Setting the criteria for our annual list of the 100 best restaurants in London was the easy bit. Anywhere we felt compelled to revisit again and again was instantly in. The Time Out Food & Drink team spend the whole year independently visiting the newest joints in town and revisiting the greats, so our critics know which restaurants truly deserve their place in our annual top 100. Nevertheless, we fretted, we sweated, we chewed on toothpicks while dramatically shortening shortlists with a big red marker. Until, at last, we had London’s best restaurants, ranked in order of greatness.
So in the list below – surely the ultimate guide to the best restaurants in London – you’ll find it all: zeitgeist-defining celebrity haunts, the best new restaurants in London, Michelin star restaurants with starched linen napkins and restaurants serving down-to-earth cheap eats. What they all have in common is that they serve some of the best dishes in London at fair prices, with service befitting the setting. In short, if you’re looking for a great meal, you’ve come to the right place.
100 best restaurants in London: 100-91
When to go: When you crave great-value, new-wave café food and a nicely chilled-out vibe.
What to have: The signature mixed-grain salad with pomegranate, mint, toasted almonds, roasted carrots and coconut yoghurt.
There’s more than a whiff of Ottolenghi influence at this superb, independently run Covent Garden café – and that’s definitely no bad thing in our eyes. It’s no simple homage, however. There’s clearly plenty of imagination in the kitchen, and the veg-heavy menu features some genuinely inspired dishes. Even a simple green chopped salad is noteworthy. Jar Kitchen hits the mark when it moves toward fish and meat, too – try the garam masala pulled pork sandwich spiked with kaffir lime and oozing with curry mayo and raita, or the likes of grilled king prawns rubbed with rose harissa and coriander. Sure, it might go a little, erm, nuts with nuts and seeds, but this Drury Lane spot is leading the way in modern café dining.
When to go: When you’re craving the true tastes of Southeast Asia in a stylish setting, not far from the comfort of your own postcode.
What to have: Don’t place your order without a side of roti canai (buttery flatbread). The char kway teow (fried rice noodles) are also excellent.
In a capital city that represents the cuisine of nearly every nation in the world, from Iceland to India, Nepal to New Zealand, Poland to Peru, it’s surprisingly difficult to find Singaporean and Malay food – especially if you’re after a half-decent setting to eat it in. But at this Swiss Cottage stalwart you can feast not only on Malaysian dishes, but on specialities from the the Singapore Straits – an island melting-pot whose majority Chinese population and shared history (and border) with Malaysia makes for some very interesting happenings on your plate. Skip the everyday Cantonese stuff in favour of Straits classics: mouthwatering sambals, curries and noodles. It’s hawker-style food, but –as a concession to England’s less-than-tropical climate – served in a stylish, restaurant setting, tablecloths and all.
When to go: When you’re looking for grub that will light your fire without burning a hole in your pocket.
What to have: If you’re feeling adventurous, cold pig’s ear, tongue and tripe; otherwise, a lustrous gong bao tofu and long beans with marinated minced pork.
Baiwei means ‘100 flavours’ in Chinese, and it’s an apt name for this cosy place serving authentic, home-style Sichuan, Hunan and northern Chinese dishes. Along with Barshu, Ba Shan and Baozi Inn, it’s one of the Gang of Four masterminded by menu consultant Fuchsia Dunlop, Britain’s leading authority on Sichuan cooking. The key to these cuisines is flavour, in very robust doses: dishes from the south-west of China use dried chillies, Sichuan pepper and fragrant garlic in near-industrial quantities – stay away if you like it mild, or can’t abide chilli-fire. At Baiwei, ‘100 flavours’ translates as ‘100 ways to dazzle your taste buds’. Extra bonus: uncommonly friendly service.
When to go: When you’re looking for ‘destination’ east London dining.
What to have: The menu changes constantly, but look out for dishes with smoked or fermented ingredients – they’re the best.
When it was announced in 2014 that chef Nuno Mendes (now of Chiltern Firehouse fame) would be closing the doors of his Viajante – the most ‘destination’ of east London eateries – there was much gnashing of teeth among the area’s restaurant-goers. They needn’t have worried: the site, within the stylish Town Hall Hotel, soon had a worthy replacement. Here, restaurateur Jason Atherton and talented head chef Lee Westcott cook modish plates of New Nordic-leaning food. The name, in case you’re wondering, is inspired by its past life as a room for mayoral correspondence.
When to go: When Brixton Market just won’t cut it.
What to have: Spanish comfort food such as huevos rotos and leche frita.
Despite its odd location amid Acre Lane’s tyre workshops and charity shops, Boqueria has deservedly built up a devoted fan base spanning Clapham, Brixton and beyond (its popularity also secured the launch of a sibling on Queenstown Road). Its friendly, all-Spanish staff ferry spot-on tapas and raciones to the chattering crowds in the light, modern dining room. Hits include saffron-tinged cod fritters, melt-in-the-mouth ham croquetas and jet-black rice with squid and mussels. The atmosphere is always high and the prices refreshingly low – just two of the many reasons Boqueria continues to ride the crest of the capital’s Spanish wave.
