The job has become a lot more difficult for London’s top concierges.
Just a few years ago, the city wasn’t a dining destination. There were a handful of decent restaurants, and the safest bet was to eat at posh hotels serving expensive French cuisine.
Few people understand the extent of the dining revolution better than the concierges at those hotels, who are now required to build relationships with restaurants across London—a city where novelty has come to trump tradition.
“To be a concierge in a London hotel 20 years ago, you probably needed to know 10 maitre d’s,” says the Savoy’s head concierge, Toru Machida, who moved to London from Japan in 1995. “But now it’s not 10, it’s 100.”
While new restaurants are now opening at a furious pace, some former favourites are disappearing. These include Vineet Bhatia, a Chelsea stalwart for 13 years, which closed last month. Others, such as Kitty Fisher’s, in Mayfair, start out hugely in demand before tables become a little easier as tastes change and new kids arrive on the block.
Which restaurants are the most in-demand at the moment? We asked the concierges at four of the top hotels for their picks. There’s one exception: don’t get your hopes up for a table at the Araki, a Japanese establishment that gained its third Michelin star last month. There are just nine seats and even the best-connected concierges will struggle to accommodate you.
This Russian-owned Mayfair establishment is a hit with the rich and beautiful. There are two restaurants (Asian and Italian) as well as a club in the basement and bling on all floors. It’s near the Ritz, which helps to explain why Michael de Cozar, head concierge at the Ritz, is kept so busy chasing tables. He says it is particularly popular with guests from West Asia and even for him it can be a struggle to get late Friday or Saturday night tables in the Asian section.
The flagship restaurant of the sweary TV chef is in demand from both the food crowd and celebrity lovers. This Chelsea establishment is particularly popular with visitors from Asia. It holds three Michelin stars and rightly so, because the food is outstanding. “It’s probably the most difficult place to get in London,” says the Savoy’s Machida. That’s not bad going for a restaurant that opened in 1998. It’s expensive by London standards, though anyone coming from Paris (where gourmet establishments charge stupidly high prices) might consider the £65 lunch menu a bargain.
This contemporary Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, which is quite a ripe age in an industry where longevity is measured in dog years. This success is well-deserved. The food is excellent and the dining room glamorous. Zuma has spawned highly successful outposts in about 10 cities around the world. De Cozar, a 44-year veteran at the Ritz, says Zuma is particularly difficult because guests from West Asian countries often want tables for large groups, and they all like to eat later than typical Londoners. “It’s always full,” he says.
This Marylebone hotel and restaurant, owned by the American hotelier Andre Balazs, was almost impossible to get into when it opened in 2014. It was packed with celebrities and still draws A-listers by the dozen. It hasn’t lost that cachet, though it’s not as difficult to get into. “It’s a fun scene and rather jolly late at night,” says Hugo Campbell-Davys, who founded the online Urbanologie concierge service. The food is pretty good, too, with accessible dishes such as Caesar salad, but the Laddershed Club out back is the place to be. Versailles-born Francois-Xavier Girotto, concierge at the Mandarin Oriental, says it’s become a modern classic: “It is always difficult to get Friday and Saturday evenings.”
This Mayfair restaurant and cocktail bar is big on bling, with extravagant and colourful designs. It features Esmerelda onyx marble floors, dark-oak-clad walls and pillars, antique smoky mirroring and raspberry leather banquettes and chairs, plus artworks from the likes of Damien Hirst.
A black silicone mosaic crocodile crawls across the north wall of the dining room. When Sexy Fish opened in October 2015, bouncers wouldn’t even allow you through the door without a reservation. It was never really about the food, which is a mishmash of Asian cuisines. It’s becoming easier to get a table these days, De Cozar says.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
This is one hotel dining room that has lost none of its allure since opening in early 2011. The food is king. Heston Blumenthal is one of the most celebrated chefs in the world.
Dinner, with two Michelin stars, offers lunch starting at £45. It’s in the Mandarin Oriental and is the most in-demand hotel restaurant in London, according to Harry Deasy, assistant head concierge at the Dorchester.
Talk about a veteran: The Ivy is celebrating its 100th anniversary. It’s the original London celebrity restaurant and is still crazy busy after all these years. Don’t accept imitations. Owner Richard Caring is rolling out the brand like it’s going out of fashion. But the original, on West Street, in Covent Garden, is still a great place to dine. It is relatively inexpensive, with friendly service and accessible food and wine. It is one of my three favourite restaurants in London. It’s much in demand, says Deasy, who notes that the Ivy Chelsea Garden is becoming a destination in its own right.
This two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Notting Hill flew under the radar when it opened in 2005. The decor is more beige than bling, and chef Brett Graham himself is an understated kind of guy, preferring his kitchen to the TV studio. The quality of cooking became known by word of mouth. The Ledbury is among the top four or five restaurants in London for gastronomy, and tables can be hard to come by.
This beautiful and alluring Chinese restaurant and lounge looks like a million dollars. Actually, a lot more than that: it cost almost £40 million ($53 million) to open in 2015. The designs, the lighting, the materials, the staff uniforms—everything is in the best of taste.
Of course, it’s a very expensive place to dine, but the food is also of the highest quality and you could pay as little as £26 for a two-course lunch if you were really trying. But it’s the late night tables that are most in-demand from guests at the Dorchester and the Ritz. You can’t put a price on sophistication, but your dinner and drinks bill at Park Chinois would be a guide.
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