London is now one of the world's top cities for dining out, according to the founder of a survey that covers 70 cities worldwide.

Tim Zagat, of the Zagat Survey, said yesterday that the sixth edition of his company's London report showed how much food in London had improved. 

He said: "In many ways I think London is now more interesting than Paris. It is the diversity and the variety of cuisine that make London stand out. You can have good food in so many different cuisines in London, which you cannot in Paris. Paris is five to ten years behind in that regard." 

Zagat said people in Britain were becoming more discriminating. "In the past there were two terms for bad food: hotel food and British food," he said. "When I used to come to London, the food was bad and you ran out of decent places to eat in a week. 

"When you look at London annually now, as I do, it is extraordinary to see how many good new restaurants there are and how rapidly standards have got better in a relatively short time." 

The London Zagat Survey, published today, is based on reports from 3,709 participants and covers 1,296 restaurants, including 68 new openings. For the fourth year in succession, the Ivy, the West End restaurant beloved of celebrities, was named as the most popular restaurant, most frequently named by reviewers as being among their favorites. 

Top for food, according to the survey's reporters, was Gordon Ramsay's restaurant at 68 Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea, which also took the accolade last year. Food at the restaurant was described as "superb" and "indescribably wonderful," though "pricey," 

The survey found that London came second only to Tokyo in the cost of eating out among the world's major cities. The average meal in London cost $45.00, 6 per cent up on last year. That compared with the average in America of $27.00, and £40.00 in Paris. In Tokyo the average price is $59.00. 

Almost two thirds of the London survey's participants said that the thing that irritated them most about eating out was poor service. That compared with only 6 per cent who complained about the food, and 4 per cent who begrudged the prices. 

Zagat said: "Service is the weakest link in the restaurant industry in all major Western cities."