Nina Zagat is co-founder of the Zagat Survey of international restaurant and travel guides, which she oversees together with her husband, Tim. She talks to Kerstin Kühn about their 2008 London restaurant guide, published yesterday (12 September).
Caterer What are the main restaurant trends you have seen in London?
NZ One of the biggest trends we observed that will undoubtedly influence the restaurant sector over the coming years is consumers' increased focus on organic produce and food that comes from sustainable sources. Diners are increasingly aware of what they are eating, and it's not just something that they are interested in or desire but something they're actually prepared to pay for. More than half of diners say they're happy to pay more for organic and sustainable food, so it's something restaurants will really have to focus on in the future.
Caterer Has the smoking ban had an effect on the London dining scene?
NZ Yes. The ban has had a very positive effect, and more than 90% of our respondents have welcomed it, with nearly a third of them saying they will now eat out more often than before.
Caterer What is London's biggest strength?
NZ London's biggest strength is its diversity in terms of its huge variety of ethnic dining options, especially when compared with other cities such as Paris. Only New York City has a similarly broad dining scene, and London's culinary diversity has reached an unprecedented level of excellence.
Caterer And its shortcomings?
NZ The only disadvantage I can think of is that eating out in London is very expensive. Chez Bruce came top this year for the food offering, climbing from ninth position last year and beating Gordon Ramsay's restaurant on Royal Hospital Road into second place. This is quite interesting, as in terms of price the two restaurants are in two completely different brackets, and value for money really seems to be important to London diners.
Caterer What are your feelings on the cult of personality in London restaurants?
NZ Chefs have become celebrities all over the world, not just in London, and it's a really positive thing for the industry, as it's putting it more and more on the map. A lot of very hard-working, intelligent people are inspired to join the industry and become chefs, and that's really great. The only thing I would hope is that maître d's will receive the same form of recognition, as a restaurant's front of house is as important as its kitchen.
Caterer What's different about the new guide?
NZ The new guide includes full-colour, fold-out city and Underground maps as well as tabs that can be pulled out to mark pages within the guide for quicker access. It also includes a new logo indicating recently opened restaurants, and a red Z logo marking London's most popular restaurants. It's all about improving usability and making things easier for our readers.