Before co-launching Hard Rock Cafe in 1971, Peter Morton opened a burger joint in London called The Great American Disaster. This inspired a competitor—The Great British Success. The names should have been reversed.
Raised in 1970s England, I endured horrors such as chicken stomachs, mincemeat and boiled cabbage. That “the chefs in hell are British” was tortuously true of the time.
Transformation was underway, however, dating to 1967, when French brothers Albert and Michel Roux opened Le Gavroche (The Urchin, from Les Miserables) in London’s swinging Chelsea neighborhood.
The U.K.’s first three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Gavroche since relocated to Mayfair and is run today by Albert’s son, Michel Roux Jr. It remains a global fine-dining champion, with private space for six in the Chef’s Library.
The rest of England turned around, too, mercifully ending the culinary misery—and that’s good news for groups.
Navigating London takes serious “Knowledge,” the legendary exam required of cabbies here. The same goes for the widespread culinary scene. One ready group resource is Eating London Tours, offering in-depth explorations of the Old Docks, East End and Brick Lane districts, plus twilight tours of Soho.
Borough Market, circa-1014, is London’s oldest food market. Venue rentals include the 350-capacity Market Hall; programs include the educational “gastro tour” with American-born cook and food writer Celia Brooks.
Devoted to portraiture of eminent British figures, the National Portrait Gallery’s flexible rental options include Portrait, its 200-capacity rooftop restaurant and bar featuring splendid views of landmarks including Trafalgar Square and Big Ben.
Located on the 40th floor of 110 Bishopsgate, Duck & Waffle matches high-altitude views with inventions like the Full Elvis peanut butter and jelly waffle, and namesake fried duck egg and crispy leg confit on a waffle. Open 24/7, it’s a hot ticket for exclusive 250-person events, with a private dining room for 25. Unique, too, is sketch, a multi-room “destination” for food, art and music featuring afternoon tea in the Gallery, and event-ready two Michelin-starred Lecture Room & Library.
London’s cocktail scene is top shelf. The iconic American Bar at The Savoy took top honors in the 2017 World’s 50 Best Bars Awards, followed by Mondrian London at Sea Containers’ Dandelyan (second); The Connaught hotel’s Connaught Bar (fourth); and Soho’s Bar Termini (ninth). The bar at Dukes London is where Ian Fleming reportedly invented 007’s “shaken not stirred” martini, featured on the menu along with the Fleming 89, in homage to Bond’s preferred cologne.
Manchester enjoys a singular legacy as the British birthplace of the vegetarian movement. It sounds vaguely Monty Python-esque, but 200-plus years ago, the Rev. William Cowherd insisted that his Beefsteak Chapel congregation refrain from eating meat. The Vegetarian Society followed in 1847. Vegetarian restaurants flourished in Victorian-era Manchester, and today, veganism is part of the city’s fertile culinary scene.
At 22, Aiden Byrne became the youngest Michelin-starred chef ever. Today, he practices his culinary art at the Manchester House, featuring the six-person Chef’s Table.
Newly opened in Manchester's Piccadilly district, conferencing operator ETC Venues, with multiple London locations, plus Birmingham, features innovative dining and catering options.
Reviving a 1920s Freemasons’ Hall, Manchester Hall is a new boutique conferencing and event venue featuring four restaurants: Fable (Pan-Asian); Mason’s (Modern British); Dishoom (Modern Indian); and Basque-inspired Pintura.
An icon of this market-rich city, the fully refurbished 1858 Mackie Mayor reopened last October with a host of F&B concepts. Meanwhile, the event-capable Manchester Three Rivers distillery offers Gin Experience tours, gin-making included.
“Onwards and Upwards” aptly describes culinary Liverpool. That’s the title of the debut book from nationally recognized chef Paul Askew, whose Art School Restaurant is housed in an 1888 former home for destitute children near the city center. Another local champion is former Navy chef Daniel Heffy, whose Secret Diners Club pops up in unconventional locations around the city, and Buyers Club restaurant offers private dining, food events and outside catering.
