National Geographic : 2000 Jun
Across the road at the Fridge, 2,000 Generation Xers were dancing to the sound of Basement Jaxx, one of the hottest acts on the city's club scene. Many of the revelers were clearly high. A whole cottage industry of illegal drug factories supplies "dance drugs"' such as ecstasy, amphet amines, and the anesthetic GHB. Hard drugs are also increasingly available. Last year some of London's poorest areas were flooded with three-dollar bags of heroin. "It's easier to get drugs in London than it is to get a taxi," John Ellis, a 24-year-old recovering addict, told me. T LAST it is also just as easy to get good food. A journey to London used to be a gastronomic Calvary, but with more than 6,000 restaurants serving dishes from every corner of the planet, London may now be the most cosmopolitan culinary center anywhere in the world. "The sea bass is the top bollocks today," said Steve Carter, the Yorkshire-born head chef at Everything Bank, a huge-and hugely popular-new res taurant in the heart of the West End. I had signed up to be a sous-chef for a day, and now I was struggling into a black chef's jacket, a pair of black-and-white pinstripe cotton trousers, and an apron. It was nearly midday, and the lunchtime rush was building. My fellow sous chefs were from Sweden, New Zealand, Aus tralia, France, and Italy. Steve strode up and down like Nelson before a naval battle, tasting sauces, checking ingredients. "I'm a bit worried about the langoustine," he said. "I have only a hundred portions. Let's just hope it's enough." Bank is owned by Tony Allan, a working class Londoner who took one of the city's oldest trades, fishmongering, and remade it. The fish served at his restaurants comes from sustainable sources, he says. Genetically mod ified food is prohibited-notices at each res taurant read, "This is a GM-free zone!" "I was a chef originally," Tony explained, as Bank began to fill up. With his glowing tan, white jeans, denim shirt, and flowing locks, he looked like a pop star. "But I got the sack because I was always complaining about the quality of the fish. So I started going to the coastal markets, places like Hastings on the south coast, buying fish to supply to restau rants. One man with a van sort of thing." Fourteen years later he supplies three quarters of all fish used by London's restau rants, the van is a Ferrari, and Bank Group Restaurants is a publicly traded company worth 100 million pounds (160 million dol lars). Such success stories have a long tradition; London's most famous bit of folklore tells of a poor country boy named Dick Whittington, who arrives with his possessions tied in a bundle at the end of a stick and ends up rich and famous. And though Allan isn't the mayor of London, as Whittington was, it is entrepre neurs like him-savvy, ambitious, quick to spot the main chance-who have always made London rich. Today he lives in a mansion in Kent and indulges his passion for falconry. "I fly a bird called the European merlin," he said. "I used to have a perch in my car, in the front by the dashboard. So I'd be driving along with two falcons sitting in the passenger seat." is here.Anything you Preening is a serious pastime for London's "It girls"-beauties like Alexandra Aitken who serve as fash ionable and ubiqui tous adornments on the party circuit. "They're world famous in London," jokes one public rela tions agent. In its way, the town Dick ens quaintly called a "magic lantern" has become "It" among global cities, beam ing with the intensity of a socialite's smile.