When to go: When there are four of you (as you can sit in a booth) – but expect to queue.
What to have: A bit of everything – portions are small and prices fair, so knock yourself out.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Barnyard is another me-too joint trying to hitch a ride on the home-spun comfort food bandwagon. This 2014 Fitzrovia newcomer was created by Ollie Dabbous, chef/patron of the acclaimed Dabbous, and his chums. The no-bookings younger sibling may have swapped ‘industrial luxe’ for ‘farm chic’ (oil barrel seats, distressed wood, a huge tree) and haute cuisine for homestead cooking, but sky-high standards and culinary blazed trails is something they’re keeping in the family. Dishes are of the ‘pimped’ variety: roast beef on toast with horseradish buttermilk, smoked paprika chicken wings, acorn flour waffles.Read more
When to go: On a carefree sunny weekend for brunch, Sunday roast or alfresco cocktails.
What to have: It’s all good, but wood-grilled meat and fish are the kitchen’s calling card.
Spread under the railway arches of Hoxton station, this enticing three-in-one offering (bar, restaurant and café) owes its hip looks to New York’s coolest districts, with bare brickwork, industrial lighting and grown-up colours adding an edge to the evening. Chef James Ferguson deals in gutsy platefuls of seasonal ingredients, but his light touch lifts the likes of finger-licking lamb ribs with chilli, garlic and lemon, braised squid with fennel, or juicy whole roast chicken to another realm. Cocktails on the terrace – which is heated and covered when necessary – are a must.Read more
When to go: When you’re in the mood for a bit of glamour.
What to have: Perfectly cooked pan-braised halibut with savoury squid ink risotto is a must.
Jason Atherton’s third opening of 2013 takes a different turn from his highly successful Social ventures (Pollen Street Social, Little Social and Social Eating House) with an impressively showy setting. From opulent chandeliers to floor-to-ceiling framed art, enjoy Atherton’s signature Modern European dishes in the grandest of settings. Your credit card is sure to get a battering – this kind of decadent dining doesn’t come cheap. But, for a special occasion it’s the ideal place to get your glad rags on and eat in style. Be sure to enjoy a cocktail in the Punch Room (booking advisable) before heading into the glitzy dining room.Read more
When to go: When you’re after an excellent plate of comfort food in the company of a few neighbours.
What to have: Don’t miss the bar snacks, they are bound to surprise and impress. The menu changes regularly, so ask the staff for the latest recommendations.
Claphamites are lucky indeed to have such a good neighbourhood restaurant. Self-styled as a British bistro, the staff are chummy, the look rustic and the clientele ever appreciative – it’s seriously popular. The food at this second Clapham venture from Adam Byatt (who also runs the even smarter Modern European restaurant Trinity) riffs on a range of hearty Anglo, American and French influences, but given a British makeover. The likes of toad in the hole and fish pie sit comfortably besides chicken liver parfait and mac ’n’ cheese – all are prepared with impressive precision. For the best spectator seats head to the tall stools by the bar.Read more
When to go: When your Instagram and Twitter accounts need some attention.
What to have: It’s Hobson’s choice – although vegetarians get their own menu.
A self-consciously hip affair, with a no-choice tasting menu of on-trend ingredients in out-there combinations, Clove Club unashamedly puts food at the centre of its experience. The stark, Shaker-style dining room with its utilitarian furniture and most open of kitchens feels part pop-up, part school dinner hall, but the food is a long departure from either. Seasonal, esoteric ingredients fill the ever-changing menu, although some signatures are a constant, such as chef Isaac McHale’s buttermilk-fried chicken with pine salt – a throwback from his days at east London residency Upstairs at The Ten Bells. The cosy bar is worth a try, too.Read more
When to go: Whenever they can squeeze you in.
What to have: Barbecued Iberico pork with acorn praline has had tongues wagging.
Chef Ollie Dabbous and his eponymous restaurant (pronounced ‘Daboo’) were the runaway success of 2012. Within weeks of opening, the phones were ringing off the hook with tables becoming some of the most sought after in London. Dish names may be simple, but the execution of his inventive food is of the highest standard.Read more
When to go: When you don’t want the food to distract you from the gossip.
What to have: The smoked-haddock soufflé is good enough to eat twice.
A permanently buzzing hidey-hole for London’s social animals, this grand dame of the Soho scene puts its serious face on during the day – when media types hold meetings and those old enough to know better soothe their hangovers with brunch – then plays hard with the best of the rest come clocking-off time. The long bar and polished louche of the Georgian-era dining room are great for cocktails and people-watching, while the menu of comfort food – think rib-eye with chips and béarnaise, or Dover sole – is familiar and failsafe. The main draw, however, is being in the thick of it all.Read more
When to go: When you’re being treated on expenses, and your host has asked you where you want to go.