Legendary Liverpool Football Club manager Bill Shankly is celebrated with displays and memorabilia throughout the 83-room Shankly Hotel, featuring brand-new conference space for 350 delegates, and event-capable Bastion Restaurant & Bar.
Culinary events include the twice-yearly Liverpool Food and Drink Festival, and in February, Global Scouse Day, celebrating the city’s signature meat and vegetable stew.
Marking Liverpool’s designation as European Capital of Culture a decade ago, the year-long Liverpool 2018 celebration includes Feast of Fire at St George’s. This seven-day (March 23-April 2) fire-themed outdoor event features music, art—and flaming food and drink.
With many Asian and Indian restaurants located in the renowned Balti Triangle south of the city, Birmingham has global foodie credentials. Highlights include 200-plus restaurants representing some 30 countries in the city center; an award-winning street food scene, organized around the Digbeth Dining Club event every Friday and Saturday; and four Michelin-starred gems, including Simpsons and Purnell’s, both with private dining.
Unique options include 80-year old Becketts Farm, incorporating meeting facilities for 60 guests, as well as a large family restaurant with private dining, a cooking school and farm shop. Unique Venues Birmingham, a new conferencing venture between Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Library of Birmingham, includes the theater’s Marmalade restaurant, offering fresh homemade vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Serving authentic tapas, classic paellas and other Spanish fare, Amantia hosts flamenco shows, live music and salsa workshops in its El Tablao private space, accommodating 50 seated or 75 standing. Live music is also on the menu at event-capable Botanist, offering cocktail tastings and classes for groups of six or more.
On the edge of North York Moors National Park, 20 miles north of the medieval walled city of York, the Black Swan at Oldstead was voted the world’s top restaurant in TripAdvisor's 2017 Travelers' Choice Awards. Offering eight guest rooms, this quintessential country pub, from Michelin-starred Tommy Banks and brother James, exemplifies England’s culinary advancement.
In second place was luxury hotelier Belmond’s enchanting 32-room Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Housed in a 15th century manor house outside of Oxford, this hotel-restaurant, from celebrated French chef Raymond Blanc, has held two Michelin stars since opening in 1984 (and produced nearly 30 Michelin-starred chefs). Versatile group options include exclusive estate rentals and culinary classes at the on-site Cookery School.
In Nottingham, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is England’s oldest inn. Integrated into sandstone caves footing Nottingham Castle, the inn, offering cellar tours, dates to around 1189 AD.
Bristol, in southwest England, continues to assert national culinary prominence. The city’s four Michelin-starred restaurants include two Spanish-inspired concepts, Casamia and Paco Tapas. Called “two little geniuses” by Gordon Ramsay, chef-brothers Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias created the former from their parents' trattoria. Sadly, Jonray passed away in 2015, but Peter carried on with Paco Tapas, named for their father, earning one Michelin star last October.
Private dining options also abound, including seafood-driven Jetty at the luxurious new 42-room Bristol Harbour Hotel & Spa. Joined from two historic bank buildings, the hotel also offers stunning event space in a former Lloyds banking hall.
With a private dining room and six event spaces, Hotel du Vin offers wine tasting and food pairing events on a regular basis. Housed in a converted warehouse on Bristol’s harbor front, Bordeaux Quay is a prime resource for planners, incorporating restaurant, brasserie, bar, deli, bakery and cookery school.
Glassboat Brasserie is a floating restaurant offering private dining for 40. Event-capable Lido is the stylish restoration of a classic Victorian-era lido (outdoor baths), featuring an award-winning restaurant serving Moorish-Mediterranean fare.
Brighton, England’s historic seaside escape, boasts a prodigious restaurant collection that includes GB1 Seafood Restaurant & Bar, within the iconic The Grand Brighton, and Steak on Sea, at the circa-1559 Old Ship Hotel.
England CVB Contact Information
Liverpool Convention Bureau
London & Partners
Manchester Convention Bureau