London’s best restaurants by Ian Fleming…
Part of the mystique of the original James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming was the inclusion of Bond’s love of good food and drink. Bond proper, was a heavy drinker and smoker who enjoyed fine, rich food served in top hotels and restaurants around the world. How different his life must have seemed to the working class man commuting to work on a cold and wet day in 1950s England. It was indeed different and for those with money there were a number of grand hotels and restaurants in London serving food firmly entrenched in the classical French tradition, and Fleming, like his fictional character, felt perfectly at home in them.
Writing for American Holiday Magazine in a collection of essays published in 1960, Fleming gives their American readers a whimsical guide to eating in London. He defends English food but not its cooks and one finds it difficult to argue his point fifty or more years later; “The problem in England is how to eat good English food without bad English cooking” Very true! He believes English food to be the best in the world, unsurpassed in his view are “Colchester and Whitstable oysters, all English fish, particularly Dover soles; Scottish smoked salmon; potted shrimps; lamb cutlets; roast beef; York ham, nearly all the English vegetables, particularly asparagus and peas, English savouries and most English fruits”
Thankfully he covers the essentials too, a good Martini, of which one “is extremely difficult to get anywhere in England” American readers are told to order a double in a hotel but his method for asking for one in a pub is priceless; “The way I get one to suit me in any pub is to walk calmly and confidently up to the bar and, speaking very distinctly, ask the man or girl behind it to put plenty of ice in the shaker (they nearly all have a shaker) pour in six gins and one dry vermouth (enunciate “dry” carefully) and shake until I tell them to stop”
You just know that he did that! So, what were Ian Fleming’s favourite London restaurants in the 1950s? Here’s his list:
Wheelers (Old Compton Road)
He leaves us with one parting shot; “If one eats badly in England-or in any other country, for that matter-it is generally one’s own fault”
Categories: Retro Heaven
I’ve eaten at two of his favourite restaurants – not too shabby
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Erich, You are a lucky man. Interesting to note that many remain to this day, Wheeler’s for example, it’s tried and tested. Still going strong.
Thank you for a very fun article. What is the title of the collection of essays by the way?
Glad you liked the post Revelator60, thank you! The article was published in the book ‘The World’s Fine Food’ by American Holiday Magazine which was published by Simon & Schuster. It is a large coffee table format book which you may be able to get via a good antiquarian book dealer.
I can attest to the Whitstable Oysters!
On some of those restaurants:
L’Etoile (the one on Charlotte St.?)
Overton’s (no longer; formerly opposite Victoria Station)
Pimms (not sure)
Scott’s (moved to new location)
Not sure re location or change of name, whatever the ownership (Marco Pierre White et al) it is encouraging to know many of them still exist, a real part of our heritage in many ways. Thank you for the additional information, it really is appreciated.
He also frequented El Vino on Fleet Street and one would imagine Rules, whose many famous patrons include Graham Greene.
Didn’t know of El Vino, what a good addition, thank you. Rules, I would have thought almost certainly!
Great piece, thanks! Any idea which restaurant is in that picture?
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Hi Clare, welcome to the site. I’m afraid I don’t know but it looks my idea of heaven!!