Now it’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten, today announcing that he’ll open a restaurant next spring at the famed Connaught Hotel in London’s posh Mayfair district. Previously, Marcus Samuelsson revealed that he will transport Red Rooster to Shoreditch, taking his Harlem-based hit and interpreting it for chic Londoners. Stockholm is certainly closer to England than any of the five boroughs (well, except maybe Staten Island), but sophisticated Swedish cuisine will land in London via midtown Manhattan when Aquavit opens in London in 2017 as well. Why are NYC’s restaurateurs bypassing Brooklyn for new locations on their way “across the pond,” as they say?
“London is the capital of the world,” Shimon Bokovza, the founder and CEO of Sushisamba, recently told Bloomberg’s Richard Vines for his story “America’s Best Food Invades London.” Bokovza’s sushi import and another restaurant, Duck & Waffle, have proven very successful, as have other recent offerings from U.S.-based groups. Vines provided a neat summation of this trendlet, citing current and past invaders such as Nobu, Cut (Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse) and Shake Shack, while noting that some restaurateurs haven’t been greeted very warmly in London.
Still, the appeal of London is clear: While its “capital of the world” status is debatable, its restaurant scene is unquestionably hot. For NYC restaurateurs struggling to innovate in a crowded market, a major metropolis with a population that has seemingly undergone a culinary awakening in recent years presents an alluring option. We recently profiled ex-Brooklyn chef and restaurateur Brad McDonald, whose whole-hog barbecue joint Shotgun has earned raves in the feisty British press, and who spoke to the appeal of taking the show to London, which includes a less breakneck pace. “When it comes to restaurants and great cooking, London’s at fever pitch right now,” McDonald told us. “New York’s a great place to be in your 20s, but I was looking for a change of scenery, and there’s a bit of a slower pace here. London feels right for my 30s — it’s easily as exciting as New York.”
New York offshoots of Balthazar and Smith & Wollensky have attracted critical scorn, according to Bloomberg’s Vines, who goes on to note that this NYC-invading-London thing isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. In fact, Vongerichten’s yet-to-be-named restaurant in the Connaught will bring him back to the same neighborhood where he operated a location of his erstwhile upscale Asian fusion restaurant Vong from 1995 to 2002. (It’s worth noting that Hélène Darroze will continue operating her two-Michelin-star restaurant in the Connaught; Jean-Georges’s space will be in the front of the hotel.)
So will the two cities’ Soho districts soon become indistinguishable? Or is London just the flavor of the moment for New York restaurateurs looking to expand their territory? Ahmas Fakahany, whose Altamarea Group (co-helmed by chef Michael White) opened Chop Shop on Haymarket in London in 2013, told Bloomberg that his, at least, is a strategy of cautious optimism about the market. “London is the global nexus of finance and eating and many cultures. But this is a marathon, not a race.”