Whenever it is suggested travelling south or north of the Thames to visit an ‘amazing’ restaurant I usually start conjuring up excuses. Across London seems a journey too far for food – but going across an ocean for it can be worthwhile.
In NYC last year, I found myself with an evening off and, staying in the Lower East Side, made my way to the Bowery Meat Company. The menu was perfect: steak and seafood, excellent cocktails, and sides which included sublime creamed spinach and whipped potato that threatened to float off the plate.
I usually eat oysters naked, but Bowery’s version – baked under a parmesan crust – was irresistible. The steak was thick, juicy and cooked to perfection, the fries hot and crunchy. With the ambience of a serious steak house (meaning dark colours, low lighting and proper tableware), it has the perfect people-watching atmosphere. My gin martini (very dry, straight up, olive) was served by a double of Alex, the waiter from The Kominsky Method.
An easier trek, thanks to Eurostar going direct from St Pancras, is a little place in Lille, ten miles from the Belgian border in France. The journey time is about the same as trekking to the outer enclaves of south-west London, and it’s worth every second: La Fleur de Lille is pitch perfect. A classic brasserie, I found it during the time I was deep in researching the trafficking of women from Albania into the Belgium and surrounds. I badly needed cheering up, and it succeeded. Nestled among many others in the old town, La Fleur is no tourist trap. Roomy, with large tables, comfy seats and an attractive design (exposed brick, but it looks good here), it is exceptionally good value, even when you throw in an off-peak return on the Eurostar from London.