"Specials! Celebrating fish: Bradan Rost salmon and wild Sicilian red prawns, New Caledonian blue prawns and hand-dived scallops."
When to go: When you want your small-plates fix injected from a pan-Med kitchen.
What to have: Fat, juicy, Josper-grilled prawns with wild fennel seeds, chilli and garlic. Or the homemade pasta.
Restaurants like Twist show why the now-ubiquitous small plates became so popular in the first place: you won’t be able to choose just one dish from the menu and, happily, you don’t have to. There’s an Italian slant to the food here, with Spanish and other Mediterranean influences evident. Whatever the leaning, the overriding impression is of top-flight ingredients used well – think top-notch Spanish charcuterie, then delicately floral risotto stirred with orange, almonds and asparagus followed by saffron-tinged pannacotta. And the high-quality food – from a kitchen clearly packing a lot of talent – is only the half of it: the décor is charming and the service is superb.
When to go: When Vietnamese barbecue is all you can think of, and you don’t mind pounding the city’s pavements to get to it.
What to have: Don’t overlook the prawn toast, whose topping of fresh prawns, fried seaweed, sesame seeds and chilli mayo wipes the floor with the efforts of your local Chinese takeaway.
Chef Damon Bui, a supperclub veteran of Vietnamese and Aussie descent, has made his debut permanent restaurant a whopper of an offering: a sleek, contemporary dining room serving Vietnamese barbecue dishes alongside classic soups and salads. The short menu has plenty of bite: try the barbecued pork, lemongrass and noodle salad, whose mint, red chilli and nuoc cham sauce add extra punches of flavour, or the fragrant beef pho piled high with herbs and seasoning. The only catch is that CôBa is a 20 minute trek from any of the nearest tube stations. Still, if you have to walk it off, you can over-order freely...Book Online
"Our chefs have been visiting some of the best arrocerias in Valencia to learn the secrets of great paella. Weekend lunch paella - muy bueno!"
When to go: When you want quality small plates you can count on without having to trek into central London.
What to have: The seafood specials are particularly good. If you really want to spoil yourself, order a plate of jamón ibérico to go with them.
A Spanish restaurant with a strong Scottish accent, this neighbourhood tapas bar stands out for its seafood sourced from north of the border: razor clams plucked from the Shetlands; scallops from Lochinver; and mussels from Ullapool, served from the grill. There are plenty of Iberian classics on the menu, too, of course – nothing to frighten traditionalists, but a strong emphasis on quality throughout. Sit up at the pewter-topped counter, or on one of the battered metal chairs in the modern-industrial dining room out back, and order juicy pan con tomate, oozing tortilla, crisp fried baby squid and a sweet-sharp fig and manchego salad, followed by a refreshing crema catalana.
When to go: When you want to get your five a day in the most delicious way possible.
What to have: The vegetarian options on the seasonally changing menu put many dedicated veggie restaurants to shame.
Bordeaux-born chef Bruno Loubet has a lofty reputation for artfully prepared dishes, and at this King’s Cross crowdpleaser on Granary Square he makes vegetables the star of his show. That’s not to say his hip, stylish warehouse restaurant doesn’t do meat – just that fusion dishes such as ‘salted watermelon, padrón peppers, marigold petals, salt cod brandade’ or ‘corn tamale, grilled vegetable salsa, pork belly’ reinforce ingredients’ pecking order. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will be dazzled by the kitchen’s inventiveness and passion; cocktail-lovers, meanwhile, should prepare to be amazed by vegetable-inspired concoctions including sours laced with aubergine rum or pea-shoot syrup.
When to go: Get down to business with a round-table dim-sum banquet.
What to have: Classic dim sum attracts Sunday crowds, and crossover specials like steamed wasabi prawn dumplings are worth trying, too.
Extensive both in size and menu, Phoenix Palace has over many years gained a reputation as a reliable venue in which to court business clients from the east. It’s not all suits and clenched-buttocked conformity, though: the ample round tables and lavishly decorated interior also accommodate wedding banquets and birthday parties. Menus for both lunchtime dim sum (a speciality) and evening can be as experimental or quotidian as you want them to be: from (excellent) har gau prawn dumplings to Chilean sea bass coated with crispy golden salted egg, and from fruity sweet-and-sour chicken to kangaroo with Sichuan-style vegetables. Heavens, there’s even a vegan set menu.
100 best restaurants in London: 90-81
When to go: If you want to sample Nuno Mendes' food but don't have the patience - or contacts - to get a table at Chiltern Firehouse.
What to have: The griddled pork and fennel sandwich is a must-have, as are the eggy puds (a Portuguese speciality); the ‘crème caramel’ slice, rendered with pork fat and offset by a thin, tangy Port sauce, is divine.
