machine and they make it look effortless. Trust me, this is no easy feat to pull off.
If we zoom out a bit further on the map and look at the whole of London the list could be endless. But we really love The French House (book to eat Neil Borthwick’s tiny menu in the even tinier upstairs dining room, it’s brilliant), Quo Vadis (love this Dean Street staple) and Kiln (walk in and get a seat at the kitchen bar, Andrew Edmunds, (especially for the wine and cosy atmosphere - especially in winter) and that’s just in Soho!
In Mayfair there’s The Guinea Grill which I love for it’s meat (vegetarians look away now). There’s been a pub here since 1423 and it’s landlord, Oisin Rogers, is an absolute legend on the London food scene and is well worth following on the instas or twitters (@McMoop) for more great recommendations (he likes lists…)
The Smoking Goat for Thai drinking food (and the best crispy chicken wings in the world) in Shoreditch (and has the excellent and unrelated Brat upstairs). The Draper’s Arms in Islington is great for a Sunday pub lunch and in Paddington we love The Grand Duchess and its sister, The Prince Regent.
The Regent is a set menu evening culinary cruise along the Grand Union Canal through Regent’s Park to Camden Lock and back and and well worth the trip. If there is ever a reason to go to Camden this is it. The Duchess is moored next door in Paddington basin and conveniently close to the Hammersmith and City Line. Both sway heavily towards fish and seafood and the entire team is engaged, up to speed with the menus and totally brilliant. Like the Trompette, I’ve yet to have a bad night there and, looking through the diary, we’ve been there quite a bit...
Zoom the map out a bit further and we start to look at those places that are a day trip or somewhere to visit when you happen to be nearby.
We spend quite a bit of time in Deal when we can and The Sportsman at Seasalter and The Fordwich Arms near Canterbury and Angela’s in Margate are all Kent highlights with food that makes getting on tubes and trains (you are drinking aren’t you?) worthwhile.
Last year for Paola’s birthday we took a bus, a tube, a train and then a cab to get to Gravetye Manor. Then we did it all in reverse (but slower because we were full). This beautiful Elizabethan manor house has a wonderful glass dining room that gives you a view of the beautiful gardens, more wood panelling than the House of Lords and a fantastic scouse porter who told us to have a wander around the huge kitchen garden before lunch (so we did). Cheap? Absolutely not. But I really can’t wait to go back to do it all again.
It’s worth mentioning that we tend to look for places that have great wine lists. Why? Why would you drink rubbish? We pay to eat at these places in our (limited and very precious) time off so why would we ruin a great meal with an average bottle of wine? We certainly wouldn’t do it at home.
Top tip? Always use your sommelier where they exist as they know the wine list inside out and will steer you to something affordable and great (and maybe something fantastic that’s not even on it).
Lastly, try new places you think you’ll like and revisit the places you’ve loved. Follow them on the socials. Also follow people on instagram and twitter who visit (and give good reviews) to the places you love. And most of all - and this is really important - have a great time.
Note: This piece was written before any of us had heard of COVID-19 or Lockdown and, in the apocalypse faced by Britain's hospitality industry, some of these places may never open again. I hope they all do, because - at least from where I’m sitting - every single one of them is way too good to lose.