WHEN I LIVED IN LONDON for a year in college, food was a pretty abstruse interest, relegated to the sorts of people who, say, spent their Saturdays at the British Museum library getting boxes of original Whistler etchings delivered straight to their seats. I was one of those people. The London food scene was limited then. There were a few outdoor food markets on Portobello Road. There were rare and bargain off-brand wines to find; London has ever been a wine-mad city. But anything much beyond that was left to pretentious hobbyists. Exotic food meant wind-dried duck at Poons, a cult restaurant in Soho's tiny Chinatown, or lamb biryani at one of the cheap and cheerful Indian restaurants by every Tube stop. Sophisticated dining was straight-up French bistro food at Langan's Brasserie or oysters at Bibendum.
In some ways, surprisingly little has changed since then. Langan's Brasserie still sports its colorful neon sign, and Bibendum, after a several-year freshening, has just reopened. The pub is still sacrosanct—and, like the Tube, one of the few places where classes mix.
But London is also a more diverse and creative food destination than it's ever been, as I learned on a recent six-day eating trip. A new group of young chefs (some of whom even call themselves the Young Turks) with a competitive spirit—they are both supportive of each other and hyper-aware of who's succeeding and who's moving where—makes eating in London now exciting in a way it's never been before.