Central London

Published on August 21st, 2017 | by Ben Southwood

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45 Jermyn St., St James

I think a lot about what restaurants say about London. I’ve lived in and around London basically my whole life and while I don’t wear it on my sleeve and I’m not exactly a jingoistic chauvinist, I’m fairly proud of the place. I’m even proud of London food. But this doesn’t apply to the tourist.

At least a quarter of London’s restaurants are downright bad. Another half are mediocre. Of the final quarter, about half are decent. Just an eighth are actually good to great, the sort of places you’d ever recommend. Maybe it’s even fewer than that I’m just spitballing. So when people come to visit, I worry and worry that they’ll eat badly.

See, it’s easy for us to work out where to go. We have time to spend, local knowledge, and a good idea of where to look to find out more. We know who the reliable reviewers are and who tends to spit corporate guff. We know which bits of town are overpriced traps and which bits are full of hearty regional food. But all these things are more or less out of rich for the out-of-town visitor.

So I latch onto the restaurants that make me proud, and 45 Jermyn St. is one of those. The prices—lofty for my usual budget—don’t matter. These people are on holiday and foreign money is mere monopoly tokens; it doesn’t mean anything. You’re trying to get rid of it, it sometimes feels like.

I want them to step in and see the old world glamour. Discover with pleasure that a restaurant attached to a world famous pricy brand is not a cash in, but something that actually brings extra prestige to the Fortnum & Mason brand. And ask themselves what grouse is and why it has its own separate section. “Who told me that London had bad food?” they’ll wonder.

There will be a movable lamp on their table, bread warm out of the oven, incredibly tender steak tartare, wines that cost hundreds of pounds, pastries with both whole bits of foie lobes and grouse inside, not to mention girolles. There will even be the best lemon tart they’ve ever eaten, if they’re me.

Of course I recommend 45 Jermyn St., because it’s a distillation of one element of what London can and should be.

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