Sky-High Prices Dominate the Restaurant Scene

London exceeds expectations in many areas: history, architecture, business and prices. Moscow beats London as the world's most expensive city overall, with a coffee in Moscow's Red Square setting you back $6.40.

But in terms of eating out, London has the highest prices.

The Zagat restaurant guide published its findings this week. Extensive surveys in 45 cities found that London's restaurants are the world's most expensive.

England's capital city has seen a 2.9 percent increase since last year with the average cost of a three-course meal, including tax, service and a tip reaching $79.44.

Last year, Tokyo's restaurants were ranked as the world's most expensive, but the Japanese capital has now been overtaken by London and Paris. Eating in the city famed for the Eiffel Tower comes in second in terms of cost, with the average dinner bill coming to $72.

Prices across the Atlantic are renowned for being lower than in Europe; diners in America's most expensive city, New York, pay on average $39 for an evening meal, half the price of London.

In the upper echelons of restaurants, London prices have gone up 6.1 percent since last year, with customers parting with an average of $178.63 for an up-market evening meal.

If these prices haven't burned a hole in your pocket, or offended your sensibilities, then jump on the Eurostar to Paris, where the average bill for fine dining is even higher than London's, at $205.41.

The general astonishment over how expensive the London scene has become was voiced to ABC News by Tim Zagat, CEO of his namesake firm. Zagat told ABC News: "I was somewhat surprised to discover that London is the priciest city for eating out. However, looking back, the Zagat surveys show that gradual inflation has caused an inching up of prices."

Time Out's London food editor, Guy Dimond, echoed Zagat's view, telling ABC News that the rise in cost is a reflection of an improvement in the quality of the food. Dimond added that expensive food prices are a straightforward reflection of the fact that London is a costly city.

London prices are especially shocking for tourists: $4 is the minimum cost for a Subway ride (London also wins the title for world's most-expensive transport system) and expect to add a zero to that cost for the black cab experience.

However, there is a positive side to the high prices. Speaking to ABC News, Time Out's Guy Dimond explained that London's high living costs are due to the city's booming economy and the growing strength of the pound over the dollar.

On average, Londoners eat out 2.5 times a week, which is comparatively low if you bear in mind that 3.4 times a week is typical for New Yorkers.

Chez Bruce in Wandsworth was voted Zagat's favorite London restaurant. Bruce Poole, the chef/proprietor of Chez Bruce expressed his pleasure at this high rating. In an interview with ABC News, he said that London is certainly a high contender for worldwide leading restaurants: "British food has come a long way in the last decade and restaurateurs are charging accordingly."

Someone who knows a lot about the luxury market, Russell Norman, operations director of Caprice Holdings, which runs a string of top restaurants including the Ivy, supported the claims from Chez Bruce, telling ABC News that "Londoners appreciate high-quality food and understand that it does not come cheap."

At the other end of the scale, the Zagat survey claimed that the cheapest eateries are found in Montevideo in Uruguay, and in neighboring Argentina, where high-quality food and service are offered at the world's cheapest rates.

Londoner Katherine Torry, who recently returned from a year in Buenos Aires, shared her reaction with ABC News: 'London prices are pretty shocking, especially when you have been used to South America. It makes you wonder where the profits go."

Financial Times food and drink editor Rahul Jacob answered this query about profits, explaining to ABC News that "the reason behind the expense of eating out in London is the hefty property price increase over the last decade; in an environment of asset price escalation, people tend to start saving less and spending more, including on dining out."

Tim Zagat told ABC News that although London can be very expensive, there are as many restaurants and gastro-pubs that are very reasonably priced. It's just a question of finding them.

That's where the Zagat restaurant guide can help.

Norman told ABC News that "the fact that the most expensive restaurants in the Zagat guide are booming suggests that restaurant-goers do feel they are getting value for money."

Although finding good service is another matter: The Zagat survey reiterates this, saying that 53 percent of all complaints from restaurant-goers were for poor service. While 12 percent of complaints were a result of high prices, and only 7 percent due to the quality of the food.

However, there is overall satisfaction. In Zagat's words, the overall rating of London food is "very good to excellent, based on its creativity and diversity."