Nuno Mendes is a man of great talent but even greater humility. Though better known as the executive chef of Chiltern Firehouse, where he cooks for the likes of Rhi-Rhi and that one with the eyebrows, he’s happiest away from the paps at this, his own modest little ‘market tavern’. Here he gets to prove that there’s more to the cuisine of his native Portugal than peri peri chicken, with a menu of terrific small plates that includes cheese, cured meat, ‘tinned’ fish (it’s not really – they cook it first, then serve it in pretty tins) and griddled meat sarnies. Simple ingredients (battered runner beans in clam broth; cuttlefish with pigs’ trotters) are given star treatment, while staff couldn’t be more charming.
When to go: The night-time is the right time – when you’re desirous of dumplings and razzle-dazzle after dark.
What to have: A signature cocktail and a luxe dim sum – mushroom spring roll with black truffle, say, or the king crab Shanghai siew long bun with pork.
A pioneer of day-and-night dim sum, Yauatcha also broke with tradition by serving the snacks in sensual, stylish surroundings reminiscent of a nightclub. Head for the ground floor to sample exotic teas, pâtisserie and east-west fusion desserts, but descend to the basement for a slinky vibe, seductive drinks and beautiful plates of delicate treats. Main courses (steamed halibut with chilli and salted radish, for instance) hold allure, as do the renowned cocktails, but it’s the pricey, enticing dim sum that draw the oohs and ahhs: from venison puffs to steamed lobster dumplings with tobiko caviar.
When to go: No bookings are taken at dinner, so rock up early or very late. Or book for lunch.
What to have: About three small plates per person is the magic number.
There’s a charm to the Polpo group of restaurants, with their NYC meets Venetian bàcaro styling, and menus to match. Soho-ites have lapped up the ‘small plates’ revolution, which also goes one further (or smaller) at Polpo in the form of cicchetti (bite-sized Venetian bar snacks). A few of these – for example a plate of fritto misto, a bowl of pork and fennel meatballs and a few slices of ‘white’ pizzette Bianca – is all you need to be happy. There are further branches from Covent Garden to Chelsea, while sister restaurant Polpetto is on Soho’s Berwick Street.
When to go: When you’ve got an alpha male in tow.
What to have: Something off the ‘cuts’ board, which changes twice-daily.
It’s no coincidence that the three branches of Goodman (Mayfair, the City and Canary Wharf) are where London’s big-money men congregate – though at this W1 branch the hedge-fund manager/private banker count is slightly lower. For the capital’s self-styled kings of the jungle, on the hunt for the finest meat that money can buy, Goodman is a temple. The treatment of the meat is the same at each location: it’s dry-aged on site, in a temperature-controlled, dehumidified environment, then cooked over charcoal. The quality of sides varies, so your cash is best invested in meaty mains.
When to go: When you’re after world-class cooking with exceptional flavour combinations.
What to have: Save room for the wonderful puds, such as raspberry frangipane tart with clotted cream and pine nuts.
Even if you don’t live near Chelsea, you should try to visit this exceptional restaurant at least once. The décor is understated: a soothing grey-green colour scheme and unobtrusive artwork. The real artistry arrives on the plates, which are astoundingly good. Though dish descriptions run long, you’d be hard pressed to find a flavour out of place in the impressively executed French-skewed dishes. Both savouries and sweets are handled with confidence, and they’ll even accommodate off-piste requests. The wine list is of a calibre to match the food and includes a high-quality selection of more than a dozen wines under £30 – and hundreds more above that.
When to go: Whenever the gods of the booking process (explained in terrifying detail on their website) deign to grant you the opportunity.
What to have: Sushi and sashimi by the piece if you can’t handle the omakase menu.
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Atari-Ya, Sushi of Shiori
Paying for a meal at this Clerkenwell sushi-ya is not easy. There’s a minimum spend at dinner of £50 per person, and the omakase (chef’s choice) menus cost £68 or £88 (and has to be ordered a day in advance). But paying is easier than getting a table. There are around half a dozen seats, and they’ve been a hot ticket ever since chef Toru Takahashi opened here in 2012. Sit at the pale wood counter and watch the master at work, his movements precise and his demeanour almost contemplative. Be patient when trying to book one of those precious seats. Eventually, your patience will be rewarded.
When to go: When you want a beautiful meal but without that ‘oof’ feeling at the end.
What to have: Norwegian king crab or quail with bacon popcorn – just two of their classics.
Long before the so-called New Nordic fashion infiltrated London’s menus, this dining room in a former Georgian townhouse was turning out food that was quietly groundbreaking. Though of the haute school in creativity and technical detail, the dishes – courtesy of Icelandic head chef and co-founder Agnar Sverrisson – were (and are) deliciously light, with butter and cream both banned. Staff are charming and polished without being afraid to let their personalities shine through. A delightful place.
"Latest of our hot pot signature series with Somsaa collaboration. Kiao tiew ruea, or simply pork boat noodle. £10.50 for the set menu."
