I’m Leicestershire born and bred and am rarely in London these days, so all the restaurants, pubs, etc, my wife and I go to are local. At The Bell Inn, Burton Overy (the next village to ours), the food is magnificent and, according to our son-in-law who is a London financier, one of the best restaurants he’s ever been to. Then there’s the Fox & Goose, Illston (two villages away), which has the greatest beer in the county, plus a good restaurant. And we know the staff at Swatlands, the strangely named Indian restaurant in Oadby, near Leicester. We used to go to London a lot and always visited the same restaurant — Manzi’s in Leicester Street (now sadly closed) — with our four children. The two little ones were given high chairs and, again, we knew all the staff.
Remember that old V&A slogan ‘an ace caff with a nice museum attached’? Andrew Edmunds‘ genius is to sell 18th and 19th century prints and drawings next door to his own restaurant in Lexington Street, Soho. On several occasions a pal and myself, both obsessive about good food and prints, have lunched extremely well there and have then staggered next door to splash the cash on Hogarths, the blow softened by the effects of excellent Sancerre from his scrummy (and very reasonable) winelist. Book upstairs (you can hear better), enjoy the pews, paper tablecloths, candles….the whole louche Soho boho bit. Aaaah, Bistro!
The Greyhound Inn at Sydling St Nicholas sits in a chalk valley just north of Dorchester. The fare is neither gastro nor pub grub, and much of it is locally sourced. To get there in the summer, I cycle 20 miles, passing through Halstock, Rampisham and Cattistock, enjoying a few hours in the beer garden by a trout stream. It’s a rare treat to scoff a beef and wildboar burger, pausing to supp some real ale.
I love to call in at the Modelo Lounge in Hove after a bracing walk along the sea front with Freddie, my golden retriever. Children, dogs, big groups, even people with laptops, are all given a warm and friendly welcome in this relaxed café-bar. Pick a table or a sofa; my own favourite place is the big table in the window. Enjoy the quirky interior with kitsch pictures and eclectic music. Order from a menu that caters for breakfast, coffee and cake; brunch, lunch, cocktails and supper. Stay all day and have the lot. Their sweet potato fries are particularly delicious, and the spiced mulled cider with kraken rum is wonderful on a cold, wet, blustery day — even with breakfast — as long you don’t need to be compos mentis afterwards. Dogs love it because people are always dropping chips on the floor and the staff make a fuss of their four-legged guests.
The cartoonist’s favourite watering hole is usually anywhere that’s open, but I like the Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia, across the road from the studio that I share with colleague Kipper Williams. Recently refurbished and with a history as one of Dylan Thomas’s (many) local haunts, it has sofas upstairs and no music or games machines to disrupt your boozing. Our office canteen is the Spaghetti House on Goodge Street. Open since the invention of pasta, it serves no-nonsense Italian grub washed down with litre carafes of rosso. I’ve spent enough in there for it to become the Spaghetti Palace.
Glass-domed, high, bright and spacious — that’s the Wallace Restaurant in the courtyard of the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, Marylebone. I go there mostly for lunch, or afternoon tea, but also dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. Friendly people look after you and after lunch you can catch up for free with Rembrandt and Canaletto as well as that Smirking Cavalier. A short stroll away in North Audley Street is the award-winning Mayfair Chippy, with a modest frontage and huge meals. Take away or eat in — just make sure you are hungry and that you like fish. There’s also shepherd’s pie and longhorn rib steak for the spoilsports.
I’m not clubbable, but I prefer clubs to restaurants because drink is infinitely preferable to food. The act of digesting food traumatises the body and speeds up the ageing process. I also tend to go where they have some of my work on their walls. At the cocktail bar in the Travellers Club in Pall Mall they serve Pol Roger by the glass. The food is good in the Coffee Room too (naturally, it’s the only room where you can’t get coffee). Around midday, I may go over to the Chelsea Arts Club. The bar is in fact the Billiards Room, and I might get in a quick game of snooker. Mac of the Daily Mail is a very handy player. One should always have a good ‘local’ restaurant and Le Colombier in Dovehouse Street is two minutes away. I used to go there with Eduardo Paolozzi. If I can make it through Oxford Street and Crossrail’s maiming of that part of London I’ll go to the ScandiKitchen in Great Titchfield Street. I like all things to do with herrings and beetroots.
My desert island restaurant has to be Anime e Cuore in Kentish Town. From a tiny kitchen the chefs miraculously conjure up rabbit with fettuccine, caramelised scallops, black spaghetti with clams, and more. It’s unlicensed, so I usually take a nice Valpolicella Ripasso. J. Sheekey near Leicester Square is another top choice. I drew a series of cartoons for them this year so I’m now hooked. I like to prop up their Atlantic Bar next door for native oysters and a flinty Muscadet. We were having a cartoonists’ dinner at Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion in Soho a few years ago when we spotted Gordon Brown. I’ve been back a number of times since, but no sign of Gordon — maybe he realised he was being looked at.
I don’t want choice — surprise me. That’s why one of my favourite things is a set meal. I had a wonderful time in Morito, a Spanish restaurant in Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell — each course included a different glass of sherry. I remember the earlier dishes more clearly than the ones at the end of the evening, but it was all delicious. Lately I’ve been going to Lyle’s in Shoreditch. It has a set meal in the evening and it’s marvellous not knowing what’s coming for the next course.
The Strines Inn east of Sheffield is an isolated country pub with stunning views across the moors and peacocks pottering about outside. Cosy with low beams, a real fire and real ale, it serves humongous Yorkshire puddings filled with beef, veg and gravy. A family favourite destination is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with its restaurant serving homemade cakes, food from locally sourced ingredients and views overlooking the park. The Poseidon Fish Bar in Sheffield is a great local chippy reputed for both quality and quantity. The ‘regular’ fish ’n’ chips can easily defeat two people and almost feed a small family.
I seem to have spent the past 30 years being shouted at by wives (now ex-wives) in expensive restaurants. The Ivy was the place to be seen in, as was J. Sheekey (a great restaurant). Now the Ivy is a chain. No more ‘Hello John, saw the play last night, fabulous! Isn’t that Godfrey Winn over there? Talking to Gilbert Harding?’ Now that everybody is famous for having sexual relationships on TV, what’s the point of rubber-necking?