Culinary consultant Simon Silvester rates London’s food credentials
Take a walk down most streets in London and it won’t be long before you come across somewhere to eat and drink. The capital is a mecca for entrepreneurs ready to give it a try. In addition, we can boast some of the best hotels and restaurants in the world, as well as some of the most inspiring chefs. It is all here! But how has this happened?
You may be surprised to know that prior to the outbreak of WW1, Britain was regarded as a real food innovator. This, to be fair, was mainly due to the various cultures, tastes and varieties of foods cooked throughout what was then, the British Empire.
After the end of WW2 Britain continued to suffer rationing until 4th July 1954, which meant it had endured a limited choice of ingredients for 14 years. It’s no surprise then, that Britain was a little in the doldrums during this period of time and to be fair, for a good few years afterwards!
I am sure there is a far more scientific reason as to why London has become culinary superpower but as a Chef, I believe that a good part of this is down to those innovators who started the food revolution in the 60s, 70s and 80s. In that period of time, Albert and Michel Roux opened Le Gavroche in London (this became the first restaurant to win one, then two and then three Michelin stars in the UK), the first real High Street American Theme concept restaurant opened in London (The Hard Rock CafŽ), Anton Mossiman joined The Dorchester and began his quest to modernise hotel food and in 1980, we had the first ever British Head Chef of The Ritz, in Michael Quinn. We also began to see on TV the new wave of celebrity chefs such as Gary Rhodes and Marco Pierre White. All of a sudden, being a chef was actually becoming cool!!
TV has played a huge part in educating people in not only British but world cuisine and this has led to amazing innovation in not only the streets of London, but throughout the UK. The standards achieved by our chefs and restaurants across the UK is breath.taking. In 1974 the UK won its first Michelin star at Le Gavroche. The 2016 Michelin Guide listed over 170 restaurants in the UK with between 1 and 3 stars!
But it is not just ‘fine dining’ that London had grown an enviable reputation for. Take a trip around Borough Market to see the array of innovative suppliers, producers, food offers, coffee offers and restaurants. Over 1 million people visited Borough Market last year from all over the world. Borough Market and its stall holders must take credit for creating such a fantastic melting pot of food innovation that has also inspired others to create such markets as Exmouth Market, The School Yard, Broadway Market and Rupert Street Market.
The innovation and inspiration that can be seen almost wherever you walk in London is clearly paying off. This recent article was printed in The Guardian about London;
“Abandoning his countrymen’s traditional pride in the national cuisine and disdain for English fare, Jo‘l Robuchon admitted that London’s restaurants are now more innovative than those of Paris.
The 65 year old, whose restaurants have been awarded a record 25 stars by the revered Michelin Guide, also claimed that the biggest variety of world cuisines is in London, after a revolution over the past few decades.
It comes just days after the French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, praised the quality of English food, suggesting an unlikely rapprochement between the two countries.
In the latest comments, Mr Robuchon – once named ‘chef of the 20th century’ – told a newspaper he “would argue that London is very possibly the gastronomic capital of the world. Why? Because it’s only in London that you find every conceivable style of cooking. When it comes to what’s new in cooking, to innovative cuisine, it’s all happening in London. The epicentre is not Paris but London.”
Praise indeed! So I guess we can see why London has become such an icon when it comes to food and innovation. Long may it continue.