It has long been a dream of ours to try the food of esteemed chef Angela Hartnett, we didn’t imagine it would be in a crowded cinema corridor, but we can tell you – it was worth the wait.
This afternoon’s lunchtime chat was about London’s obsession with food, and by the manner in which the audience snapped up the canapés, obsession might be an understatement. Hosted by Jon O’Donnell, managing director of ESI Commercial with a panel including food critic and creative director of London Food Month, Grace Dent, chef and restauranteur Angela Hartnett and luxury events & world class manager at Diageo, Dan Dove.
The discussion began by breaking the news that London Food Month would be hosted at Kensington Gardens, much to the excitement of press in the audience, and went on to discuss restaurant culture, the impact of social media and a rather horrendous sounding dessert called ‘sex on the beach.’
Jon started by asking the panel how important experience is in London’s food and drinks scene. The resounding answer from the panel was yes. “Restaurants are no longer a temple of gastronomy where you sit in silence. The choice is out there and you have to move with the times rapidly or be left behind.” Hartnett’s view expressed here was shared by the rest of the panel, with Dent adding that “It’s the food and the quirks. People want something they can tell other people about.”
With around 250 new restaurants opening each year in London, it’s undeniable that the UK capital is a foodie hub. O’Donnell highlighted that it’s the melting pot of cultures in London that is making it one of the best cities to eat in the world. Dent is a little more direct about the point stating, “I’m not bashful about it, London is the best place that you can eat!” The panel is (of course) right. With the mix of cultures and hugely diverse population in London, we are spoilt with a culinary trip around the world.
Rather than just blowing London’s own (delicious) trumpet, Dent then goes on to touch upon one of the most wonderful aspects of food and dining. “We find a real solidarity in each other in food, because we might read the news and we go – this all looks really gloomy and as if we don’t all get along. That’s rubbish. We are all sitting and eating together and sharing each other’s cultures.” This is perhaps one of those beautiful truths about food that can be lost in trends and restaurant reviews. The power of food to bring people, culture and places all together over one shared pleasure.
Social media has undoubtedly impacted the world of food and how restaurants and the industry promote themselves. Instagrammers like Clerkenwell boy have a phenomenal influence on the industry and the success of those in it. Dent explained how critics like herself used to set the rules of where to eat but that social media has “thrown this out the window.” Dove shines a light on our obsession with images of food and drink, saying that visuals go hand in hand with experience, with some bars even hiring photographers and videographers to enhance this.
However, it isn’t all praise for social media, for all that Dent applauds Instagrammers for their incredible work ethic, she highlights that this isn’t a platform where people are comfortable to name and shame and as such you only ever see good reviews – one side of the story.
With three of the UK’s top experts on food and drink at one stage, it would be rude not to ask what are their favourite bars and restaurants in London.
For Hartnett, one is too few and so she offers up three: Noble Rot, Slocum & Ferris and east London BYOB institute Lahore’s. Dove’s favourite bar is The Connaught in Mayfair and for Dent, as she so elegantly put it, “my favourite is Colony Grill. I like to go somewhere on a Friday where they call me madam and there is a table cloth.”
Now there’s some food for thought.