Fergus Henderson's restaurant, St John, in London's Smithfield district, has won the inaugural London Restaurant of the Year award at this year's London Restaurant Awards, which were held last week at the Grosvenor House hotel, Park Lane. The awards themselves are in their sixth year, but this particular accolade has been introduced as an overall title and is open only to the winners of the evening's 13 other categories.
Commenting on St John, which also carried off the British Restaurant of the Year honour as a result of its commitment to English cuisine and ingredients, restaurant critic Charles Campion - a member of the judging panel - said: "St John is one of a kind. Resolute and principled, this restaurant typifies all that is best about British food." The restaurant, of which Henderson is joint proprietor and head chef, is renowned for serving offal.
Giorgio Locatelli, who won a Michelin star for Zafferano in 1999, carried off the Outstanding London Chef accolade. Currently consulting at the capital's new 86-seat Cecconi restaurant in Burlington Gardens, Locatelli's future as chef-proprietor at Zafferano has been the subject of industry speculation.
"It's been an up-and-down year so far and winning this is fantastic. I hope it means things are getting better. It's a great birthday present, too," said Locatelli, who celebrated his 38th birthday last weekend.
The growing influence of southern- and eastern-rim Mediterranean cuisine was recognised for the first time at the awards with the addition of the Middle Eastern Restaurant of the Year category. The inaugural winner was Lebanese restaurant Al Waha, which was commended by judge Bill Knott for matching "top-class Lebanese food with impeccable service and low prices".
Other winners included The Square, where Philip Howard's exemplary cooking earned it the title of French Restaurant of the Year, and Le Gavroche, which was honoured for its celebrated front of house standards as well as having the London Restaurant Academy Award of Excellence bestowed on it for maintaining its fine standards of cuisine and service for more than 15 years.
By Joanna Wood
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