The 100 best dishes in London: Signature dishes

These signature dishes are the stars of the show in top London restaurants

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Squid and mackerel burger at Arbutus

Let’s get a few things straight. This ‘burger’ has no bun. It has no mustard or mayo. And no salad (unless you count a garnish of frou-frou micro herbs). But its dense, meaty texture, packed with chunks of almost-sweet squid and ocean-fresh mackerel, make a pretty perfect patty. Throw in some cockles (or sometimes razor clams) and a verdant sauce of sea purslane on the side, and you’ve got yourself a plate of seafood that’s somehow both casual and luxurious at the same time. Not to mention being such a hit with diners that it hasn’t been off the menu since Arbutus first opened.

Working Lunch available Monday - Friday | £17.95 2 courses - £19.95 3 courses
  1. 63-64 Frith Street, W1D 3JW
  2. Price: £11
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Radish, celeriac, and pomegranate salad with truffle oil and pecorino at Bocca di Lupo

Most people who recommend this Soho Italian mention ‘that radish and celeriac salad’. It’s been on the menu since opening days back in 2008, and thankfully it has stayed. We love the combination of earthy radish and celeriac, pops of tangy sweetness from the pomegranate seeds, the aroma from truffle oil and the saltiness from crumbly pecorino bringing it all together. A real taste of la dolce vita.

  1. 12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB
  2. Price: £9 small/£14 large
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Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

The signature dish at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, and no doubt one that will join the likes of ‘snail porridge’ and ‘bacon and egg ice cream’ when summing up the zany chef’s creations. But lord, is it good. A beautiful orb with an exterior of thin, sharp mandarin jelly encases some of the lightest, creamiest chicken liver parfait known to man – a triumph of flavour, texture and vision that fills us with childish glee.

  1. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA
  2. Price: £17.50
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Confit of pork belly with rosemary-scented cannellini beans at Opera Tavern

The first time we had this tapa, one of the signature creations of the Salt Yard/Dehesa/Opera Tavern group, we were a little disappointed that it wasn’t easier to divvy up for sharing. Then we saw the light – this is a dish that’s too good to share. The belly comes in three layers: tender, juicy base; fatty, full-flavoured middle; and a thick, crunchy top layer of crackling (the bit that’s tricky to cut). All this on a bed of stewed, starchy cannellini beans with just enough rosemary running through. Simple, but hugely comforting.

  1. 23 Catherine Street, WC2B 5JS
  2. Price: £9
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Spicy pork and fennel meatballs at Polpo Covent Garden

Meatballs are rarely sexy, and never pretty. But they can be very, very good. These versions, which first appeared at the ultra-trendy original Soho branch, sparked a meatball-loving trend across the capital. They are surprisingly light, and the hit of fennel is a revelation. Once you’ve had three, and mopped up the smooth tomato sauce they arrive smothered in, you’ll feel deeply comforted. If waiting for a table isn’t your thing, go at lunchtime instead – you can book until 3pm.

  1. 6 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA
  2. Price: Three for £6
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Goats’ cheese-stuffed courgette flowers with lavender honey at Salt Yard

Salt Yard’s frilly-edged courgette flowers are jammed with monte enebro (a salty goat’s cheese with blue cheese notes) before they’re tempura-battered, deep-fried, and drizzled with delicately scented lavender honey. In 2014, versions of this dish are widely available elsewhere, but we still think that the one at Salt Yard (and its younger, sexier siblings Dehesa and Opera Tavern), with its perfect balance of creamy and crispy, sweet and salt, is worth seeking out.

  1. 54 Goodge Street, W1T 4NA
  2. Price: £4.50
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Anjou pigeon, sweetcorn, bacon popcorn at Texture

Read it on the menu, and this starter at elegant Marylebone high-flyer Texture may seem a gimmick. When the dish arrives, gloriously adorned with an intact pigeon leg (claw and all), it may even shock. But the substance more than matches the style: this is an intelligently composed, superbly executed creation. Fat little slabs of ruby-middled pigeon flesh meet with an intense red wine jus. Charred pieces of corn and a delicate sweetcorn purée offset the subtle gaminess of the bird. And a few pieces of ‘bacon’ popcorn (flavoured with bacon powder) round it off. Taste? Sublime. Texture? You betcha.

  1. 34 Portman Street, W1H 7BY
  2. Price: £16.90
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Flame-grilled mackerel with smoked eel at The Ledbury

In many ways, the Ledbury remains a neighbourhood restaurant (its kitchen staff famously protected customers with knives and rolling pins when riots broke out in 2011). But this dish, from Aussie chef-patron Brett Graham, explains not only why the venue is considered to be one of the finest haute cuisine restaurants in London, but why diners are prepared to cross town to eat a lunch here. The silky mackerel has a unique burnt-wood smokiness, and comes with a delicate smoked-eel paste, while squiggles of shiso and mustard deliver freshness and bite. A masterful composition.

  1. 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ
  2. Price: £80/£90 (as part of a set lunch/dinner)
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