What to have: The signature ‘meat fruit’, which is a like a meat pâté, but enclosed in a glossy fruit-like skin.
You know how hotel restaurants are: safe, expensive, a bit dull. That’s probably why the Mandarin Oriental got Heston Blumenthal’s team in to shake things up a bit. It’s still very much a hotel restaurant – the service is as polished as the sommelier’s wine glasses – but the Heston touch has been brought to bear on a ‘historic’ menu, very loosely inspired by British dishes of centuries past. Iconic dishes such as his ‘meat fruit’ have now passed into the national lexicon of dishes – you can even find a version of it served in a restaurant in Inverness-shire, for pete’s sake.Read more
When to go: When you’ve got to tick the box of been there, done that, top-end dining.
What to have: The set lunch – at £45 for three courses (plus a few delectable ‘freebies’), it’s almost good value (and it’s easier to get a table then, too).
Chef Simon Rogan is known as the best chef in Cumbria, and has already run a pop-up in Mayfair. But this time he’s arrived in considerably more style, with a top-whack restaurant inside Claridge's hotel. Fera takes cooking with little-known seasonal ingredients to a new level – don’t be surprised if at least half the dishes contain items you don’t recognise, whether it’s dittander (a salt marsh plant, here served with Cornish lobster, pickled golden beetroot and other ‘sea herbs’) or ‘pineapple weed’ (like a wild chamomile) in a pudding of butterscotch and celery (yes, celery). This is a place to give your taste buds the ride of their lives.Read more
When to go: It’s perfect for those special family occasions: wedding anniversaries, a rare night out away from the kids.
What to have: The set menus cost from £45-£65; but even the £45 three-course menu has more titillation and amusements than a day out at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Chelsea has no shortage of ostentatious restaurants ready to part you from your money. But although Five Fields is hardly a cheap eat, its remarkably understated for a top-end dining experience. It feels more like going for a very posh dinner party at someone’s house: someone who likes living in a pastiche of a Louis Quinze interior. But the dishes aren’t old-fashioned French: far from it, this haute cuisine is utterly contemporary, from the fiddly but artful preparations of vegetables to the suckling pig presented five ways. A meal here is an experience you’re not going to forget in a hurry.Read more
When to go: When you’ve got a visitor who still remains sceptical about the concept of ‘great British food’.
What to have: You’ve got to be game for game. And what could be more English than earl grey baked custard?
On the corner of Walham Grove and Farm Lane, SW6 1QP, this is the sort of place that would make one proud to be British. While a wee bit posh with its thick hessian napkins and bread in linen bags (and one Michelin star), its heart is still firmly set in the gastropub tradition. Owners Mike Robinson and Brett Graham (head chef of The Ledbury) have put in a lot of effort, heavily promoting the ethos of using seasonal, local and natural produce. The ‘pub’ part is not forgotten either, with the bar dispensing fashionably good British ales. Chef Stephen Williams, who has been leading the kitchen ever since its inception, will be moving on to pastures new, but we’re confident that the quality will be upheld.Read more
When to go: When your carnal urges will only be satisfied by something big and bloody.
What to have: A small steak – because the large ones would feed a family of bears.
The original Hawksmoor in Spitalfields is a great bar and grill – but this newer branch is a truly sensational one. The entrance is a bit hidden, despite the Covent Garden location, but once inside it’s a real beauty of a basement which looks as if it’s been there a century – in fact, it only opened as a restaurant at the end of 2010. The meat’s better quality, and better cooked, than at many more expensive Mayfair steak restaurants. Hawksmoor’s not cheap, though – you’ll easily part with more than £50 per head, but dining here’s quite an experience, and very ‘now’.Read more
When to go: When you want solid British cooking on the west side of town.
What to have: Hone in on the mains made for sharing – whole lamb shoulder or oxtail, say.
When it opened in 2007, the trend for bold, British cooking wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. Tom Pemberton, who cut his teeth at St John and St John Bread & Wine, was one chef who helped propel British cuisine into the limelight. The menu continues to change daily (it’s updated online diligently), and common ingredients include plenty of offal (calves’ brains and kidneys, lamb's sweetbreads) and classic British puddings (vanilla rice pudding, apple crumble). Hereford Road may no longer seem as revolutionary as it did back then, but the food still has the power to wow.Read more
When to go: When you want to up your hip-factor.
What to have: The slow-braised pork cheeks with chunks of spiced apple and pickled carrots are a real treat.