When to go: When you want a quirky dinner (when it feels like better value), that can also be surprisingly healthy.
What to have: Don’t skip the moreish snacks (spiced pigs’ ears, seafood fritters). Then get two kinds of broth and add firm noodles, interesting ‘shrooms and loads of seafood, especially the house prawn ball.
You know what Shuang Shuang is? A lot of fun. In a pale, futuristic space, a giant conveyor belt carries around sashimi-grade fish and meat, raw veg and noodles, all of which come labelled with cooking times. You choose a broth (a Chinese soup base) which is kept bubbling via an electric hotplate. There’s no timer, so use your phone stopwatch and err on the side of under-cooking (the quality ingredients can take it). Don’t get too hung up on the flavour of the broth: think of it as something to poach your food in. But do go ‘DIY’ on the dip, so that once your food is cooked, you can roll it in anything from sesame butter to minced ginger or fresh coriander. ‘Concept’ dining at its best.
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 continued 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, 21 years after opening its doors. Forgotten cuts and obscure ingredients grace the twice-daily-changing menu, and despite the reputation for concentrating on meaty things, fish cookery is expert and very serious. While this stripped-down luxe doesn’t come cheap, neither is it as expensive as roughly comparable places. St John remains a model other restaurants aspire to.
When to go: When you’re feeling flush: the ten-course menu costs £110 minimum, without wine or service.
What to have: What’s put in front of you, as it’s a no-choice menu. If you’re on a budget, visit at lunchtime Tuesday–Thursday for the £39 set meal deal (six courses).
London’s Victorian lavs get put to many unusual new uses, but a modernist restaurant in Bermondsey must be one of the more bizarre. For such a young chef, Tom Sellers has plenty of ambition and a clear idea of what he wants. The style mimics the set-price, multi-course, deconstructed and playful approach that has swept across Europe, spanning San Sebastian to Copenhagen – and he does it with aplomb: think dill-scented cucumber ash, desserts served in tiny milk bottles, ingredients such as hay or foraged greens. The interior owes much to the time Sellers spent working in Scandinavia, with its clean lines and understated colours.
100 best restaurants in London: 80-71
When to go: When you’re in the sort of refined company that appreciates proper silver and well-turned napery.
What to have: Wiener schnitzel, Austrian-style sausages with sauerkraut and any of the comforting puds.
The Wolseley set the standard for European-style grand cafés in London; later brasseries from the same owners, such as The Delaunay, refined it and allowed for some experimentation with a mittel-European formula. This 2014 opening takes it one step further, with a nod to the brasseries of Vienna, and is a startlingly smart place – as well oiled as Opa’s pocket watch. The day kicks off with Viennese-style breakfasts, segues into lunch and afternoon tea, then launches into a full Austrian menu for dinner, finished with topfenstrudel (pastry filled with soft quark cheese). The Austrian wines are great too – try them by the glass.
When to go: When you want the real deal without flying to Tokyo.
What to have: This is the place to truly experience omakase – that is, to leave everything in the chef’s (very capable) hands.
London may not be lacking high-end sushi restaurants, but Yashin in particular bridges the gap between quality and creativity. As at some sushi bars in Japan, soy sauce and wasabi are not offered for diners to use as they please. Instead, the sushi chef crafts and seasons each piece differently, to bring out certain qualities of every piece of fish or shellfish. A fatty piece of salmon nigiri may be lightly blow-torched to enhance its flavoursome oils, for example, then balanced by cubes of tangy, citrus ponzu jelly. For something equally eclectic (but without the rice), try its sister restaurant in South Kensington – Yashin Ocean House.
When to go: When you’ve had the foresight to book weeks ahead for a fabulously fancy fish supper.
What to have: The filleted fish dishes from the main menu are a particular delight.
Some of its younger A-list clients may have migrated to Chiltern Firehouse, and it’s hard not to think about that Charles and Nigella incident, but one thing’s for sure about Scott’s: it’s still one of the finest fish restaurants in this fair town. The setting oozes glamour, from the grand oyster bar (a great place to perch and survey the room), to the impeccably groomed clientele and suave staff. Caviar, lobster and Dover sole may be pitched at the money-to-burn crowd, but there are also humble sardines and deep-fried haddock (complete with mushy peas), plus pretty much every variety of seafood in between.
When to go: When you want to live the polo-playing Argentine high life.
What to have: Provoleta with almonds and oregano honey – melted cheese never tasted so good.
Sibling to upscale Casa Malevo (in nearby Connaught Village), Marylebone’s Zoilo sells itself on being a small-plates Argentine joint. If that sounds a bit gimmicky, don’t worry: just imagine a tapas bar with mostly counter seats, only darker and more gorgeous, with lots of great wine and the best of the country’s street food pimped to within an inch of its life. The empanadas have perfect pastry and indulgent fillings; seafood and meats are cooked sous vide, then flash-grilled; the puds are terrific. The bill can mount up if you order a lot, but you more than get what you pay for.
