London’s Hot Tables
With the London 2012 Olympic torch shining brightly over the restaurants of London, Frank Laino, head concierge at The Stafford London by Kempinski, the landmark hotel in St. James that turns 100 this year, sheds light on where to dine during and after the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Laino, who, among many outrageous requests in his more than 20 years a concierge in London, has arranged a private viewing of a Vermeer painting in an "off-limits" area of Buckingham Palace and purchased and shipped a decommissioned double-decker bus to Texas, offers his tips on getting a seat at London’s hottest tables.
"[Travelers want a] nice place, smart but not Michelin-starred," said Laino of the restaurant requests he receives most.
One of the latest London restaurant trends, along with simple food menus, all-day dining, small dishes, and sharing plates, is that more and more restaurants aren't accepting reservations, and it has made getting a seat at London’s top restaurants even more of a challenge.
"Everyone wants to find that new place that no one knows about," said Laino.
Laino’s first tip is to head into, not away from, London’s city center. Since the majority of the Olympic venues are not in central London, Laino recommends heading to historic St. James and eclectic Soho, and the ever-popular Mayfair and Kensington areas, which are largely unaffected by the Olympic Games.
While some restaurants, like Dabbous and La Botega Negra, continue to have months-long waiting lists, many top tables have vacancies. With the city’s attention on the Olympic Games, now is the time to book coveted tables at long-standing favorites like Green’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar, Le Caprice, and Cecconi’s, which have extended hours during the games.
Laino’s favorite area, bustling Soho, which is the hub for London’s theater and gay scene, is what Laino describes as the most happening area for restaurants in London. American restaurant and cocktail bar Burger & Lobster, Venetian bar Polpo, and Italian-American diner Spuntino are standouts, as is the Restaurant at the St. John Hotel in the heart of Chinatown.
Laino singles out the new British Quo Vadis, which is owned by the brothers behind Barrafina and features ex-Blueprint Café chef Jeremy Lee in the kitchen, and the Parisian brasserie Bar Zedel , the latest from the proprietors of The Wolseley, as two of the current hot tables that are smart but approachable in price and atmosphere.
Choices ranging from a Michelin-starred restaurant to street food abound in leafy Notting Hill. Laino suggests gastropub The Westbourne, Brett Graham’s two-Michelin-starred The Ledbury, the inexpensive, mostly take-out Ottolenghi, and the street food at Portobello Market, which includes organic sausages and gourmet burgers.
The laid-back yet refined Chelsea offers up food from the British Isles and Europe at Medlar, brasserie fare at Tom Aikens’ all-day Tom’s Kitchen, and simple, alfresco options at the Duke of York Square just off Queen’s Road.
Unless travelers already find themselves in the area, Kensington has historically not been a big draw for food, said Laino. Laino recommends Michelin-starred Kitchen W8, which is outstanding and worth the wait for those who are in the neighborhood.
For those who insist on eating near the Olympic Stadium but don’t want to eat in or near the Olympic Park, they can head a few stops away on the tube to Canary Wharf, a 10- to 15-minute ride from the Olympic Stadium. Argentinian steakhouse Gaucho, with its walk-in humidor, and Boisdale a new Scottish whisky bar with live music, are worth a pregame meal or postgame celebration.