London — home of the new food rules and all things upside down dining
Something’s afoot in London. We seem to have grown a bit tired of eating conventionally and now there’s only one rule, and that’s that there are no rules. Now, if you want to eat breakfast at dinner time, or some ice cream when you really should be in bed, we’ve got it covered. Of course, you can still have your four course meal in a starched-white tablecloth establishment and afternoon tea at the Ritz, but you can also get pretty much any food you fancy, any time you want.
So why the change? Think of traditional British dining and you think of the formal dinner party, with butlers serving roast beef to well-heeled ladies and gents sitting around a mahogany table positively groaning under the weight of silverware. But whilst we’re famous for our traditions, behind the facade of impeccable table manners is a nation that loves to play with its food, and I don’t mean just throwing bread rolls across the school dining room.
The French used to laugh at us for our bland, grey cuisine, but having quashed that bad reputation years ago, we’re now leading the pack when it comes to pushing dining boundaries. The food scene here has exploded over the last few years with the revival of artisan production, an eruption of street food stalls and amazing new places to eat. The fire has been fuelled by a creativity and resourcefulness born out of the recent recession and — of course — by social media. For a while now it has seemed that almost every new opening is a no-bookings, no-menu place, with exposed brick walls and mismatched furniture. We’ve also seen the birth of a lot of places offering just one type of food: burgers, fish and chips, steak cooked on an old-fashioned Victorian iron… Whilst the world of celebrity and money has been celebrating its exclusivity and guest lists, the rest of the public has been quietly staging a revolution, where the only thing that’s celebrated is what really matters: the food.
Restaurants don’t need glossy A-List launches — they just need great food and a real purpose, then the word gets out and spreads like wildfire.
We’ve torn up the rule book and turned the dining room upside down to make way for a new style of eating. But this isn’t just subversion or a new way of dining.
With a constant stream of new places to eat opening up, we can rest assured that your taste buds will be satisfied, whatever it is we’re after. Here’s a round-up of some of the best ways to turn the rules of eating on their head, in the greatest city in the world (authorial bias):
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream
So you’ve had a big meal and don’t think you can manage pudding (or maybe your wallet can’t), but then on the way home you just fancy a little something sweet. Enter the ice cream bar. We don’t have to wait until our summer holidays in Europe for our late-night gelato fix, because these are popping up all over the place, and what better way to round off a date than sharing a scoop or two on the way home? My favourites are Amorino, Gelupo, Scoop or Ice & Slice (they do pizza too), to name just a few.
Get your just desserts
Want to skip the savoury stuff altogether? There’s a whole host of dessert bars springing up across the capital just to satisfy Londoners’ sweet tooths. It started with pop-up The Pudding Bar in Soho and was shortly followed by Basement Sate, a bar serving up cocktails and desserts. Pollen Street Social is a bona fide restaurant which also has a dedicated dessert counter where they’ll knock up a special cocktail to pair with your pud as well.
All day breakfasts
Breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dine like a pauper — or so the saying goes. The thing is, there just isn’t time to do a proper breakfast on the weekdays, so it’s lucky for us that the all-day breakfast is here to stay. Most famous of all is at The Breakfast Club (thankfully now with six branches across London), where the laid-back vibe, incredible pancakes and secret, hidden bars are sure to turn you into a regular. There’s also the Cereal Killer Cafe (that’s right, just cereal, 8am-8pm) and 26 Grains, where they are dishing up nourishing bowls of sweet and savoury porridge throughout the day. The dish of the moment in restaurants across town is Shakshuka (eggs poached in a stew of peppers and tomatoes) — perfect at any time of day, whether to see off a hangover or to cure Sunday night blues.
All day (and all of the night)
We may not be able to knock New York off the city-that-never-sleeps top spot, but we’re well on the way. Vingt-Quatre (in both West and Central London) is the best place to head to see away those midnight munchies (amply aided by its 24-hour booze licence). Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, Duck and Waffle at the top of the Heron Tower is the highest restaurant in the UK. The food here is famous (not to mention the views) and ticks all the boxes, whether you’re looking to refuel after a long night out, need somewhere nice to go to cure your insomnia, or hosting an early breakfast meeting.
If it isn’t enough just to eat something that tastes great, we can throw our senses into disarray by sampling some of the most disorientating dishes that look like one thing, but taste like another. Best examples include Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Meat Fruit’ at Dinner — a chicken liver parfait disguised as a mandarin (really), Spuntino’s peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich made of ice cream, Duck and Waffle’s spiced ox cheek doughnuts and Restaurant Story’s ‘Bread and Dripping’ — a candle which burns and melts into a delicious pool of beef dripping for hunks of fresh sourdough to be dunked in.
Upside-down dinner parties
These aren’t just for students, and you don’t have to be in London to experience them. Throw a back-to-front dinner party that will have people talking about it for years to come. Start off with coffee and petits fours before moving onto cheese and port, dessert, a whopping main course and then a little starter and some canapés to round it all off. If the Mad Hatter had hosted dinners instead of tea parties, this is how he’d have done it. Wear your black tie back-to-front too, if you want to go all out.
So there you have it.
London’s foodies are cooking up a storm, but it is more than just the flavours that are making waves; we’re spearheading a whole new way of eating, and we love it. We can have whatever we want, any time we want it and, thankfully, it looks like the trend is here to stay. Who knows what’s coming up next, but one thing’s for sure: this upside-down dining sure feels the right way up to me.