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Travel + Culture

Eating it up in London


I end up in London about this time every year because of a big international conclave called World Travel Market. Even though there are countries represented from all over the world at WTM, the show itself is never very interesting. Many people hang out around their booths dressed in their native attire, but I always wonder how many of them look like that back home. Travel companies that don’t have a specific country to call their own must get attention in other ways, like running some poor fool around the convention floor dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants.

Everyone says they absolutely must attend WTM, but I suspect that nobody really knows why they do, unless it’s to eat dinner in London, which is all anyone talks about on the convention floor anyway. So far, I’ve been to Tom’s Kitchen, a casual new place from big-deal chef Tom Aikens that had been open only one night before I had dinner there. I was surprised to see Fay Maschler, the veteran food critic from the Evening Standard, walk in, only to be joined a few minutes later by Terry Durack and Jill Dupleix, two other food writers of note. To see these very recognizable critics all sitting at the same table suddenly made London seem a very small town. It was pathetic to see the staff suddenly fawning all over them as the service for everyone else went into slo-mo. The food was wonderful, though especially the plump and tender mussels from Devon, and the mood was much less fussy than at Aikens’ eponymous Chelsea restaurant around the corner.

Then I went to Theo Randall on opening night. Randall was head cook at River Cafe for years under Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. Now he has his own place in the InterContinental Hotel on Hyde Park corner. His ultra-modern kitchen has a wood-burning oven right in the middle of all the stainless-steel appliances, and the food, from the buttery ricotta ravioli to the wood-roasted lamb, brought back fond memories of a long-ago dinner at River Cafe. Tonight I’m thinking how nice it would be to stay in and order room service. Maybe I’ll see if SpongeBob wants to join me.