24-hour restaurants

Night-time in the bar at the Duck & Waffle, one of the UK's first high-end restaurants to stay open 24 hours a day

A feature for G2

At 11.30pm, the elevator for Duck & Waffle in the City of London has the hot, beery stench of an underventilated nightclub. I already feel jetlagged from heading out for dinner so late, and when it whooshes me up the Heron Tower’s 40 floors in under 30 seconds it gives me an extra headrush. It is a bit like being drunk, which seems rather appropriate for late-night eating.

In New York, Paris and many east Asian cities, 24-hour restaurants have become part of the eating habits of the population. Not in Britain, which is strange when licensing laws theoretically permit round-the-clock opening and many people work shifts through the night. “It may be because of our historically rigid licensing laws,” says Jonathan Downey, a bar and restaurant owner who has held two 24-hour licences. “At Milk & Honey our kitchen is open until 2am and we probably sell five plates of food during the last hour.”

Which is probably why many late-night British restaurants are aimed at drunk people. Buddies in Brighton has featured on Channel 5′s sociological study Brighton Beach Patrol, and with its fry-ups with lager, pizza and burgers, caters to a distinctly vomity clientele.

London’s oldest all-night restaurant, and the only one with a 24-hour booze licence, is Vingt-Quatre on the Fulham Road. “We have security,” says its managing director Simon Prideaux, “who make the call on whether someone has drunk too much.” At 11pm, VQ’s menu contracts to a few soaky classics: omelette, bangers and mash, a full English. The place has lasted since 1995 by harnessing one of the great truths of eating out: the squiffy don’t crave culinary invention.

“To eat at four o’clock in the morning,” says Jay Rayner, the Observer’s restaurant critic, “things are either going to be really bad or so good that it doesn’t matter where you are. You have to wonder how much value is being placed on the quality of the food.”

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How the Roux family educated the British palate


Albert Roux, channelling Marlon Brando

A feature in G2 on the legacy of the Roux family

On the same evening that Restaurant magazine published its annual list of the world’s top 50 restaurants, other futures were being decided at the Mandarin Oriental in London’s Knightsbridge. Mark Birchall, who won the 28th Roux scholarship on Monday, will now spend three months abroad working in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant. Earlier winners have shadowed such luminaries as Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in California and Alain Ducasse, who has 19 Michelin stars between his establishments around the world. When I visited last year’s scholar, Kenneth Culhane, during his stint at New York gastrotemple Jean Georges, he told me without smiling that winning the scholarship was the greatest achievement of his life.

Downstairs at the Mandarin is Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant Dinner, perhaps the most sought-after table in Britain. But the dichotomy between Roux and Blumenthal could not be more striking. Dinner represents the apotheosis of modern eating: highly technical, meticulous, contemporary food with a strong appreciation of history. The scholarship finalists cooked veal orloff, a preposterously frilly dish involving roast veal cut from the bone, sliced, stuffed and squeezed into a cavity made from the bones, slathered in bechamel and truffles, and baked. It came with fiddly stuffed cucumbers and a kebab made from kidneys.

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