I’ll admit it: I was wrong, too. For years, I believed the stereotype of British food being mediocre. Gordon Ramsay, Shane Osborne, Raymond Blanc, Heston Blumenthal—they all fought strenuously against being typecast. Just read Blumenthal’s recent cookbook, where the iconic chef grumbles: “The French, Spanish, and Italians think that all we serve are boiled vegetables, perhaps with a knob of butter. In fact, in classical French cuisine the technical term for boiling vegetables is à l’anglaise.”
Not anymore. A new crop of young chefs has created buzz in London’s food scene. Ramsay’s former acolytes—including Jason Atherton of Pollen Street Social—have opened hip, individualistic restaurants, ignoring the safe, traditional route of running posh in-hotel establishments. Osborne may no longer run the pass at Pied à Terre, but his successor, Marcus Eaves, carries the flame for new British cuisine. Take a train north of London to Nottingham, and you’ll find Sat Bains (who once worked with Blanc), exploring the intersection between urban grit and foraging, while his wine team rethinks how to re-ignite the palate for wine pairings.
When I visited London last month, I saw the makings of a culinary renaissance. I was amazed by what I saw, delighted by what I tasted, and more than happy to admit being wrong in my preconceptions. These young chefs inspired me in the way they worked around London’s inclement weather by using sea fennel and Irish moss in the dead of a bleak (and snowy) winter. And it was fun to take trips back through time, as I did at Blumenthal’s Dinner, where all the dishes are riffs on 14th, 17th, and 18th century English dishes, and eat amazing Thai masterpieces at David Thompson's Nahm. British chefs are younger and more vibrant, and diners in London more adventurous.
Drinking in London is no longer a chore, either. The cocktail scene has slogged its way out of the viscous moat and is now (almost) caught up to other metropolitan cities. Bar Manager Oliver Blackburn mixes gin and vodka with equal fervor; his cocktails still contain a British genetic strain, but they’ve evolved to meet the modern standards of complexity and execution. Of course, that all started with Tony Conigiliaro’s experiments at 69 Colebrooke Row, and his cocktails there are still both thrilling and eye-opening.
The London culinary rebirth has silenced the naysayers and put the city on the map of “must visit” dining destinations. Of course, there’s plenty of room on that list, and back stateside the StarChefs.com team is working to fill it out, scouring Miami, Atlanta, Hawaii, and Chicago for future Rising Stars. We’re also headed back to New Orleans, where the Rising Stars Gala will be held on April 19. Please reach out and give us your nominations for the chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists we should check out in those cities. And as always, stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates on StarChefs.com.