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London Dining

The American Bar

The Stafford

Move over 21 Club. You've got a competitor on the other side of the pond. The American Bar, the more casual of the two dining rooms in the Stafford Hotel, which has been managed by Kempinski since Feb. 1010, is the most decorated restaurant I've ever visited. Although the food and service are more than commendable you wouldn't mind if they weren't. In fact you might not even notice. In talking about the several rooms that make up the bar, manager Benoit Provost said, "The museum is free of charge."

The American Bar at the Stafford Hotel

There's not a vacant space on the ceiling or wood-paneled and forest green walls. Here goes—signed photos from the glitterati in the worlds of theater, movies, sports and politics. Badges, pennants, soccer helmets, neckties with club logos, gimme-caps embroidered with monograms of many teams. Well, you get the idea—clutter, definitely yes, but fun also yes. The tables are low and the chairs are comfortable, just as they should be in a homey atmosphere. We were surprised that the food was served on lap trays, but that was novel, too. The American Bar was full by early evening. Its club-like atmosphere has garnered quite a following and it seemed as though it was difficult to get seated without a reservation. If it's just a drink you're after, you'll be served substantial nibbles to get you through the cocktail hour.

The menu was varied and many dishes were standard American classics. We started with endive, apple and walnut salad with Roquefort dressing. All the ingredients were fresh, pristine and combined nicely. The salad was so large it was practically a meal. One of our entrees were great sausages with yummy creamed potatoes; the other, medallions of halibut with linguine and clams. The fish was first-rate, but the pasta was thicker than spaghetti. Something slightly more delicate would have enhanced this preparation. Warm Devonshire apple cake, caramel sauce and cinnamon ice cream made a great finish.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marborough 2009, was crisp, light and perfect for the season. Stafford Claret was tad too astringent.

That old canard that English food is dull and bland has long been left behind. But if you have a hankering for the dishes you eat at home like hamburgers and club and Rueben sandwiches, lobster bisque, tuna steak, and carrot cake, head for The American Bar. And don't forget, there's no charge for gawking at the memorabilia.

The American Bar, The Stafford London, St. Jame's Place, London SW1A 1NJ. Tel. 44 (0)20 75181253

Fall 2010


Savvy travelers have taken notice. Hotel restaurants are no longer dark, stuffy spaces that move in-house guests to yawn and run for their keys. The Terrace, located in Le Meridian Piccadilly, reopened in March 1999 and made a splashy re-entrance into the London dining scene after a major overhaul in the kitchen and dining room.

An expansive greenhouse wall and roof of the bilevel room, one flight up from the lobby, run the length of the building and overlook the lively action on Piccadilly Road. On the opposite side granite blocks and oversized windows continue the cavernous contemporary design. And to tie in with the "of the moment" theme, large dramatic tableware is painted with black and white Picasso-like strokes. Since the cuisine is bistrot-style, a creation of the French culinary master, Michel Rostang, why not serve it on plates that evoke the country where Picasso worked?

Pascal Even, head chef, carries out his mentor's directive with painstaking perfection. Every dish is imaginative and up-to-date. Dinner begins with an amuse bouche of addictive tiny and tasty morsels, fried cheese squares. Rostang likes the contrast of warm and cold elements in appetizers. The tantalizing combination of tangy Beaufort cheese and warm artichoke terrine played off a lightly dressed pourpier salad. Smoked salmon contrasted nicely with barely heated leeks in vinaigrette.

Entrees were outstanding. Tender roasted veal was drizzled with melted fourme d'ambert, a bleu, and paired with savory walnut-chicory cake. Roasted sweetbreads were lethally rich and sided with crispy asparagus in a sauce of Parmesan and Noilly Prat. The chef often uses cheese in his preparations, but the tastes are never repetitive.

The not-too-gooey desserts appeal as a finale to a rich meal. The brown sugary taste of caramelized grilled pineapple combined well with the tart flavor of lemon sorbet and rhubarb cake satisfied the sweet tooth without adding a big sugar rush.

Terrace offers a broad selection of wines by the glass. The fruity Bordeaux, Chateau Bleacher '96 Cotes du Castling is a popular choice.

Terrace Le Meridian Piccadilly, 21 Piccadilly Road, and London WIV OBH. Tel. 071 465 1642. Open seven days, lunch and dinner. Moderately expensive.

Putney Bridge

We arrived at Putney Bridge one minute late, the kitchen closes at 2:30 p.m., and were denied lunch. The manager offered some snacks in the bar, which took the edge off our hunger. But the food did not demonstrate the chef's skill or perhaps lack of it.

The setting is spectacular. Named for the eponymous bridge, near which it sits on the bank of the Thames, all tables at the modern and stylish looking, two-storied restaurant overlook the river. During the day you can watch the sculling.

Located in a quiet residential outlying area, it is best reached by the underground.

Putney Bridge Restaurant & Bar, Embankment, London, SW15 1LB. Tel. 0181-780-1811. Open seven days, lunch and dinner. Moderately expensive. www.putneybridgerestaurant.com

Spring 1999