When to go: If you know your way around a Cantonese menu, and want something with more kick.
What to have: Classic Sichuan dishes such as fish-fragrant aubergines or dongpo pork.
Since opening in 2006, Barshu has done much to popularise Sichuan cuisine in London. The strong flavours of slow-cooked dongpo pork knuckle in chilli oil are typical of a cuisine that gives your taste buds an invigorating whack. Spice lovers we may be, but we still recommend avoiding the dishes marked as hot, because here they really mean it; we’re talking about chilli peppers by the wok-ful. Barshu remains an exceedingly charming venue, its décor modelled on that of an old Beijing teahouse, complete with elaborate wood carvings and tasselled lanterns. Its owners also run three other restaurants nearby: Ba Shan, Baiwei, and the cheaper Baozi Inn.
When to go: Weekend brunches, or pre-7pm for the set dinner.
What to have: Pancakes at brunch, or the three-course set dinner – a snip at £23.
Once known for hosting some of east London’s finest alternative performance acts (the restaurant’s cabaret room has since been converted into a private dining room), this stylish spot is a scenester kind of a place – but no worse for it. True, there might be as many people posing as there are looking at their plates, but the French-leaning food is reliably decent, while the staff are friendly and professional. Come sunny weekends, when you’ll find pancakes with maple syrup and bacon on the menu as well as the ubiquitous full English or eggs Benedict, you can pretend you’ve warped time and space by being in both trendy Brooklyn and trendy London at the same time.
"Take your Valentine's Day to new heights with our stunning city views, a chef-curated sharing menu and a colorful setting unlike any other."
When to go: On a clear day, before sunset, when the skyline views will take your breath away.
What to have: The crispy yellowtail and avocado taquitos, or anticucho-style miso black cod.
It would be all too easy for this swanky sushi joint to rest on its high-rise laurels – after all, diners get a thrill just riding up the glass lift on the outside of the building, followed by magnificent views of the city’s skyline and plenty of glamour. They hardly need to bother making an effort in the kitchen, but happily, they do. The menu is dominated by Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) cooking with a few other Latin dishes, so alongside terrific ceviches, tiraditos and anticuchos, you’ll find Mexican taquitos, and Brazilian churrasco (grilled meats) or moqueca mista (a tangy seafood and rice stew).
When to go: When you’re after something filled with fragrant spices in Farringdon.
What to have: The menu changes regularly, but if the yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranate is on the menu, it shouldn’t be missed.
Blending Moorish flavours from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East, Sam and Sam Clark’s restaurant has been a popular Exmouth Market eatery for over a decade now. Expect aromatic dishes jewelled with nuts, herbs and dried fruits, plus hearty peasant-style stews, spiced roasted meats and seafood, all served in a relaxed, clattery, airy and open-plan setting. If they’re all booked up, pop into their tapas offshoot – Morito – conveniently located next door.
When to go: When you and your friends want to feel cool, young and in-the-know.
What to have: The moist, meaty salmon teriyaki hirata, then the toast-your-own s’mores.
This basement follow-up to chef Ross Shonhan’s funky ramen hit Bone Daddies takes the blueprint of loud rock music, tattooed staff and East Asian street food, substituting noodles for hirata buns along the way. The large, industrial dining room pulses to a high-octane vibe the fuller it becomes – especially with skilfully ‘easternised’ cocktails and an accessible saké list greasing the wheels. On the menu, sushi rolls and sashimi pave the way for the main event: pillowy steamed buns that you stuff with a range of meaty fillings, from crispy pork belly with mustard miso to salmon teriyaki.
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, it’s a place where 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 Trinity, the area’s even smarter Modern European restaurant – riffs on a range of hearty Anglo, American and French influences, but gives them a British sheen. The likes of toad-in-the-hole and fish pie sit comfortably alongside chicken liver parfait and mac ’n’ cheese – and all are prepared with impressive precision. For the best spectator seats, head to the tall stools by the bar.
100 best restaurants in London: 70-61
When to go: It’s the best place in London for alfresco dining.
What to have: Breakfast and brunch are just as appealing as the dinner menu.
Chef Anna Hansen used to work with Peter Gordon at The Providores, and stylistically, her eclectic cooking style reflects this shared heritage. A signature dish of sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette with spring onion, coriander and smoked chilli sambal is a winner, and we love the ambition and invention in the likes of baharat- and hazelnut oil-marinated duck breast, with root vegetable rosti, blood orange-glazed carrots and hispi cabbage slaw, or ajowan-flavoured pannacotta with lavender, poppyseed and milk crumb, drizzled with orange sauce. The Modern Pantry’s particularly appealing in the summer, when you can sit outdoors in serene St John’s Square.
When to go: On a carefree sunny weekend for brunch, Sunday roast or alfresco cocktails.
What to have: Wood-grilled meat and fish are the kitchen’s calling card.
