Don't be fooled by the name: this red and yellow boozer just off Oxford Street's ropier end is not a hotspot for sherries and fine tapas (see nearby Barrica for that). In fact, it’s not even a bar. Bradley’s is definitely a pub, and with its jumble sale decor and tattered furniture, it sure puts the 'shabby' in 'shabby chic'. But don't be put off: Londoners love Bradley’s for its low-key and unpretentious vibe. At the tiny two-floor venue, the atmosphere is warm and friendly (except for when there's a Spain v England football match on), the drinks are a fair price for area and, the real showpiece, there's a vinyl jukebox pumping out Motown classics and disco bangers in the ground-floor bar. So fond of this place are the locals that in summer months the thirsty post-work crowd forgo chairs and tables (and walls) and take to the street outside, much to the annoyance of taxi drivers who use Hanway Street as a sneaky shortcut.
There’s a vast bar-restaurant in Helsinki called Zetor (‘Tractor’), where Finns go to sit on hay bales, admire each other’s checked shirts, then indulge in wildly drunken barn dancing. It’s also a place to witness the infamous Finnish capacity for booze. Heavy drinking is something that Londoners do well too. Getting in touch with our inner bumpkin, however, is still a niche interest in London, and it’s one that Barnyard is now here to satisfy – particularly those with a more sober desire for rus in urbe than the Finns. Barnyard’s walls are corrugated iron, the tables stripped planks; plates are enamelled, some seats are oil drums. But wait a minute, isn’t this the latest venture from Ollie Dabbous, a chef so cutting edge he could probably chop down a wild elderberry shrub with his bare hands while out foraging. Of the modernist restaurant Dabbous, the one that’s fully booked until the northern hemisphere runs out of chilled pine infusions and fig leaf broth? Ollie Dabbous doesn’t just do hifalutin’ cookin’, that’s clear; he can also do casual, family-friendly, and affordable. Barnyard’s menu at first glance can read like motorway service station caff – cauliflower cheese, sausage roll, chicken in a bun – until you delve a bit deeper. ‘Lard on toast’ and ‘mince and dumpling’ are just that, in small-plates portions – but both dishes were full-flavoured and beautiful in their simplicity. More complex was the crispy chicken wings, rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic and l
There are reasons why Ethos might make you wary. It’s near Oxford Circus, it’s vegetarian, it’s a self-serve buffet and you pay for your food by weight. (That’s the weight of the food, not your weight.) This ‘comida por quilo’ system is a popular economy-restaurant style in Brazil, but it’s been relatively unexplored in the UK. Adding to the gimmicky potential, on any given day the main menu might include more than a dozen dishes from the diverse cuisines of Japan, Southeast Asia, Italy, Korea, India, Mexico and Lebanon – and anywhere else that does brilliant vegetarian dishes – plus a few of their own creations. You can choose as few or as many as you like, building your own bespoke meal, before having your plate weighed and then paying at the counter. The concept may seem incoherent at first. Standing by the platters and bowls at the buffet – hot on one side, room temperature on the other – wondering whether the Korean kimchi might go with some nasu dengaku (Japanese miso-roasted aubergine), or the restaurant’s Indian-inflected ‘scotch egg’. But sitting in the spacious, box-fresh surroundings – the decor is predominantly Nordic white and blue, with some bucolic trunks of silver birch reaching skywards – you taste the food and think: ‘Hang on, this is really good.’ Rather than worrying about whether Thai sweetcorn fritters are complemented by a lovage-laced tomato and bread panzanella salad, the world tour of dishes becomes a mini-adventure in flavour, colour and textu
Opened in January 2013, Attendant occupies London’s most original location for a coffee bar: a late-nineteenth-century gents’ toilet. The urinals provide seating with small tables, and there’s additional seating at a banquette at the back. Be warned: this place is tiny, and rammed at a weekday lunchtime. But that was the only problem apparent. Everyone in the young office-worker crowd looked very happy, and the food – cold sandwiches, hot sandwich of the day, various salads – looked great. Coffee-lovers will love Attendant. The barista, obsessively committed to his craft, apologised because the Caravan blend might have a little too much citrus flavour from sitting for just three days after roasting (he likes six). It was citrusy; but it was wonderful. He offered to brew a free cup of something else, so we could compare and contrast. All in all, this is a great place. The only difficulty is resisting making jokes about Attendant’s previous life. We could crack a million of them, but you’d only get pissed off. Looking for another caffeine fix? Find more coffee shops in the capital
