With the London Olympic Games drawing near, the international spotlight will be on the best of British culture, including an area which has historically been the object of ridicule from its more high-minded, gastronomic neighbors like Italy and France: British cuisine.
It used to be an ongoing joke, especially among the French, who took particular pleasure in looking down on British fare for being tasteless and unrefined. The culinary repertoire, after all, used to be equated with greasy, full English breakfasts, a dessert that's become the scourge of Christmas holidays for many -- fruit cake -- and overcooked, grey, rubbery meats.
But in recent years, the UK has become an international leader in food and gastronomy, starting with the phenomenal popularity of mainstream food and TV personalities like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay, who've been able to cross international borders to become household names and indirect ambassadors of British cuisine.
A few rungs up, bold, innovative culinary masters like Heston Blumenthal, Fergus Henderson and Marcus Wareing have also proven that the UK is a hotbed of gastronomic activity, beyond bangers and mash and shepherd's pie.
In the latest Michelin guide for Great Britain and Ireland, four restaurants were awarded three stars, while the two-star category saw an addition of two new addresses, including a pub -- a historic first for the publication. The single-star category inducted 15 new restaurants as well.
Here's a selection of some of the best restaurants in London and surrounding areas for visitors headed to the city during the Olympic Games. Addresses come from the Michelin Guide, The Good Food Guide, and Zagat.
Three Michelin *** restaurants for 2012:
The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal, Bray
Waterside Inn, Alain Roux/Fabrice Uhryn, Bray
Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth, Chelsea
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Mayfair, Jocelyn Herland
The Good Food Guide's 'Reader's Restaurant of the Year' for London was bestowed on a family-run eatery that's been serving sustainable, bistro fare for 26 years, Charlotte's Place.
Readers of Zagat London voted Michelin-starred The Ledbury their favorite restaurant for the second year in a row last year. The Notting Hill eatery was also named the best at the 2011 National Restaurant Awards.
The Hand and Flowers was the first pub in Michelin history to score a star in the Michelin guide last year.
The highest-ranked British restaurant on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list this year was Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which opened last year and managed to crack the top 10 list, debuting at No. 9. It also managed to score a single Michelin star in its maiden year.