Located under the railway arches of Hoxton Overground, 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 proceedings. Head chef Tom Ryalls deals in gutsy platefuls of seasonal ingredients, but his light touch lifts the likes of cod with fresh peas, lentils and bacon, or whole Portland crab with chips and mayonnaise to another realm. Cocktails on the terrace – which is heated and covered when necessary – are a must.
When to go: When meeting adventurous friends who don’t mind sharing.
What to have: Anything from the ‘small plates’ section. Sorry, we meant everything.
Caravan King’s Cross has taken the baton from its much-loved older sibling in Exmouth Market and hasn’t stopped running yet. The spacious, industrial-look dining room, with its concrete floors and exposed heavy-duty pipes, has its charms; but on a warm day it’s the terrace and its breezy views of Granary Square that diners flock to. The all-day menu has lots of small plates and fuses international flavours in no-holds-barred combinations, resulting in relaxed, inventive dishes you’d never think up – let alone pull off – at home. The results are always interesting and the laser-precise flavour combinations are frequently eye-opening.
When to go: For a lunchtime dalliance with dumplings.
What to have: Look to the dim-sum specials list for innovative treats (fried minced squid balls, maybe), and don’t miss the black sesame dumplings in peanut crumbs to finish.
After all these years, the original Royal China branch still holds its position at the top table of London’s dim-sum venues. Enter its glossy black-lacquered interior, where curling waves and geese in full flight embellish the walls, and deliberate over the menu of mouth-watering snacks. Glutinous rice in lotus leaves (wonderfully aromatic, full of delicious tidbits) will provide ballast for such delicacies as honey roast pork puffs (divine pastry) and scallop dumplings, as well as inspired creations from the specials list. The full menu has its attractions, too, including classic stewed pork belly hotpot.
When to go: When you’re with friends – and none of them are vegetarian.
What to have: The smoked Tamworth spare ribs, or the 35-day aged rib-eye with béarnaise sauce and fries.
It’s impossible to talk about this restaurant without first mentioning its roots. The owners of Foxlow founded Hawksmoor, the city-conquering group of smart steakhouses. In summer 2013 they sold a chunk of the business for £35 million, and couldn’t resist going straight back out to make another baby. Happily, they haven’t just created a carbon copy. The look at Foxlow is casual-clubby, and while the menu is predominantly meaty, it does a lot more than just steak (there’s fish, a selection of knockout salads and some terrific puds, too). The vibe is notably more chilled, and the chummy staff are just brilliant. There are now four branches – one for each of the compass points – and counting.
When to go: When you want to eat in a part of central London you didn’t really know existed, and get some really astonishing cooking as part of the deal.
What to have: Starters and mains can all be wonderful, but it’s the desserts (such as peanut butter parfait with chocolate and blackcurrant, or a light-as-air pistachio éclair) that are sure to blow you away.
Local property developers must be rubbing their hands. Having languished for years as a no-man’s land between Marylebone and Fitzrovia (it’s actually the official boundary), Great Portland Street finally ‘arrived’ in 2013. That year marked the appearance of ‘smart dining’ in the form of Picture, but it’s nearby Portland that’s put this unloved patch of the capital on the culinary map. Run by north London school chums Daniel Morgenthau and Will Lander (who also co-owns the Quality Chop House), this small, stylish restaurant is a labour of love in every respect, from travelling to Belgium to headhunt the one head chef, Merlin Labron-Johnson (he shares the post with Edoardo Pellicano) to commissioning the retro-chic furniture to handpicking their bread, coffee and charcuterie from suppliers in Bermondsey’s Spa Terminus. Service is outstanding, with on-the-button wine-matching, too.
When to go: When your gastronomic sat nav says no to a Brick Lane curry.
What to have: The house special, lamb raan, which is a slow-marinated, spice-laden delight.
The second of four branches (the first in Covent Garden, the third in King’s Cross, the latest in Soho), this Dishoom is one of the best places to eat in Shoreditch. The interior is modelled on the Iranian cafés of Bombay, with booths and mosaic floors creating intimate nooks with a charming makeshift feel – but also with a touch of cool. Dishes on the feisty modern Indian menu are vividly described and peppered with brilliant asides and interesting facts – whether referring to superior versions of chicken tikka and lamb biryani, or lesser-known classics such as a Frankie. Spicy breakfasts and brunches throw a cracking curveball, too.
"Looking for a late-night dinner spot or a quick and delicious post-theatre meal? Our kitchen is open until midnight Thursday-Saturday!"
When to go: It’s off the beaten track in Soho, so you can afford to be a little spontaneous; but ring first anyway, and avoid peak times.
What to have: The meats and fish are all beautifully grilled, but make sure you try some of the vegetable dishes, such as the stuffed courgette flowers drizzled in honey.