Soho’s lively little Lebanese hub continues its success, judging by the numbers who cram around the tables in the distinctive yellow, black and white interior. At the back is a counter stacked with ready-made wraps to take away. This cheery café is a world away from staid traditional Lebanese restaurants. There’s none of the formality (or the space), but the standard of food is just as high. On a recent visit, we loved the tangy stickiness of sawda djej (melt-in-the-mouth chicken livers), which, in this version, came in a dark sauce sweet with pomegranate seeds. Falafel made a great contrast: soft, cushiony insides and crisp shells, served with a generous portion of tahina. They went well with the dense, garlicky houmous too. Manakish zaatar was perfect: pitta bread drizzled with olive oil and dusted with lemony zaatar spice, warmed in the oven just enough to let the flavour flood out: simple but delicious. Yalla Yalla is popular as a lunch spot – and staff can get overwhelmed – but it’s open in the evening too, and serves grills and mains alongside the meze all day. It also has an extensive, largely Lebanese, wine list and cocktails.
On this site for 60 years, the Indian YMCA sees little need to change a formula that has successfully fed generations of Indian students newly-arrived in the UK. The concrete and glass post-war modernist building looks institutional but is an institution, though these days you are more likely to share your table with a bargain-hunting British office worker than an trainee doctor from the Punjab. Queue canteen-style at the counter, while checking off the low prices on the pegboard menu above; ‘tin fruits 75p’ is typically succinct. We recommend the freshly-prepared dishes: the curries (fish, mutton, veg, chicken) are all cooked home-style and sensitively spiced. The dahl is a comforting version, the turmeric-coloured toor dal giving body to the dish. Mounds of rice soak up the sauces; be warned that the pilau rice uses generous sprinklings of vivid food colourings. Although most of the dishes are North Indian in style, a soothing South Indian breakfast snack of dahi wada is a lentil rissole swathed in a heavy, palliative yoghurt. A sink for washing your hands afterwards is discreetly concealed behind a glass screen, not on public view in the Indian way. The Y’s better for lunch than dinner.
London’s Tex-Mex eateries are currently ten a peso, and the branded interior of Benito's Hat looks ripe for replication – no doubt something owner Ben Fordham, a former City lawyer, has considered. Lime and orange walls overlook functional wooden tables, with cactus pots sitting precariously among the condiments. The fast-moving production line serves some of the best burritos in town. We plumped for one loaded with slow-cooked pork, and loved the soft, floury tortilla, the freshness of the fiery salsa brava (made several times daily) and the black beans, which were authentically flavoured with avocado leaves. Chicken, steak and vegetable options are also available, as are suitably merciless margaritas.
Thomasina Miers’s Mexican ‘market food’ concept is now an eight-strong chain (plus two street food vans). The restaurants all share a cheery vibe, with young, efficient staff buzzing round bright interiors, as well as a commitment to sustainability and animal welfare. The large Charlotte Street branch has a takeaway hatch (which sells a few ingredients such as salsas, chillies and fresh corn tortillas, as well as lunches) and a mezcal bar on the first floor, in addition to the ground-floor restaurant. Tortillas loom large, in soft, crisp, toasted and chip variations, and in flour and corn versions, though there are also a few grills (fish, steak or chicken served with green rice). But no one is complaining – it’s tasty, addictive stuff, with recent meals only revealing one dud – the mushroom quesadillas. Favourites include the steak burrito (which comes with a zingy chipotle salsa); the little black bean tostadas (refried beans with avocado salsa, crema, cheese and fresh tomato salsa); the spicy slaw; and the guacamole (served with either tortilla chips or fennel pork scratchings). Puddings include a version of churros y chocolate. Breakfast is served here too: indulge in huevos rancheros, a burrito filled with Brindisa chorizo, or a dulce de leche doughnut. Drinks run from mocktails to tequila.
