A guide to eating well in London

Since London is a town that's been in the habit of eating well for quite some time, although stereotypes linger to the contrary, there's often plenty of talk about food -- where to eat it and how to cook it. This is es pecially true when the new editions of The Good Food Guide and Egon Ronay's Lucas Guide appear, as they recently have. They are available at most US bookshops.

Egon Ronay's book, a thoroughgoing guide to restaurants, hotels, inns, country places, bargain meals, inexpensive weekend breaks is, to my mind, almost always right on about pretty much everything. It is Britain's answer to the Guide Michelin. The addresses are right and the prices quoted are almost always accurate. This year the guide devotes special attention to restaurants with set meals where everything, including service and the dread value-added tax, are included an the stated price.

There is nothing in London more worth seeing than the newly renovated Covent Garden, the old marketplace which has been so spectacularly, so subtly, renovated it puts every other urban renovation in the shade. There are shops aplenty and plenty of places to eat. The area is full of life, night and day.

For an elegant and very French meal after the opera -- and if you're in a self-indulgent mood, there is Interlude de Tabaillou, A truly great French restaurant where if you stick to the set meal you won't go away as broke as you might in other expensive haunts. At 7 Bow Street, Interlude is opposite the Opera House and you can linger late here.

Also in and near Covent Garden are Joe Allen's in Exeter Street if you feel in need of a little hamburger from home and want to look at the actors who wander in from the Aldwych Theater, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Around the corner there is Poon's at 41 King Street for fine Chinese cuisine, and Le Cafe des Amis du Vin in Hanover Place, a welcome sort of friendly brasserie that opens at 8 a.m. and is great for breakfast at dawn if you've been to Bermondsey Market, open only on Friday. There's also the Crusting Pipe for roast beef and cheese in the market complex itself.

Just across the Strand at the august old Savoy Hotel, the grand dowager of London hosteleries, there is a newly redecorated lobby where a pianist plays while you have scones and the walls are a stunning example of Italianate trompe I'oeil. The foyer leads to the new River Restaurant, which on a sunny day or starry night reminds you why Monet stayed at the Savoy when he wanted to paint his Thames River views.

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