Giles McCoren puts his lunch money where his mouth is.
Which do you think is the best restaurant in London? The River Café? Too expensive. Dabbous? Waiting list too long. The Wolseley? Too elitist. Chiltern Firehouse? Full of wankers. The Smoking Goat? Barrafina? Impossible queues. Kitty Fisher’s? Too soon to say. Nobu? The Ivy? Shrimpy’s? Over, over, and for heaven’s sake, man, it was pulled down in January!
These were the most frequent complaints made about restaurants by bloggers, TripAdvisor correspondents and readers of mine during my 20 years as a restaurant critic. Pretty much any restaurant you can think will have been found to be too expensive, too hard to get into, too sneery when you do get into it, too full of suits/crusties/tourists (depending on the particular prejudice of the complainer), too variable or simply past its best.
And so I thought the most effective way to determine the best restaurant in London might be to feed these irritations into a giant supercomputer and see what emerged as the establishment in which you are least likely to encounter any of them. And so I did, and it churned and wheezed and steam came out of its ears and then it farted out a little piece of paper on which was written the word ‘McDonald’s’.
And then it cringed and covered its head with its hands because it thought I was going to slap it. But maybe it’s right. Maybe by all modern measuring standards McDonald’s is the best restaurant in London.
Sure, Mickey D’s has had a bad press from the ‘local, seasonal, organic’ lobby, but look where that lot have got us: foraged food, mutton, squirrel, ‘the Nordic kitchen’, straggly vegetables grown on Homerton rooftops and rickets in winter.
Okay, it’s not haute cuisine, but nobody eats haute cuisine anymore. The hamburger has been the keynote restaurant dish of the last 18 months, and although McDonald’s does not exactly offer a premium product, how fussy can you be about a burger? As long as you insist that your quarter-pounder with cheese is cooked to order so that it arrives steaming hot and plump off the slide (as opposed to sitting on the pass for the two minutes it takes to deflate, toughen up and turn into ‘jammy roadkill served in a pair of old pants’) then I’d defy you to say it was more than twice as nasty as a MeatLiquor or Byron burger, which will cost you considerably more than twice its price.
And price, I am afraid, is the number one issue for complainers by a mile. Say what you like about a Happy Meal. But it ain’t expensive.
Nor is it elitist. If you’re pissed off with restaurants that reserve the good tables for celebs and stick your party out by the loos then go to McDonald’s, where everyone is born equal. Fed up with waiting lists and queues round the block? You’ll never wait more than four minutes at McDonald’s.
Worried about being sneered at by hipsters for your slightly wrong jeans or month-old haircut? Go to McDonald’s, where you wouldn’t be the worst-dressed person if you showed up in Crocs and a vomit-stained onesie.
The restaurants are clean (there is always a ‘wet floor’ sign to reassure you of that), they don’t fuss if you come in just to use the loo and it is the one restaurant in the world where you will never, ever get food poisoning.
It is true that McDonald’s has gone off a bit recently with this under-salting of the fries for spurious health reasons, but you can always add salt yourself. And, yes, replacing the old polystyrene boxes with recyclable paper has somewhat compromised the sealed-in yumminess of the product. And yes, the clampdown on littering means it is not as easy as it once was to follow the discarded wrappings towards the golden arches when you’re too drunk to see. But as the fashionable London restaurant scene threatens at any moment to disappear altogether up its own arse, perhaps it is time to admit that McDonald’s had the winning formula all along: aim low and succeed.
Think he’s McChicken? Tweet him @gilescoren.