The clientele at this coffee bar smack-bang in the centre of uni-land, just a minute from Tottenham Court Road, combines academia and commerce. Quite apart from the enviable location, there’s much to entice. First is the long, attractive room with bright walls and skylights at the back. Second is the food, which is a cut above many basic coffee bars and very reasonably priced by West End standards; most sandwiches and baked goods are around £1 cheaper than at many comparable places. You’ll even find that rarity, a top-notch vegetable quiche. Third is the service, which is unfailingly friendly and well informed. Finally, there’s the coffee, all of it espresso-based. Most beans come from Square Mile, but there’s a changing roster of guest beans well worth investigating. On our visit, it was a Yirgacheffe roasted in (wait for it) Detroit, Michigan. The espresso from these beans is possibly the best we’ve had all year: properly tiny, lovely crema, with a rounded sweetness that required no sugar. A flat white was also judged a triumph. Store Street? We’d rather call it Star Street.
A pioneer of the Australian-run modern café scene, Lantana remains a lively spot. Its look – wooden tables, mismatched chairs, small pieces of art on white walls – is now commonplace, but the staff pride themselves on their coffee-making and baking skills, and rightly so. The flat whites are super-smooth and go well with a moist raspberry friand or an Aussie ‘cherry ripe’ cake slice. The breakfast and brunch menu sounds great too, though sadly, maple french toast with streaky bacon, grilled banana and candied pecans was a little dry and came without any syrup; the chef had also forgotten to candy the pecans. Nevertheless, the staff, though the relaxed side of perfect, were very apologetic. At lunchtime and in the evenings savoury dishes can be ordered with a glass of wine. The kiosk next door sells some dishes as takeaways, such as the tart of the day; on our visit this was a big slice of mushroom, spinach and goat’s cheese tart, served with a selection of salads that included a slightly bland lentil and beetroot assembly, but also a much more vibrant and flavoursome greek salad.
This is the second branch of the popular Korean mixed rice restaurant in Soho. Since the first branch opened in 2011, Bi Bim Bap has become a regular favourite for a cheap and warming bowl of its namesake dish – bibimbap. Served here in hot stone bowls (dolsot), there are ten varieties of the spicy rice mix to choose from including beef fillet, spicy pork and five different veggie options, all topped with a range of shredded vegetables and ready for you to mix with all the chilli sauce (gochujang) and bean paste you fancy. Even the simplest version topped with seasoned vegetables (cucumber, bean sprouts, spinach) and a fried egg was filled with flavour, and just the right amount of crisp rice. Our spicy hotpot with pork slices and hot and sour pickled kimchi cabbage also packed a flavoursome punch. Housed in a much narrower space than the Soho original, what the Charlotte Street branch lacks in spaciousness it makes up for with lively dishes and charming staff.
One of three Sagar restaurants – the others are in Hammersmith and Covent Garden – this Fitzrovia branch serves a similar menu of traditional South Indian vegetarian cuisine. Familiar regional Indian dishes such as aloo ghobi, chana masala and vegetable biryani feature alongside less well-known South Indian options such as dahi vada (lentil doughnuts soaked in cold homemade yoghurt) and a selection of uthappam – Indian lentil pizzas. Much of the menu is vegan, nut-free or wheat-free, too. There is a short wine list and four beers (Kingfisher, Heineken, Becks and Pils), as well as a number of speciality drinks such as lassi, Kashmiri falooda and kesar badam milk – saffron flavoured almond milk.
A King's Cross events space and community hub hosting comedy, theatre, music, exhibitions, talks and spoken word. The aim is to build a community of emerging and established artists, with workshops and classes aimed at helping people get into performance and creation, too. Expect a selection of events, including a weekly comedy night, charity fundraisers, theatre from local and national companies, and spoken word from London-based poetry collective, Spit the Atom. The venue boasts a bar, too.
"Next week is big. 'Like a Cake' new writing festival tickets £5, includes two beers for a fiver."