From nose-bleed mortgages to wallet-bashing lattes, Londoners are used to paying some of the highest prices on the planet for their basic needs. Now it seems they are being charged more than anyone else for a meal out while suffering some of the worst-rated food and service among the world's leading cities.
The capital has overtaken Tokyo and Paris as the most expensive city for eating out, with a three-course restaurant meal costing an average £39.09 per head including service and a drink. An annual price increase of nearly 3 per cent means a meal in London now costs on average £4 more than its nearest competitor, Paris, where the price is £35.37, according to a study by the Zagat restaurant guides.
And it's not just financial discomfort that diners have to endure. In league tables for the quality of restaurant food and service in 13 cities, including New York, Tokyo and Paris, the British capital is ranked 12th and 10th for food and service respectively.
Based on reviews of 705,000 meals in more than 1,000 London restaurants, the survey also brought further bad news for Gordon Ramsay. The celebrity chef's flagship restaurant in the capital, Gordon Ramsay at 68 Hospital Road, was dethroned for the first time in seven years as the establishment serving the best food and overtaken by Chez Bruce, which is outside central London, in Wandsworth.
Ramsay, whose status as a worldwide epicurean media star is built on the success of his multi- Michelin starred string of restaurants in London, was last month accused of "spreading himself too thinly" by another restaurant guide, Harden's, which also demoted his lead outlet in its latest rankings.
The authors of the Zagat 2008 London Restaurants Guide said that despite the rising costs, the London restaurant industry was still booming, with nearly three-quarters of diners saying they ate out more frequently than they did two years ago. Only 3 per cent said they were spending less time in restaurants.
The survey found that while Londoners generally thought the level of creativity in restaurants was improving, they rated front-of-house operations poorly. Service was cited by 53 per cent of diners as the aspect of eating out that most irritated them while food was named by just 7 per cent.
Tim Zagat, founder of the guides, insisted good-value dining was still to be found in London despite the fact that prices have increased by an average of £10 per meal since 2001. He said: "There is no doubt that London is now the most expensive city in the world to eat out but the picture is quite nuanced. For example, it costs on average £50 less for a meal at Chez Bruce than it does at Gordon Ramsay.
"There are good quality and affordable restaurants throughout London. But the problem is people see a huge gap between the food they eat and the way they are treated. While the focus on food has created a generation of celebrity chefs, the front-of-house operation has tended to be forgotten."
Ironically, fine dining in London is also among the most affordable compared to its international rivals. A meal in one of the 20 most expensive restaurants in London costs on average £87.90, compared to £101 in Paris and £102 in Tokyo.
Chez Bruce, whose owners Bruce Poole and Nigel Platts-Martin also own or have interests in two other restaurants named in the Zagat top ten, rose nine places to be named as having the best food. The guide said the south London restaurant was "reliably fantastic". The highest rising restaurant was Hunan, in Pimlico, which specialises in Chinese cuisine and rose from 17th to third place.