And England has had higher expectations than most, since one of the most famous Englishmen of them all sent those flags up the pole. With the traditional exception of food, of course. Britain hasn’t been famed for the culinary prowess of its chefs, not until recently, anyway. Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Jamie Oliver are turning the tide of international public perceptions, gradually. America chef Anthony Bourdain has done his bit too. You can watch his London to Edinburgh documentary on YouTube – parts 1, 2 and 3.
As far as eating in England is concerned I have mixed expectations when I dine out. There is a fabulous range of international restaurants to choose from in London. It has become, along with New York and a few other US cities, one of the best places in the world to go for a good meal. There are still plenty of rotten establishments, and selecting your venue for the evening can be full of hidden pitfalls. Food poisoning being one of the main pitfalls. Outrageously bad service being another.
Paola and I ate out at a few locations last week during our trip up town. But three stood out. First stop was Kumo in Knightsbridge. I’d bought a Groupon for £18 which entitled us to a platter for 2, plus desserts. The photos on Groupon looked nice. The price for a meal for two in prestigious Knightsbridge was equally appealing. The reviews I read about the place online, especially from Groupon voucher customers, were not so promising. My expectations were very low. I could see a pair of Tesco’s sushi rolls, a pinch of rice and a miserly scoop of supermarket brand vanilla ice cream awaiting us. But the joy of having such low expectations is that you’re rarely disappointed.
The bar/restaurant was in a basement, which was one of the gripes reviewers had had about the place. But I thought it was a very well appointed basement, in a thoroughly charming street in a particularly delightful part of town. The platter was of a reasonably generous size. Paola’s cocktail, at an extra cost of £5 was delicious. We left Kumo upbeat and satisfied. Would we return, or recommend it? What we got was great for £18. The normal price was nearer £60. And frankly, that’s a bit steep for us. But it does all depend on one’s expectations. If you have an hour to kill before viewing that nice penthouse in Mayfair, and a positive ton of shopping loaded in your Harrods bags, and really don’t want to walk far, then it’s not such a bad place.
Second stop was Wahaca. The spelling might look unfamilar, but the pronunciation sounds just right. It’s a small, and relatively new, chain of Mexican restaurants. The owner is Thomasina Miers, a Masterchef winner and Mexican street food fanatic. Her restaurants came onto our radar when we watched her Mexican Food Made Simple series on Channel 5 earlier this year. It was a fun show, and a lot more authentic than most Mexican cookery programmes. Our expectations were high. Which is always a sure fire way to disappointment. The Horchata arrived. Watery and a bit urgh. The menu wasn’t that expansive and featured some pretty Tex Mex stuff.
But there were some real Mexican tacos there. I chose cochinita and chicken in a mole sauce. Not cheap, but not pricey. And they did taste just right. I’d describe Wahaca as easily the best Mexican restaurant in the UK. But there was something missing from this restaurant. The Mexican experience. The sound of chattering Spanish voices. The beep beep of car horms. The hum of the city. I was tempted to cough up something nasty and spit on the floor, just to contribute what I could to the genuine Mexican street market experience. But I didn’t think it would go down that well.
Third stop was the Gourmet Burger Kitchen. We’ve been there twice before. We have a Tastecard, which entitles us to a 2 for 1 discount. And the burgers are the finest I’ve had in London. they have restaurants all over the place. this is one restaurant I go into with high expectations, which have been met, so far, on every occasion.