The Salt Yard Group have produced some stunning but little-known restaurants such as Dehesa and Opera Tavern, and have gone from strength to strength as they add new branches. Taking the Italian-Iberian small-plates ethos of Salt Yard, but with the cooking done over smoky coals, Ember Yard goes one better. The ground floor is a wine bar and restaurant with lots of warm woods; if you’re in the basement, try for the bar counter. Every tapas flavour combination is a winner; tender octopus with peas, smoked tomato and wild garlic, say, or Ibérico pork ribs grilled to melting softness.
When to go: When you’re overdue a meat-up with friends.
What to have: The ‘boards’ (charcuterie or fish) are must-have starters. But save space for the delicious house-made ice creams: from malted milk or blackberry to the signature Ferrero Rocher.
Locals are spoiled with this gastropub on their doorstep, though good luck to them on a weekend – the food is certainly worth travelling for, and people do. The attraction is a combination of chummy pub service (dog- and child-friendly), well-kept ales and a menu that keeps on giving. Own-made charcuterie is definitely a draw, while British produce is championed relentlessly – an impressive roster of local suppliers is clearly visible. The menu is typically meaty, featuring great slabs of beef cooked with skill.
When to go: Weekend brunch for a treat, or pop in on a weekday evening for a slightly special supper.
What to have: There’s no such thing as ‘ordering badly’ here, but sampling a couple of the bright, bold salads will change the way you think about greens forever.
Credited with making deli dining a fashionable pursuit, Yotam Ottolenghi continues to wow London with his big, delicious flavours, drawn from the Med, the Middle East and beyond. Salads change seasonally but might include green beans with shaved asparagus, broad beans, confit garlic and spinach or caramelised pink grapefruit with bitter leaves, Roquefort, labneh, spicy walnuts and pomegranate balsamic. Given the casual ambience, the prices can be a surprise, but as with all things of exceptional quality, you get what you pay for. And the Soho outpost, Nopi, more of a ‘proper’ restaurant, is much more expensive.
100 best restaurants in London: 60-51
"As we undergo a venue refurbishment, Bar Boulud will be temporarily relocating to Harrods Food Hall between January 9-29."
When to go: When you want to show someone you really love them.
What to have: The charcuterie is a must; the set-price lunch a steal.
Bar Boulud is a branch of the original in New York, and offers a seamless dining experience, with faultless service and exquisite French food in a smart Knightsbridge hotel – and all at prices that seem like a bargain for this standard of restaurant in this kind of mega-rich neighbourhood. Charcuterie takes centre stage with an array of terrines, pâtés, hams and sausages. Mains run from classic croque-monsieur to salade lyonnaise and steak frites. To finish, try classic puddings such as a Paris-Brest. So how does Bar Boulud make any money? The wine list is the answer – go easy on the delightful but pricey bottles if you want to keep the bill below three figures for two.
When to go: When you fancy a French experience of ‘Amélie’-esque proportions.
What to have: A golden oldie such as chicken chasseur.
Ask anyone to list 20 things they’d expect to see in a classic French bistro and chances are you’ll find at least 15 of them at this dinky Gallic charmer, including lettered mirrors, tobacco-coloured walls and a tubby Michelin figurine behind the bar. The restaurant has been full from day one because of its sensible prices, artful grub, elbow-to-elbow bonhomie and peerlessly efficient staff. The chalkboard menu majors in boldly flavoured French hits such as fish soup, steak tartare and boeuf bourguignon, plus plenty of wines by the carafe.
When to go: At lunchtime for the peace and quiet (and a lower spend); at dinner for the buzz, the great wine list, and the cheering flavour of charcoal.
What to have: The pappardelle with beef shin ragù is famous enough to have its own Twitter account – and so popular it made the leap onto the menu at sister restaurant Padella.
This two-floor contemporary Italian is still as frenetically popular with Highbury gourmets as it was when it first opened in 2010 – pity anyone who attempts to get a table here for dinner on spec (they’d have more luck at lunchtime). Trullo is all about simple pleasures – its stripped-back interiors are stylishly unfussy, while the kitchen team takes a back-to-basics approach to the menu. Fresh homemade pasta, rolled just before service, is a must-order – it’s too good to drown in gloopy sauce; instead, its quality is allowed to shine through simple seasonal adornments such as marjoram, golden garlic and parmesan. Elsewhere on the short menu, top-quality cuts of meat and ozone-fresh fish are cooked simply over charcoal and served with rustic sides. Desserts, too, are taken seriously – and are seriously delicious, with tarts a speciality. The wine list boasts an excellent selection of Italian regional wines, including natural and biodynamic options.
When to go: When you’re romancing, or with sophisticated friends.
What to have: The coq au Riesling (so simple, so heavenly) and at least one of the fat, full-flavoured sausages.
