England: Eat streets of London

LAURA PARKER
Last updated 05:10 05/04/2014
London Dining

DOCK KITCHEN: This Moroccan-British-French fusion eatery is located on the Portobello Docks in Ladbroke Grove.

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In the past decade, the rise of modern British cuisine and popularity of cooking programs such as MasterChef have transformed the British capital into a gastronomic playground for the world's top chefs.

There are now 61 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, nine awarded in the past year alone.

This has led to a raft of dining trends originating from London's culinary circles - think gastro pubs, dude food and wine served in pickle jars.

The latest trend is even more left-of-field - experimental drinking and dining that aims to turn an otherwise conventional night out into an experience. We hit up five of London's most forward-thinking establishments.

B.Y.O.C COCKTAIL BAR

B.Y.O.C is probably the world's first cocktail bar that doesn't sell alcohol. The bar, hidden behind a doorway inside a juice bar in London's Convent Garden, requires its patrons to bring their own spirits or wine.

An in-house mixologist then creates made-to-order cocktails from an antique drinking trolley containing everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to juices, mixers, spices, herbs, homemade cordials and bitters.

The bar itself is a renovated basement, a tiny, candle-lit space with exposed brick, church pews and trinkets from the 1920s. Only 18 people can fit in here at a time - tables for two to six people must be reserved in advance. Each "session" lasts about two hours - averaging about four cocktails a person during this time - and costs £20 ($38.85).

Most nights, the patron, Alexei, will pop down for a visit. A former investment banker looking for a change of scenery, he bought the space from an old friend whose business - a pancake shop - had gone bankrupt. B.Y.O.C opened in February and has quickly become a hit with Londoners, who, according to Alexei, are attracted to its exclusivity.

If you do come, try to score a much-coveted Friday night booking. Although the bar technically closes at 11pm, Alexei lets on that the Friday night crowds are the friendliest, usually hanging around chatting and drinking until well past midnight.

Even on a Tuesday night, it is impossible not to make friends - there is just something about 18 people drinking cocktails in a low-lit basement that feels like you are all in on a big, exciting secret.

DOCK KITCHEN

This Moroccan-British-French fusion eatery - this alone is enough to justify an experimental dining label - is located on the Portobello Docks in Ladbroke Grove, overlooking London's Grand Union Canal.

It has converted-warehouse charm - all glass walls, exposed brick and open-plan kitchen. Chef Stevie Parle's inspiration comes from his encounters with exotic international cuisines. This means the menu is full of delicious-sounding but totally indecipherable words such as "zarzuela", "biryani", "miyagawa" and "bondas". However, the waiters are friendly and only too eager to provide a detailed explanation of what each item is, its origin, and how it is cooked.

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The way to experience the best of the menu is to ask for the chef's recommendations - there might be, for example, a new dish he has just brought back from Zimbabwe or Morocco. Otherwise, choose as many impossible-sounding pairings as possible - watermelon with feta, chicken livers with pomegranate molasses, prosciutto with cabbage, artichokes with almond pilaf.

The lamb biryani also comes highly recommended; it's a lamb stew with rose petals, black cumin, coriander and almonds, cooked in a clay pot sealed with dough. Try it with a glass of the homemade rose lemonade, and leave room for dessert.

RESTAURANT STORY

The debut restaurant from 26-year-old chef Tom Sellers, Restaurant Story takes its inspiration from fairytales and childhood memories. (It is also one of this year's Michelin-awarded London eateries, earning its first star just five months after opening.)

Inside, it is cosy and understated - until you get down to the details: the wooden bookshelves that line the back wall, the stuffed birds perched atop door frames, the leather-bound storybook menus on the tables.

Diners can choose from either a six-course menu (£55 a person) or a 10-course menu (£75), each beginning with the restaurant's signature "dish" - a candle made of beef fat, lit at the table and served with warm bread for mopping up the melted remains.

Following that is an array of elegant, English-inspired dishes served on earthenware plates: onions and English plums, scallops, cucumber and dill, potatoes and turnips, shrimp, brown butter, chestnuts and rose, wild duck, apple and bilberry.

For dessert, the rhubarb and custard cream soda is served in miniature old-school milk bottles and drunk through striped straws, while the Three Bears' Porridge comes as a set of three child-sized bowls - one too sweet, one too salty, and one just right. You, of course, are left to figure out which is which.

AMETSA

Inside the luxe Halkin by COMO hotel in Belgravia, Ametsa is a one-Michelin-starred collaboration between world-renowned chefs Elena Arzak - voted Veuve Clicquot's world's best female chef in 2012 - and her father, Juan Mari Arzak. (Their original Arzak restaurant in San Sebastianholds three Michelin stars.)

The Spanish fusion eatery uses locally sourced produce to recreate the traditional dishes and techniques of Spain's Basque region inside a brightly lit dining room with a ceiling made of 7000 yellow glass test tubes filled with spices. The emphasis is on molecular cooking - food that changes form and colour as you eat it.

Dishes include scorpion fish cake wrapped in kataifi pastry served in the form of a lollipop, and a dish called "From egg to chicken", which involves a soft-boiled egg and yolk "paper", over which a clear bouillon is poured to make the latter crinkle and collapse.

Dessert reverts to simple pleasures - chocolate pudding and pineapple ice-cream.

- FFX Aus

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