London - British Isles

rulesdining.jpgRules is the oldest restaurant in London. Situated in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, this eaterie is simply splendid not only for the food but also its history and the pictorial passing of time adorning the walls. Open midday to midnight seven days a week, you can choose to sit where such famous beings as Charles Dickens, William Makepeace, Thackeray, John Galsworthy and H.G. Wells quaffed their wine and filled their bellies with rich cuts of Rib, racks of Lamb, Pies and Oysters. Rules has also appeared in novels by Rosamond Lehmann, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Green, John Le Carre and Dick Francis.

The walls are covered with signed cartoons, drawings and paintings for after all the entertainment world gathered at Rules, from Henry Irving to Laurence Olivier and the history of the London stage is on view. Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and other notables from the art of cinema frequented this quintessential British surround. But the piece de resistance is the King Edward V11 Room, where the Prince of Wales wined and dined the beautiful actress Lillie Langtry.

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cheese02.jpgI don’t get it, I really don’t.  Some people still think that London has lousy food.  London has fabulous food.  The city has seen an intense food revolution in the last 15 years or so, and cooks like Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay are stars here because of what they’ve accomplished there. 

You can now find superb food of every tradition, nationality, and ethnicity in London; food that reflects every new trend, political movement, and neurotic eccentricity; food at any and every price…for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

So I was stunned the other day when I said to my friend Craig that I was going write a column on the best sandwiches in London, and he said, “There are no good sandwiches in London.”  This from a man who grew up there and has only lived here for 12 years!!!

So here is the first part of my rebuttal to Craig, a man who’s clearly eaten one too many meals from a movie catering truck.  And yet he might feel at home…given that you must order all of these standing outside on a line.

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beigel_big.jpgWhat is it with all the Queen’s men? In an earlier piece on great sandwiches in London, I mentioned my British friend Craig, who now lives in LA and told me “there are no great sandwiches in London.” At a recent TV Academy event, I met Steve, a young English director, who said the exact same thing. Even though he admitted that he loved the Brick Lane shop I trumpet below, he later emailed and said: “[I would] argue that 5 or 6 places out of 1000 still means we have a long way to go before we catch up with the US of A.” Then today, adding insult to injury, my friend Colin, who is here visiting from his home in Shepherd’s Bush, said that eating at certain places in Los Angeles is like a religious experience to him! Is he in the same LA I am? London is clearly having a difficult time shedding its age-old reputation as a town where baked beans on toast is a gourmet meal. But listen to me, Craig, Steve, Colin and assorted infidels – you’re out of date and worshipping at the wrong temples! Herewith, more great London sandwiches to try to convert you:

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island-grillThis lively bar and restaurant is situated in the towering Lancaster London Hotel opposite Hyde Park and is a ideal spot to enjoy modern European cuisine served with panache by a friendly staff who have been trained well in the art of taking care of their patrons as well as being knowledgeable about the dishes they are serving and wines they are pouring.

Awarded 2 AA Rosettes for their eco friendly conservancy the restaurant is committed to using local produce when available and the chef early in the morning visits wholesale markets to buy fresh organic foods.

The menu is a mix of contemporary European cuisine and is well received by guests from the hotel and local residents of every nationality who live in the area. An open kitchen gives you the opportunity to watch the chefs at work creating mouth-watering dishes for your enjoyment. The restaurant is split-level with floor to ceiling windows looking out over Hyde Park and is only a minute's walk from Lancaster Gate Tube Station.

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One of my favorite bites of 2009 was a bit of a trek, which is most unfortunate because if I lived nearby I would be a regular. I'd eat there so often they'd probably have to name a table after me. The last time I was there I ate the perfect meal and as simple as it sounds, it's impossible to replicate. Scenery and location are always a bonus and The Smuggler's Speciality Restaurant could qualify for a memorable meal for those reasons alone.

"Smuggler's" as the locals call it, is in Waterville, Ireland at the end of the Ring of Kerry. It's not fancy, inside or out, but it doesn't need to be. It sits on Balliskelligs Bay where the mountains meet the sea and every table has a view. I had been there many years ago and when my best friend Missy and I decided to drive the countryside of western Ireland for a week in September, Smuggler's immediately came to mind. I love their logo "The fish is only fresher if it's in the sea." And I love the directions they give on their website, "One mile from Waterville on a sandy beach."

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