When the hip US boutique hotel chain Ace arrives in town, you might expect the catering to be as distinctive as the eclectic décor – and Hoi Polloi doesn’t disappoint. Rocking a retro fifties look, somewhere between a school canteen and a Scandinavian cruise ship, it’s a place to see and be seen. As for the food, it’s the best of British from the team behind equally innovative Bistrotheque in E2 and Shrimpy’s at the Old Filling Station in King’s Cross. Expect hearty British ingredients such as turnip and horseradish soup with crispy beef, or hake with cavolo nero and braised celeriac, celery and hazelnut.Read more
When to go: To bolster your credentials as a sophisticate with a post-theatre supper.
What to have: Fish pie or a plateau de fruits de mer. But really, anything that has (or had) a shell.
The Sheekey brand is so well-established, and so well-known among tourists, that you’d be forgiven for assuming it couldn’t possibly be maintaining high standards. Wrong. They buy the cream of the marine crop and serve it in (mostly) simple styles that do it justice. The menu in this lovely, capacious bar, fronted by a line of red canopies along St Martin’s Court, differs relatively little from that of the main restaurant. It offers convenience (this is the heart of Theatreland), and comfort. You can eat quickly to make your curtain, or dawdle if you wish. A classic.Read more
When to go: When you’ve got time on your hands, and want to be surprised and delighted.
What to have: Whatever you’re given (if you’re there at night) – there’s no choosing.
If patience isn’t your strong point (or you’re just really picky), then visit this excellent Shoreditch eatery at lunch (when you can choose what you like, and in what order). Come in the evening though, and you’ll get a no-choice menu of around seven small courses (plus bread and petits fours) that takes a good two and a half hours (though at least you can choose your start time). It’s well worth the wait – expect plate after plate of modish British cooking from James Lowe (his mother’s maiden name was Lyle), who is someone to watch.Read more
When to go: For a leisurely lunch – bring your own if you want to make it boozy.
What to have: The menu changes daily, but don’t miss out on old-school desserts such as sticky date pudding.
Fondly remember that sneaky fag round the back of the bike sheds? It was never like this, as Rochelle School’s former bike sheds are far too salubrious a setting. The blond tables of the airy dining room are populated by arty types enjoying the seasonal modern European menu.Read more
When to go: When you want slick service and big-ticket food without the formality.
What to have: Shareable jars and glow-in-the-dark cocktails kick things off in style.
Ramsay protégé and unstoppable wunderkind Jason Atherton had a belter of a year in 2013, opening three restaurants in quick succession to universal praise. This, his first Soho venture, is definitely the funkiest of the three. The dark, low-slung dining room, with its mirrored ceiling and modern artworks, feels cool and informal, while chef Paul Hood’s menu delivers dishes that are at once highly sophisticated, accessible, and above all delicious – including the theatrical ‘mushrooms on toast’, which involves a bag of funghi being slit open at the table. Efficient, attentive staff keep this star-studded show on the road.Read more
When to go: When entertaining serious food lovers.
What to have: Something you’ve never heard of or wouldn’t normally try. It will be great.
As ‘British cuisine’ continues to establish its own identity, it becomes clearer how groundbreaking Fergus Henderson’s Smithfield restaurant really was. It’s far from faddy, and St John’s commitment to well-sourced, simply cooked traditional food has stood the test of time: it’s still one of the most reliably exciting places to eat in London. Forgotten cuts and obscure ingredients grace the twice-daily-changing menu, and while this stripped-down luxe doesn’t come cheap, St John remains a model other restaurants aspire to.Read more
When to go: Pop in for a spot of afternoon tea in a fine setting, or settle in for an evening meal.
What to have: An oldie but a goodie, the wiener schnitzel is just how it should be.
The team behind The Wolseley have done it again with this elegant all-day brasserie in Aldwych. It’s not the place to go for an innovative modern menu, but if you’re in the mood for a nostalgic taste of mittel-European fare like schnitzel, sachertorte and strudel, The Delaunay will be happy to oblige.Read more
When to go: When you want to show a sceptic how far casual British dining has come.
What to have: The kitchen’s homage to the Viennetta combines dark chocolate, salted caramel and own-made ice cream.
The three brothers behind this quirky venue have filled their rustic dining room with tongue-in-cheek farm references such as reclaimed tractor parts, bright portraits of cows and oil drums for tables. However, their intentions are sincere: many ingredients, plus wines, are sourced from the family’s West Sussex farm and vineyard. Start with inventive ‘mouthfuls’ such as hake rillettes, then choose from ‘fast cooking’ or ‘slow cooking’ selections, including delicious spatchcocked quail with house barbecue sauce and pickled fennel. Each plate has a spring in its step, and smiley staff encourage sharing – you’ll wish it was your local.Read more