London Hotels Articles

June 15, 2010

Are the most expensive restaurants in the world worth their price tags?

How much do the most expensive restaurants in the world cost? I have pretty much no idea – perhaps the most expensive restaurant I’ve ever been to is St John in Spittalfield, London. There I paid 60 per person for a three course meal with champagne.

All of which begs the question, so what? Well, 60 per person is far from being the most expensive restaurant you can find, but you might be interested to know that at the time St John was rated as the tenth best restaurant in the world. It’s since slipped down to 15th.

So given that you can pay more than 60 a head in dozens of restaurants in London (let alone the whole world), are diners being ripped off?

Well, not really. St John has a very elegant philosophy of serving dishes consisting of simple ingredients, incredibly well-prepared. The food is exquisite, but not sufficiently intricate to warrant a mega-bucks price tag. A top quality French restaurant will offer dishes featuring a plethora of sophisticated ingredients that take many hours to prepare and are presented with painstaking care. You’re not just paying for the food as such, but for the time and effort lavished upon it by the chef, sous-chef, waiting staff and even the dishwasher.

Expensive restaurants are exclusive, by their nature. You don’t find yourself crammed in the corner next to a table full of snot-nosed children refusing to eat their greens. It’s kind of blissful in that regard. So for the majority of us, eating in one is a truly special occasion, the sort of thing you look forward to, possibly for weeks beforehand. The hefty pricetags stop you from becoming jaded with incredible cuisine.

Even the oft-criticised ‘celebrity chef’ restaurants (where the chef in question is rarely in the kitchen and certainly never actually touched your dinner) are fine in my book. A Gordon Ramsay recipe doesn’t necessarily need to be cooked by Ramsay himself to be spot-on. He formulated the precise balance of flavours and textures – any old berk can follow instructions and bung it in the oven for twenty minutes.

Having said that, given that I’m broadly supportive of fine dining and expensive restaurants, you have to think about what you are paying for? Is the food actually that nice? Or are you feeling honoured to be sitting in the same restaurant as a bunch of third-rate celebrities, basking in their reflected glory and feeling a guilty thrill when you get outside and see papparazzi lining the street? Is it ever reasonable to pay more than a couple of quid for a glass of water (clue: NO)? Do you really want to feel that your waiter is earning more from your single tip than you did that whole day at your own job?

Although you can (and should) pay a fair price for fine dining, there’s little doubt in my mind that, along with everything else, the very highest price bracket contains far too much style at the expense of a great deal of substance.

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