National guides to restaurants can easily be a year out of
date, expensive and therefore frustrating. And, as the current
revelations of a former Michelin inspector in France reveal,
not quite as comprehensive as they claim.
Fortunately, however, we can now benefit from a series of
alternative regional guides, each of which cover their
specific area and which, together with what is offered via the
internet from individual restaurants' websites, add up to a
far more comprehensive picture of what is going on in British
restaurants than has ever been available before.
The final piece of Britain's restaurant jigsaw was suitably completed
on March 1st with the publication of Dining Out in Wales
(£6.95) published under the auspices of the Welsh Tourist Board.
The key to this pocket book's value and its integrity lies as
much in the appointment of its editor, Colin Pressdee, whom I
first met when he was cooking in his own restaurant in Swansea
in the 1970's, as in the information it conveys. Over the past
twenty five years Pressdee has taken on a seemingly
messianical role to bring the best of Welsh produce and
cooking to the notice of anyone who will listen and this book
sensitively combines the details of his acquired knowledge
with a clear layout of the restaurants which demonstrate
culinary best practice.
There are brief descriptions of sewin, welsh sea trout;
laverbread similar to the more revered Nori of Japan; a
growing number of cheeses, whose names such as Gorwydd and
Nant y Bwla will not be found elsewhere in the world and the
brand new Welsh Whisky Company, the first distillery to
operate in Wales for a century.
Amongst my favourite restaurants over the succeeding pages are
the Penhelig Arms in Aberdovey; Cardiff's La Marina,
restaurateur Benigo Martinez's latest outpost, and Le Gallois;
Tyddyn Llan in Llandrillo, Denbighshire where Bryan Webb, once
of Hilaire in Knightsbridge, is now ensconced and Ye Olde Bulls
Head in Beaumauris where our family first ate in 1960 several
decades after its more illustrious visitors and far more
skillful writers, Charles Dickens and Dr Johnson.
This country guide is, however, only a step up from the regional
guides which have been so influential in reviving the fortunes of
the British countryside since the outbreak of foot and mouth. Amongst
the best are A Taste of Lincolnshire
A Taste of Staffordshire
); Flavours of Herefordshire
and The Taste District section of www.golakes.co.uk. There is
also The 2003/4 Trencherman's Guide to the country pubs and restaurants
of the south west of England
published by South West Tourism
although in my opinion a redesign of this guide is now overdue.
Scottish restaurateurs have always suffered in my opinion from the
absence of the equivalent of John and Sally McKenna who did so much
to bring Irish restaurateurs and producers to their well deserved
prominence. But The List (www.list.co.uk
provides via its weekly bulletins put together by 25 freelance and
obviously enthusiastic journalists a comprehensive picture of where
and what to eat in these two buzzing cities.
Other busy metropolises boast their own guides: City Life
Manchester; The Venue
for Bristol and The Juicy Guide
The Good Guide
for Brighton. There are also Time Out Guides
to London, Edinburgh, Dublin and Glasgow although the London
guide still comes in an unwieldy A4 format. With the Zagat
stuck seemingly in a black hole, the most
trustworthy London guides remain Charles Campion's Rough Guide
(£8.99) and Richard and Peter Harden's London Guide
(£9.99) together with their recently published Party
(£9.99.) for those who want to entertain in
more idiosyncratic surroundings such as a dinner party in
Wellington Arch built in 1826 and overlooking Hyde Park
The emergence of these guides is timely particularly for those
in the country whose business really begin to prosper with the
arrival of Easter but they also coincide with two other
The first is the re-issue of Traditional Foods of Britain
Laura Mason and Catherine Brown (Prospect Books
19.50) which describes over 400 foodstuffs that have been
traditionally produced for more than three generations at
least. Many of these - Welsh ham, Lincoln red cattle and the
precise origin of treacle tart (as well as when Golden Syrup
was added to the recipe!) are now happily intrinsic to so many
restaurant menus that we no longer need to fear for their
disappearance - a far cry from the situation twenty years ago.
The second was the visit to London last week of Ferran Adria,
currently, if such a title existed, the world's No 1 chef.
Adria was not here to promote himself, his restaurant or his
cookbooks (recently published in English) but Spain and at the
instigation of the Spanish Government who have cleverly tied
their country's culinary reputation to Adria's rising star.
I know from a lunch with a representative from Visit Britain
), the organisation responsible for
looking after those who visit this country, that their
representatives have the appetite for good food. We now I
believe, and this opinion is confirmed by the plethora of
these regional restaurant guides, have the chefs and
restaurateurs to promote alongside those of any other.
Finally, some short term advice. Many restaurateurs on both
sides of the Atlantic report that their business is now
booming, perhaps because the period between January and Easter
does not see many new openings, but more probably because menu
prices have not risen for some time but demand certainly has.
City and prestigious West End restaurants are now very busy
at lunchtime and Zuma, the exciting Japanese restaurant in
Knightsbridge, had a waiting list of over 100 one night last
If you want to be sure of a table at a particular table do
book well in advance and try to be reasonably flexible with