I’m a bit sick of seeing the Sunday newspaper restaurant reviews repeatedly featuring London destinations repeatedly. It can only be justified if:
1. All the best food is in London
2. All the readers are in London
If neither of those things are true it suggests that the critics can’t be bothered to get on a train. the columns certainly suggest this – many reviews of eateries outside the M25 are written with a sneer and describe reluctant trips for other purposes.
I’ve done a little research. The population of London is estimated at 8.3-8.6m and the population of the UK at around 64m. By my reckoning there ought to be a London review once in every seven if we were working on readership (unless of course the quality newspapers are read disproportionately in that city…let’s not even go there). If it was about quality of food then there is an interesting debate to be had. Undoubtedly a disproportionate amount of Michelin stars exist in the capital – or more specifically in Belgravia and Mayfair – but that doesn’t necessarily represent the experience of most Londoners.
My own experience is less uplifting.
Only in London could you see a “French” cafe with a poster on the front window bragging about the price of fish and chips and the full English breakfast. Even more poignantly, only in London would a burger and a pint for £10 be deemed as great value.
I spent half an hour wandering around the Marylebone Road/Baker Street/Lisson Grove area of London looking for somewhere for lunch. I’m not daft, I figured I was going to have to get away from Madame Tussaud’s to avoid tourist quality and prices. What I found was shocking though – gastropubs where all the dishes were £15 plus, hideously overpriced grills and decidedly grubby and unwelcoming looking cafes. They may be excellent and the source of true value but they didn’t look the part from the outside. I was almost resigned to my fate of a snack bar in the station when I stumbled across The Dorset Cafe.
What I discovered inside, on quite a busy Melcombe Street was exactly what I was looking for – a clean, well run cafe with free wifi serving interesting food at reasonable prices. The menu offers an all day breakfast including various takes on Eggs Benedict as well as the usual full English (but even then with vegetarian and Halal options). They have a large range of freshly made sandwiches and wraps but I was looking for something a little more substantial.
The salads and hot dishes looked good. There is a North African/Mediterranean theme to the menu and the Moroccan chicken served with mezzes and pitta bread looked good as did the halloumi option. The salads were good too.
There was a Specials board and the daily dishes on here were interesting. In the end I went for a baked aubergine topped with mozzarella and tomato with a side salad. This was delivered quickly to the table and it looked great. The aubergine was well seasoned and the onion complemented the topping perfectly. The salad was crunchy and had a nice Caesar dressing on it. I ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice in preference to the freshly squeezed carrot juice (with or without ginger). I even had an Americano to finish. In the end I spent the same £10 I could have spent on a pint and a burger but I am betting there wouldn’t be anywhere near as tasty, thoughtful or healthy. 8/10
The Dorset Cafe name suggests cream teas and freshly baked cakes and this is definitely not that. It was a good find and restored my faith a little. The broadsheet reviewers who keep visiting the restaurants on their doorstep need to visit more places that their readers are likely to visit – including the vast majority of their London readers. It is just the same with the holiday and driving sections. They are selling dreams and that isn’t really good reading. As for having a rating for value for money… 2/10