William Drew, host of the National Restaurant Awards and editor of Restaurant magazine, dishes the dirt on last night’s winners’ dinner event in London. On the menu? Flamboyant chefs, dazzling dishes, and some of the UK’s best restaurants, boutique-hotel bistros and restaurants with rooms…
I’ve just emerged from a large room full of the UK’s most brilliant and thus rather hot-tempered chefs, with several baying for my blood, and I’m still alive. What’s more, I am somehow still the editor of Restaurant magazine, the restaurant trade’s bible.
Last night I hosted the National Restaurant Awards at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden. This annual industry jamboree has a serious side in that it unveils our list of the top 100 restaurants in the UK – as well as doling out gongs for categories such as Best Hotel Restaurant, Best Wine List, Chefs’ Chef of the Year and Best New Restaurant.
So while the likes of Brett Graham of The Ledbury in Notting Hill and Nathan Outlaw (pictured left) from Rock in Cornwall triumphed, that still leaves some of the more volatile members of this notoriously competitive industry fixing me with a menacing eye and demanding to know why they were not higher on the list. While the ranking is by no means in my personal gift, I guess it goes with the territory.
What the always-controversial list does reveal is the volume of new restaurants making their mark on the London dining scene in particular: Bistro Bruno Loubet at The Zetter hotel in Clerkenwell (right) picked up the Best New Restaurant award, coming in third overall.
Other newbies include Bar Boulud in the Mandarin Oriental (no 7 on the list), the diminutive and fantastically good-value Polpo (pictured below left) in Soho (30), the return of the venerable French master Pierre Koffmann at Koffmann’s (47), Islington-based Italian restaurant Trullo (37,) and Galvin La Chapelle (10).
A non-London trend worth taking note of is the preponderance of ‘restaurants with rooms’*. More and more gastronomic destinations utilise or create their own accommodation. It makes perfect sense – after partaking of a sumptuous 48-course tasting menu with wines to match, a crash pad in the converted stables is somewhat preferable to a taxi journey down winding lanes or, God forbid, driving home yourself.
The Hardwick in Abergavenny (13), now crowned Gastropub of the Year and led by the exemplary Stephen Terry, has recently added rooms to make it an even more appealing prospect. The extraordinary L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria (36) not only offers places to stay, but you can also visit chef-patron Simon Rogan’s organic farm to see where the mesmerising array of flower, herbs and vegetables he serves are cultivated.
The Star Inn in Harome, North Yorkshire (34), Tyddyn Llan in Llandrillo, north Wales (95) and Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn (right) in Bray (9) also provide a place to rest your head (and your ever-expanding belly).
St John (28), the London restaurant which has arguably had as strong an influence on British food as any other in recent years, is going so far as to open a brand new hotel bang in the middle of London town later this year, builders permitting. I suspect there may be a half-decent restaurant attached to that, too.
– William Drew, Restaurant magazine editor
Smith hotels picking up a place among Restaurant magazine’s top 100 UK restaurants included: