On my most recent trip to England, I spent four nights in London, four in Cornwall (two nights each in Penzance and St. Ives) then back to London for one night. This article has some of the highlights (and a lowlight or two).
One major observation: Just since I visited last year, many businesses, including most bars and pubs, have adopted a no-cash policy. All transactions are done with credit cards or via apps like Apple Pay. Even buskers in the Underground have devices that allow listeners to tap a credit card and leave a few pounds.
(Also, giving lie to the myth that British service workers are insulted by gratuities, the checkout screens have tipping options, just like they do in the Colonies. Some bars even have standalone kiosks so patrons can leave a little something extra.)
It’s all very convenient – I got very adept at double clicking my Apple Watch and flipping my wrist to the lighted icon – but you’re going to want to be sure you’re using a credit card that doesn’t charge an international transaction fee; they can add up quickly.
Here are the restaurant notes:
Table of Contents
Set in the tony Mayfair section of London, Tamarind is an Indian restaurant worthy of the neighborhood. The first Indian restaurant in London to earn a Michelin star, it serves a modern menu featuring stylized twists on Indian classics.
Kerridge’s Bar & Grill
London has many posh hotels and Corinthia is among the poshest. And don’t assume that Kerridge’s, from chef Tom Kerridge, is any less elegant for its bar and grill designation. It’s an expansive space filled with artwork and sculpture (Kerridge’s wife, Beth Cullen-Kerridge, did the bronzes that are focal points of the dining room) with a veddy British club atmosphere. The food is first rate.
The Ninth is a Michelin Guide one-star restaurant in the Fitzrovia section of town from U.S. born Jun Tanaka. It’s a small, cozy restaurant with a Frenchified menu. The experience was pleasant but not outstanding.
We stopped in to The Delaunay after the theater (Brokeback Mountain; B+) because it’s a West End/Covent Garden mainstay with the same owners as The Wolseley, which was the highlight of last year’s trip. The interior is dark and seems to want to be elegant with its dark woods and white tablecloths but it ultimately felt worn and tired. The menu leans Alsatian. Service tends to the aloof.
Although maybe not as wonderful as it was the previous year, The Wolseley, in Mayfair, was still exceptional. The interior is grand and makes one wonder if its provenance was a bank. But it started out as a car showroom, from the time when cars were new and chic. The food here, as at the Delaunay, is Eastern European, though the pull off a better schnitzel than sister restaurant Delaunay.
Porthminster Kitchen, St. Ives
While my meals at Tamarind and Kerridge’s were experiential highlights, it was the food at Porthminster Kitchen in St. Ives that took the prize for best food overall this trip.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, Porthminster Kitchen was a pleasant experience the first time I visited, in 2019. It’s a small place on the second level of a building overlooking the small bay, which, when at low tide, is strewn with boats both commercial and recreational suddenly dry-docked.
Service wasn’t as good as the first time – the lead server took umbrage with my request to sit at a different table instead of the one next to an unruly party we were originally led to.
But oh, that food.
Dean Street Townhouse
For many years, Dean Street Townhouse, in Soho, has been one of my favorite places, a must-visit whenever in town. I even spent a wonderful Christmas Day there one year. What made it so good was the staff, especially the bartenders who took their craft seriously and reveled in bantering with the customers at the bar as they artfully prepared each drink. Often, we would make reservations for a table in the dining area around the bar with the hopes that when we arrived we could find a couple of spots at the counter and give the table over to a waiting couple. And there was almost always someone waiting. The cocktails were exceptional – the negroni was the second-best I’d had at one point – and the food good enough to match the drinks.
Something has changed. On my visit in June, I found the restaurant and bar barely occupied. And instead of the cadre of eager bartenders, the bar was staffed overseen by a brusque, rude and unwelcoming man. We had our cocktails – the negroni was good but no longer a “best” contender – and a meal of fried whitebait, Welsh rarebit (both good) and a fish and chips dinner that was overly soggy. A manager came by to ask about our experience and we told him. He seemed surprised by what we said. But wasn’t the absence of a crowd an indication that something is wrong?
Gordon’s Wine Bar
Another “must” whenever I visit London is Gordon’s Wine Bar near the Embankment Tube station. But there’s been a big change here, too.
The interior of Gordon’s is a subterranean grotto with low brick ceilings lit by candles. But outside is an enclosed boulevard where people can stand or sit to sip their wines and nibble on meat pies of cheeses. Most people would go inside to order and then go out to try to grab a spot on the crowded walkway.
But out of the Covid pandemic grew a new policy: Customers can no longer take food and drink purchased inside out to the patio. So if you want to be outside, you have to order from one of the servers. I recommend you go inside just to get a look – or to sit if you can snag the rare seat – then go outside to enjoy the London weather (unless you’re there in Winter, then inside is the only place to be).
One possible advantage to the new policy: The place isn’t as jammed as it has been in the past, which may reduce the chance of being pickpocketed, something Gordon’s has been infamous for. The staff used to wear shirts that warned customers to “Beware of pickpockets,” and Gordon’s was mentioned in a recent story in the New York Times on the subject.
And Borough Market, pictured at top, is still as wonderful as ever, a playground for any foodie.