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bushey

Family Dining in London

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We've decided to surprise the kids with a family trip to London towards the end of February (5 night) and are looking for some restaurant suggestions. Already on the list for consideration are Hunan, Mandarin Kitchen, Cafe Spice Namaste (or Tamarind if we decide to splurge) and Maroush or Patogh for middle eastern. What we need to round out the list are some reasonably priced modern British and Italian restaurants. Also, what's the general scoop on afternoon tea: must-do or must-miss? Any places that do an English breakfast really well?

The three kids are fairly adventurous eaters who like to try new things and enjoy upscale places -- we just don't want to break the bank eating out as a party of five every night. We plan to rent an apartment for our stay so we'll have a fridge and stove available so suggestions for places to get some excellent prepared food would be welcome as well.

Many thanks!

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Ages of kids ? Are you looking for "fun for kids" places ?

Location ? Will you be driving ?

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My recommendations are several years old so they may be out of date, but with that caveat.

Two fun and different mid-priced places that the kids and you might enjoy are the Japanese noodle restaurant, a few minutes walk from the British Museum, Wagamama (sp.), and the multi-sited, Belgo Centraal. Probably the most convenient (Belgo) is the one near Covent Garden -- its other advantage is that the location is around the corner from the Neil's Yard cheese shop, probably the best in London. Neither is fine dining, but both have a techno-English public school appeal.

Wagamama serves lots of veggie and fish noodle dishes, quickly, and for central London, cheaply. The dinner area is in a cavernous basement, a large open hall filled with long tables, served communal style. Just tell your kids it is the equivalent of a Japanese Hogwarts Academy. The noodle dishes are prepared quickly and are usually hot, fresh, and interesting. I don't think there is any or much meat on the menu. I do remember that just before lunch time there was quite a que to get in, but it moved quickly and everybody was good-humored.

Belgo Centraal, is good for French fries, mussles, sausage, and beer. They used to have a lunch for a fiver -- five pounds for a wild boar sausage, mashed potatoes and a decent Belgian brew. I remember two locations with dining options within. The one near Covent Garden had a large communal seating area, as well (I think) as a quieter less hectic group of tables. The basement is accessible through lots of stainless steel, elevators, high tech kitchen clanging, and the final coup, waiters dressed like Belgian beer-brewing monks. The other site I know is in Camden Town or Kentish Town, quite a bit smaller and quieter, but a little more distant from likely tourist haunts. We did take our two kids , then aged 5 and 10, to the North London site and they enjoyed themselves.

Others on this thread, please update and correct my recollections which date back over several years, nearly six.

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Without getting into my own opinions of Belgo and Wagamama, it's worth noting that the situation re. branches has nearly reversed: Belgo has collapsed back to one or two, whereas Wagamama is on every corner.

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Bushey, I'm not sure I'd do Hunan with kids; atmosphere seemed a bit subdued and Chelsea-ish to me. And I'd definitely add Pizza Metro in Battersea to the list. Giraffe (branches around London) would be good for affordable kid-friendly brunches, and Providores/Tapa Room does an adventurous brunch.

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Actually I am curious about your opinion. It struck me that a good reason for their (Waga-Belgo) success was that they captured the essence of the English public school refractory dining experience with slightly better food, loud noisy halls with long tables. In terms of culinary standards, mutatis mutandis, London-Paris, they go with the Flo. For a family with kids, and given their convenient locations -- I assume the Convent Garden one is still in business -- they make sense.

One other amusing place is the ice cream shop at Fortnum & Mason's. The quality of the product compares unfavorably to Northampton's and Boston's Steve Herrels shops, but the scene is fun and they have some unusual concoctions. It is located right near the Jermyn St. shirt shops and is about mid-way between Picadilly and Green Park, though closer to the latter. Since Fortnum's is every foreign foodies mecca, it might be worth a quick stop. Many years ago I remember seeing the late lamented John Bellushi scarfing down an ice cream sundae, no pepsi.


Edited by VivreManger (log)

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I am not going to agree on the Ritz

I often take my visiting Elmer Fudds to tea in London and by far the most disappointing in recent memory was The Ritz

Claridges is probably my fave right now

Browns is very good indeed

The Waldorf is acceptable and better when they have the tea dance

For a more simple but very good tea, Fortnums is not bad

The Dorchester is to be avoided at all costs

S

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Browns for tea.

Sea Shell for fish and chips.

Rules for the ye old England thing.

Royal China for dim sum.

The Dorchester for Sunday Roast.

Pizza Metro for Italian/pizza.

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I am with kikuJ on Waga and Belgo. They are execrable places for 20 somethings who think that ( as my assistant said last week ) " the food was shit but it was really cheap so it was great"

These places deserve all the vile comments the recieve

S

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Wow, you guys are speedy.

Vivre, funny you should mention Belgo and Wagamama. I neglected to say that Belgo was on our list because our youngest adores mussels. My husband sent me a link to Wagamama yesterday after a friend who visited recently told him about it. Seems chain-ish but the menu appeals. Maybe both of these places for lunch?

The kids are 8, 14 and 16 and not into cutesy places or the usual "family dining" kinds of restaurants. I think they'd enjoy Hunan greatly, based on my experience there.

Simon, thanks for the tea recommendations. I was thinking of a substantial afternoon tea as an alternative to an early dinner pre-theater, if we can get tickets. Are reservations for tea a must? What about attire? What kind of food is generally served i.e. is my husband going to want to grab a burger afterwards?

Is Pizza Metro just a pizza place or do they offfer other fare?

