Then there are restaurants that provide classic dishes from a national source. We all have our favourite curry house that we claim to have the best take-out or a pizzeria or a special place that’s formal and French that we go to for special occasions.
St John and Peter Luger fall in a category of their own. Restaurants that serve quintessentially local fare and are damn proud of it.
People often slate British cuisine. Berlusconi infamously said “After Finland, Britain is the country with the worst food”. Now I am one of the few that will defend the cuisine from our fare isle to my grave. Contrary to popular belief, British food is all about togetherness. From eating in a greasy spoon with friends when hung-over (there’s nothing better than Marmite with eggs and beans to nurse the pain away) to uniting with the family on Sundays for a roast. Sticky toffee pudding, boiled sweets, apple crumble and creamed teas.
This hypothesis doesn’t stop there; the basis ingredients reflect this too. Comforting carbs like potatoes, a variety of rich game meat, earthy root vegetables such as beetroot and parsnips, warm chestnuts and even fresh rhubarb with creamy custard. Spices from India, cocoa from Africa and dates from the Orient. The influence from around the globe is limitless.
This is what St John takes pride in, the catch is that it is head to tail dining so your dandelion salad may be accompanied with ox heart or woodcock brain. The food is divinely flavourful (don’t get me started on the bone marrow) and despite the quirks, incredible accessible.
Economic British cuisine at its best: not fussy just raw and robust. Stripped bare and handed to you on a silver platter with giblets and heaps of salt. If you haven’t been, go in a large group and order the whole roasted pig. Now. And take a box of Madeleines away, they are perfect to nurse your hangover the next morning.
Nestled in a corner just across and under the Williamsburg bridge in Brooklyn lies New York City’s best steak joints (in my opinion, at least!).
A true establishment, there is nothing healthy nor new New York about this place. No macrobiotic menus, no raw bar, just grilled prime USDA meat with fries, bacon, the odd salad and an obligatory secret sauce that is a hybrid of ketchup and HP sauce. Bliss.
The restaurant is understated too, a large foyer for walk-ins to enjoy a glass of wine as you wait, a cash-only policy and fixtures that resemble more TGI Fridays than Maze Grill. (Apologies, I cannot help but sink my teeth into Gordon Ramsay when I get the opportunity).
This is New York. Wholesomely nostalgic cuisine at its best. Along with candy canes at Christmas, burgers to nurse another hang over, bagels with cream cheese and lax, pecan pie and everything Americana.
All to often we forget where we come from and what we grew up eating. Emerging countries in the Middle East aspire to be the next destination hot spot and spur a number of outposts from Zuma to Santi Santamaria. Restaurants to be seen at by the elite and jet set. These places are fun but the attention is away from the plate and more about what you wear and Champagne one-upmanship.
Given the recent recognition of St John by the Michelin community with one star (Peter Luger has had it for a while but remains the only steak house with this coveted honour), this may be about to change. I hope.