London’s most overrated restaurants: a memoir

London is full of amazing restaurants but there will always be some places that you Just Don’t Get, even though everyone else seems to love them. And that’s okay. These are mine. 

The Ritz

I went to The Ritz a couple of years ago and all I can remember was the actually amazing ladies’ lavs and that Mike had to wear a suit jacket at all times. In my view suits are for weddings, funerals and job interviews, not anything as fundamental to everyday life as lunch, but there you go. I get that it’s all about old-school glamour and it’s true that the dining room is very beautiful, but it’s so stuffy that you end up spending your entire meal trying not to laugh too obnoxiously (fellow cacklers will know what I mean) in case you get asked to leave, which gives the whole experience the same sense of jolliness and joie de vivre as colonic irrigation. Also, they do not publish the wine list online so you can’t prepare yourself for the truly horrifying fact that the cheapest bottle of wine is £47.

In short, the food was good but not memorable, but I can think of 50 other places I’d rather drop £200 on lunch.

Bob Bob Ricard

I went to BBR when I was new to London about eight years ago and was BLOWN AWAY by the whole experience, most memorably the ‘chateaubriand for one’ which at the time seemed like most splendidly decadent thing in the world. To be fair, I was 21 and up until then had considered Pizza Express the last word in fine dining (“So much more authentic than Pizza Hut,”), but this was also before Instagram became infested with literally 14,400 identical #pressforchampagne souvenir photos of the now infamous buttons, and blowhards beaming next to bottles of Bolly. How about you press to fuck off, yeah?

Sketch

Speaking of Insta thirst traps, the inside of Sketch’s blush pink velvet Gallery restaurant and admittedly very cool alien ‘eggloo’ toilets are now such a draw that they have apparently given up on the traditional cornerstones of restaurateuring, i.e. food and service. Even the website is slow and gimmicky…so at least they’re consistent. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Sketch’s two Michelin star Lecture Room restaurant, so for all I know that could actually be pretty decent.)

All this would be okay if it were cheap, or even just reasonably priced, but when afternoon tea comes in at nearly £100pp including a single glass of champagne and service, it’s time to get your finger sandwich fix somewhere else.

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club is not only one of the few places on this list serving objectively bad food – flabby pancakes, claggy fried chicken, and potentially the world’s most dazzlingly lacklustre burger – but is rarely seen without a queue snaking out around the block. These days I consider it pretty rude of restaurants not to use a virtual queuing system so the punters can go and get a swift pint instead of standing in the pissing rain, but there’s no denying a long line is excellent and completely free PR, so I can’t blame them for keeping it up. (See also: Dishoom, Barrafina, etc. But at least the food in those places is worth the wait.)

The one good thing I’ll say about TBC is that the Angel branch does a slamming bingo night on Wednesday nights with a comic compere and some actually decent prizes for £7pp.

Som Saa

I went to Som Saa recently with an East London pal because it had been on my list ever since it opened after rave reviews from more or less everyone and their mother, but given the choice between waiting 90 minutes for Thai unknown or for Gunpowder’s luscious soft shell crab around the corner, the latter will always win.

This time we were resolute, and we finally got a table after an hour or so with some genuinely excellent cocktails in the bar. The food was terrible, offensively terrible. I regret to this day not making A Scene and refusing to pay. To be fair, we did go in the wake of the whole racist chef debacle, who for all we know was actually holding the place together, but there was really no excuse for the £4 bar snack of ‘sour fruits with Som Saa salt’. This turned out to be precisely seven slices of apple and green papaya – the kind you might give to a small child on an aeroplane – and a pile of salt. (For dipping? It wasn’t made clear.) When the waitress came to take us to our table she asked how our shit fruit was, and after a whole ten seconds of awkward silence while we struggled to articulate how rubbish it was without being rude, we proper got the giggles and ended up borderline hysterical, tears running down our faces. Never before has anyone laughed so hard at fruit. (She did end up taking it off the bill though, fair play.) In any case, everyone else seems to love it so maybe we just caught them at a really bad time, but as long as Gunpowder is only 20m away I won’t be going back.

Shake Shack/Five Guys, various locations

I’m using these restaurants interchangeably because I only ever go to them when I’m too drunk to know the difference. I’m upset with them not just because their food is lacking a certain je ne sais quoi – that’s French for ‘flavour, originality and any semblance of value whatsoever’ – but because they have spawned at such an alarming rate, like Japanese knotweed, or bed bugs. These guys are the fuckboys of burger joints: you can’t get rid of them, and you always end up going back to them when you’re pissed.

In its defence, the Five Guys in Covent Garden has taken a lot of crap from me over the years. I have vague recollections of leaning over the counter after an impromptu work night out, pissed as a fart, and demanding to know if the beef was ethically sourced. Instead of just smacking me over the head with a chip pan, which would have been completely justified because I was being a proper twat, the kindly chap behind the counter sent me on my way with a bag of (shit) fries and a sofa fountain refill of (shit) Diet Coke.

Sushisamba

When I posed this question to Twitter, someone threw out Sushisamba and I have to agree. Like most restaurants on this list, the food is not actually bad, per se, just eye-wateringly expensive for what it is. It also doesn’t help that it attracts a lot of City boy wanker types.

I also once mentioned it in a freelance piece of writing online and subsequently had a bit of a row over email with the marketing manager, who wanted me to style its name as SUSHISAMBA. Yeah, I’m not about to pander to your ridiculous brand guidelines at the expense of basic grammar, pal.

What about you? It’s always interesting to hear what everyone else thinks is over- (or under-!) rated, though recently an American pal of mine went to Smokestak and declared it absolute dross, which caused me quite a lot of personal distress. I bloody love Smokestak. Tweet me @CuriouslyEmily.

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.