London or New York? For the launch of Eater London, writers discuss which is the better food city.
There’s no way the food scene in London is better than it is in New York. I heard that time and again as we looked to launch Eater London. It’s a bold statement, the kind New Yorkers make any chance we get, but — like most bold statements — there’s a 50 percent chance it’s wrong.
What New York does better than London is what New York does best: buzz. All eyes are on the food scene in NYC, and restaurateurs know it. They opt for flash, for hype, for Instagram-friendly dishes that set off trends, for the things that will make money in the city notorious for its absolutely ridiculous rents. And it works, certainly: Buzz means nothing if you can’t stand up to it, and the restaurants here in New York really are setting the standard across the world.
That doesn’t just mean high-end service (and price points), though we have plenty of those. It means the food carts that spawn restaurant empires, the taco stands that sell out daily, the $1.50 breakfast sandwiches and dollar-slice pizza. The bars that people who have never even been to the city can name because they’ve been so influenced by their cocktail menus. And, of course, the everyday restaurants with standout menus at reasonable prices that influence the way people eat in the city and across the world.
There’s nothing you can’t find in New York, people say, and it’s largely true — and, even better, there’s nothing you can’t find in New York at any time of day. The restaurants stay open late, and you can have just as strong a meal in the city at 90 minutes to midnight as you can at 6 p.m. That’s not the case in London, where in February I struggled to find a 10 p.m. dinner within walking distance from my Shoreditch hotel.
Still, though, where London pushes ahead is in its diversity. To get hyper-regional versions of global cuisines in New York, you have to look outside Manhattan into Queens, or South Brooklyn, or across the river into New Jersey. There are outliers, absolutely. But as a whole, the regional food — south Indian, eastern European, Peruvian, Burmese, Hunan Chinese (though Cantonese and Sichuan are thriving all over New York) — is hard to find outside of the ethnic enclaves like Little Ukraine and Chinatown.
Or when it is found, it’s served by restaurateurs looking to capitalize on Global Cuisine as a Trend or has been turned into some kind of cultural icon for being the one good spot in the city for pierogies or Peking duck, or it’s expected by most, still, to be cheap. Whereas in London, people queue up for Koya Bar and Kanada-Ya, for Som Saa and Kiln, for Dum and Hoppers. From the outside, it’s something to be envied: Diners in London are ready for cultural nuance in their restaurants and on their menus in a way — much to our frustration — New York hasn’t quite figured out yet.
So London, like Russell Norman points out, is looking to New York when it comes to anticipation and hype — to making restaurants more of a way of life and less of a special occasion treat. New York is looking to London to grow the breadth of its cuisine in a smart, sustainable way. And it’s evident to all of us watching that the world is changing and the way the industry operates on both sides of the Atlantic will change with it. So which city does food better? It depends on what you’re looking for. But chances are you’ll find it — as good as anywhere in the world, one way or another — in London and in New York.