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Well, as you say, I think they're both more successful atmosphere than food. In the same style (big square tables instead of long benches) is Busaba Eathai, a kind of Thai-ish Wagamama, on Wardour St, where I think the food has a considerable edge on Wagamama and the decor is more interesting (same team). [simon will probably shoot me for suggesting this place]

I still go to Wagamama very occasionally when I need to eat quickly before a film; there is now one in Leicester Square. But not for the food, which seems insipid these days. Much better ramen to be had on Brewer St in Soho.

Am with Simon on Claridges.

There's no way you'll want icecream in Feb, but if you do, come out of Royal China on Queensway (Mogsob's dimsum rec is spot on for kids; also good value), turn right, right when you hit the park, and immediately on your right is an Italianate i/c shop that is rather good.

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As for prepared foods, the Marks & Sparks food halls have an amazing variety of cheap kid-friendly products. The Indian and Greek foods are better than anything they have access to in western Mass. In my starving, rushing student days, I used to survive on M&S chicken tikka. Their English puddings are much fun -- trifles of custards, jellos, fresh and canned fruits. The other puddings are much superior to the American supermarket equivalent. Towards the end of the day, their shelves can be stripped bare so don't wait to shop. Depending on where you are staying the food halls at Selfridges (West End) and Harrod's (Knightsbridge) are certainly worth a visit and may produce something worth eating. Kikujiro is the resident expert on Pret a manger, another multi-site source of decent quick prepared salads and sandwiches.

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Is Pizza Metro just a pizza place or do they offfer other fare?

No, they have very good pasta and fish, and probably meat dishes but I've never tried. When I eat there as opposed to taking away I usually end up with pasta or fish, not pizza, although if you just go once you should have the pizza.

Also a great selection of antipasti (you can look and choose).

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Pizza Metro is great for Italian food in general, not just pizza. Pumpkino could probably deliver a 1,000 words essay on the subject.

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Assuming that Claridge's has no children's menu, the afternoon tea would cost your family of five more than $200. I doubt that Brown's would be much cheaper, but it is worth a call.

By the way, depending on how much your bank charges for foreign ATM withdrawals, there seems to be a 2% difference between credit card and ATM cash withdrawal exchange rates. The credit card is more expensive. This calculation is based on recent experience in France and Switzerland. Obviously each credit card can vary. The best way to save money is to make a large cash withdrawal initially and minimize credit card purchases. Obviously I am talking about ATM cards NOT credit card cash advances.

Some banks in western Mass. even offer free foreign withdrawals depending on your minimum balance.

I have to confess to a prejudice against Italian restaurants in England. Growing up in southern New England with large Italian (southern to be sure) populations has given me access to varied Italian restaurants and provisions. New Haven and Providence Pizza is excellent and Northampton (MA), while not in the same league, is respectable. I just don't think that English Italian is that great, but it has been years since I have put my prejudice to the test and I should like a chance to be proven wrong. Based on this prejudice, I can never bring myself to eat Italian outside of Italy, when travelling away from home. However I do have a confession, the first time I ever ate freshly made zabaglione was at Quo Vadis in London, about 45 years ago. I was someone's guest for lunch. It was delicious, though nothing else from that meal was at all memorable.

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However I do have a confession, the first time I ever ate freshly made zabaglione was at Quo Vadis in London, about 45 years ago.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

London has some of the best Italian restaurants outside of Italy. Italian restaurants in the States are good, but not really the real thing. See Pumpkino, Peter "Real Italian Restaurants" 2001 to date.

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Vivre, when you put it in black and white $200 does seem sort of stiff for tea and sandwiches. Maybe we'll check out Fortnum & Mason. I bet you're right about the pizza situation. We probably won't find anything like Joe's Cafe.

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Bushey: "We probably won't find anything like Joe's Cafe."

Actually I usually prefer Paradiso or La Pazzaria Nini's, the latter when I crave a big hunk of hot grease and dough. However at Paradiso I wish they would use whole slices of prosciutto instead of the skimpy pre-cut tiny bits. None of it looks as good as Otto's, though I have my doubts about griddling it. I presume that Spoleto's Express is just like Paradiso. Pinochio's looks better than it tastes. Fresh Pasta's pizza is horrible. On your recommendation, I will try Joe's but I never got past the old politically incorrect large gentleman of the Mexican persuasion. Somehow I find the thought of Mexican pizza as unappealing as Tower of Pizza Greek.

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Vivre, when you put it in black and white $200 does seem sort of stiff for tea and sandwiches.

Hmm -- I appreciate that individual orders of coffee/tea might be expensive too, but is it clear that Claridge's portions for afternoon tea would not be large enough for fewer than five portions of the food to be ordered? Do members have input on portion size at Claridge's? (Note I have never sampled tea there)

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And don't forget Le Pigalle. First you get to walk your children through Soho's sex shop district. Then you get to "take in" the detritus of the Berwick Street market. But the place is clean, Francois is a hoot, and the food is inexpensive and very good. The best dishes are the long-simmered ones: either those Francois tells you about or those found on the last page of the menu: cassoulet, coq au vin, souris d'agneau. Highly recommended.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Any places that do an English breakfast really well?

For an English breakfast you'll never forget you should try the Ten Deadly Sins at Simpson's in the Strand. It'll cost for five of you but then again you're unlikely to want to eat again that day. Don't plan on doing anything too strenuous afterwards.

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agreed Tony, the only thing at SImpsons worth having is the breakfast. It is fabulous.

It is about £17 a pop, but it will probably set you up for a couple of days let alone just that day. Although I do remember one author I took there who had the full works ( including an extra portion of fried bread ) and then went straight from there to meet his agent at Rules!!

He is now dead.........

S


Edited by Simon Majumdar (log)

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Bushey, do you have to eat with your kids EVERY night? Why not leave them in the flat with a take away and a video one night and take yourselves out to a high end place without them?

See the London Dining thread for lots of suggestions.

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