Monday, March 3, 2008

London Dining Reviews

Dim sum at Ping Pong on London's Great Marlborough St.

The American peso (otherwise known as "the U.S. dollar") takes a beating in London, where restaurant prices are already hefty and the exchange rate keeps worsening. Just pretend those prices are in dollars, and the sticker shock will temporarily subside.

Here are some restaurant reviews to pass along after my four days in London:

The Ivy -- It's one of the hallmark names of the London dining scene. This was my second visit to the restaurant. The welcome was hearty, and the Tanqueray and tonic was mixed as well as any I've ever ordered at a bar. Everything was good, but simply good. I ordered the pork belly with apple puree as my entree. Menu descriptions were not always as accurate or complete as they could have been; prepare to ask questions. Having said this, I wouldn't hesitate to go back to The Ivy for a third time. It's perfectly located for a pre- or post-theater dinner in London.

Tentazioni -- I will long remember the superb duck entree I ate at this Italian restaurant. It featured a duck ravioli, which was extraordinary. The thick lentil soup was topped with a unique sausage produced in Modena, and it too was delicious. There is nothing dowdy about the interior, with its crimson walls and funky, modern art. The wine list was expensive, but we splurged on a bottle of Brunello. It was properly decanted. This restaurant is south of the Thames, but it's only a 15-minute walk from the nearest Tube station.

L'Escargot -- Located in Soho, this has been a familiar name on the London dining scene for decades. Although L'Escargot has gone through its ups and downs (and a variety of chefs de cuisine), it is hitting its stride once again. The meal I had there last Saturday night was excellent. The pork fillet was marvelous, and my starter (a gallotine of foie gras) was delightful. Wine prices, especially those Bordeaux reds that Brits refer to as "clarets," were tres cher, but we found a Chassagne-Montrachet premier cru that was a slightly better value. Service was impeccable.

Ping Pong -- This chic but casual eatery features dim sum and other Asian food. The sticky rice with beef and the duck rolls were highlights. I had a blackberry-and-lemon iced tea, which was amazing. The food is so good that one finds it hard to believe that Ping Pong is a chain of three restaurants. Whatever their formula, it seems to be hitting on all cylinders. It attracts a crowd of mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings. Prices are expensive, but not as high as most restaurants in the West End-Soho district.

Orangery -- It wasn't sunny when I had afternoon tea at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens, but it's a beautiful space even when London is clouded over. Plus, a walk through the park is an appropriate way to walk off the calories from the clotted cream.

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