When was the last time you went to a restaurant without knowing anything about it? Walking into a place that you haven't seen on Twitter, or read in a newspaper, or heard about from your cool friend? I can't remember when I did. But if I do go into somewhere I know nothing about, I am uneasy. But why? London contains tens of thousands of restaurants. Not all of them are being talked about or more importantly, visited in their thousands because it's trend-driven and restaurants are talked about for being new, or for doing something controversial. Well, not all of the restaurants are doing something controversial. Some of them are just being good, quietly.
The ones that are are in several categories:
- The 'cool' restaurants - They've been open under one and a half years, they're in all the papers still and they are still the darlings of Twitter. Nobody dares to criticise them for fear of being ousted from the cool circles. Possibly involving something meaty or fried. (ie. MEATLiquor, Burger & Lobster, Hawksmoor, anything Russell Norman)
- The old favourites - The old hotels and restaurants that have been there since we can all remember, that are safe bets. (ie. The Wolsley, The Ivy, J Sheekey)
- Restaurants near stations - They will always be full because of lazy tourists who don't research before they come here.
- Chain restaurants - They're a safe bet in a city you don't know (but you'd never admit to going there). Simple.
But what about the unknown quantity? The countless Italian trattorias, the reams of dim sum places and the weird vegetarian cafe that's always intrigued you. You, as a cool London foodie, never go there, because your list of fried chicken and hotdogs is just too big. You want to spend your hard-earned money on somewhere cool, somewhere that you know will be good (and you know it will be because it's Burgerac's second favourite burger ever and it's got an average of 8.5 on hot-dinners)! If you go into somewhere you don't know, it might not be cool. It might play shit music, and worst of all, it might not be good. With the excess of information available to us at the moment, we want to know as much as possible but I'm tiring a little of that. You go into the restaurant knowing everything about it and you've probably seen five different angles of the same dish on instagram. Where's the element of surprise?
Walking into somewhere you've just noticed because you liked the look of it: that's exciting. Walking around and not knowing where to go can be good, because there are those 'hidden' places that no-one talks about but are brilliant. How can you discover them when you only go where everyone else is going, to tick them off your list?
So next time you're thinking of going to dinner, turn off Twitter and trust yourself. Walk around Soho or wherever you are. Find somewhere that looks good. Consider it. Does it look like somewhere you'd enjoy? Is it busy? (this doesn't always work, though. Angus Steak House is always busy. It doesn't mean it's good). And if you go inside and have a look at the menu and realise it's not somewhere you'd like, you can leave. It may make you feel uncomfortable for a few minutes, but it's better than sitting somewhere for two hours being miserable (like anywhere that you go) But at least you've tried.
Here are some places I've stumbled across without hearing about them before:
Cheap & Cheerful tiny BYO curry cafe in the style of Tayyabs without the queues or the hype. No Lamb chops but lamb korai is just as good.
Great value Thai owned by the sister of Alan Yau and her Thai husband. Not many people know that. Check out the amazing £6.80 set lunches.
Perfect date venue kind of French place. Great Andrew Edmunds style feel, friendly. Good wine.