It’s hard to believe this used to be an uninspiring branch of Brown’s. Redesigned as a turn-of-the-century Parisian brasserie, it’s now a gorgeous, glorious space to conduct your own take on café culture. Even the loos are handsome as hell. As for the food, it’s rich and comforting (and terrific value too, given portion sizes, especially if you go with a few friends and share), occupying the culinary space where France meets Germany. Dine on classic bistro fare (confit duck, croque monsieur) right through to full-flavoured sausages and flat-beaten schnitzel. Settle into one of the lovely half-moon booths if you can and enjoy the old-school, polished service: this is part of the Corbin & King empire (they of The Wolseley and Fischer’s), after all.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for a bit of glamour.
What to have: One of the classics-with-a-twist starters, such as prawn cocktail with lobster jelly, avocado and crispy shallot. Or a slice of uber-traditional pork pie with piccalilli, hewn tableside.
Jason Atherton’s third opening of 2013 took a different turn from his highly successful Social ventures (Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Social Eating House, City Social and Social Wine & Tapas) 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 (or do away with an Ageing Hipster – a typically inventive riff on an Old Fashioned – from the comfort of your table).
When to go: When you want West End small-plate standards without leaving south London.
What to have: The excellent Korean-style pork belly is a menu constant for good reason. For dessert, the chocolate mousse any which way is always disturbingly good.
What began as a pet name between French sommelier Margaux Aubry and Brit chef Joe Sharratt, who met while working at Clapham’s Trinity, is now the moniker for the couple’s dinky natural-wine bar and small-plates restaurant on the Brixton/Herne Hill border. This is casual dining at its best: Sharratt’s tight, daily-changing menu features gutsy yet refined dishes such as wild-rabbit faggots with Earl Grey-soaked prunes and slivers of melt-in-the-mouth lardo, or boudin noir with tender grilled octopus and tart capers. The list of natural wines, meanwhile, has been expertly pimped and pruned by Aubry, with lots available by the glass and the rest organised by producer. You need never again leave Zone 2 for dinner.Book Online
When to go: Best when you’re already in the area, but any time if you need a taste of the true south (of Europe).
What to have: The specials of the day. Clams with garlic and parsley, perhaps, lamb leg with flat beans and olives, or turbot with borlotti and bacon.
A former car garage in a residential part of Highbury, this lovely restaurant is a slick operation hiding behind a practised nonchalant exterior. The menu – scribbled on a piece of A4, hot off the kitchen press – combines the rustic savoir-faire of France and the gastronomic gusto of Italy with the best of British seasonal produce: daily-changing Med-accented dishes range from salt veal with borlotti beans and vibrant green sauce, to spider-crab soup with punchy aioli. The wine list is as much of a draw as the food: from the hundred-bin cellar, staff pick a dozen or so wines for the day’s list, mostly low-intervention, many by the glass.
When to go: When you know a quick bite will turn into a full-blown meal.
What to have: The smoked coconut laksa with seafood (sometimes prawn, sometimes lobster) and lemongrass dumplings is a deserved classic.
Peter Gordon is the father of British fusion, and his charming split-level restaurant duly mixes a wine bar and small-plates outfit downstairs with a more formal dining room upstairs. The menus might read like a word-association exercise, but the seemingly random ingredients in each dish – often with a Southeast Asian bias – confidently deliver a sucker punch of flavour. The cellar has an extensive list of New Zealand wines, with a tempting selection by the glass. It’s a perfect fit for this longstanding fusionistic enclave.
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 jolly 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 the terrific pastry-wrapped beef ‘cigars’, served with the house-made mustard. Each plate has a spring in its step, and smiley staff encourage sharing – you’ll wish it was your local.
When to go: Breakfast at The Wolseley is arguably the best meal of the day.
What to have: Owner Chris Corbin always orders the pancakes. If they’re good enough for him…
This glamorous European grand café is a London institution that caters to everyone without snobbery. Perhaps this is why not everyone can get a booking, because of the sheer demand. So a date in the lofty, clattering dining room – with its black marble pillars, geometric tiled floor and imposing chandeliers – is a treat indeed. The eclectic all-day menu takes luxury as its unifying theme: breakfasts of pastries, French toast and eggs Benedict segue into fruits de mer, caviar-laced omelettes and cream teas later on in the day – all brought to the table by an army of expertly trained staff.
100 best restaurants in London: 50-41
When to go: When you’re in the mood for some old-school ooh-la-la brasserie fare.
What to have: Croque-monsieur for weekend breakfasts; smoked fish platter with a pre-dinner apéritif; or something more French than the French, such as braised rabbit or magret de canard.
Even the townsfolk of E11 would be the first to admit it: Wanstead High Street seemed an unlikely place for an esteemed chef to make his comeback. But back in 2012, that’s just what Max Renzland (the brains behind a string of acclaimed self-titled ’90s neighbourhood bistros) did. Provender has since settled into its groove, and lucky Wansteaders have become rather blasé about having rich Gallic fare, terrific wines and a steady stream of foodie tourists right on their doorstep. Sunday roasts – which give a French twist to this most British of traditions – are rightly popular with locals; full-on French desserts, meanwhile, get everyone weak at the knees.
When to go: To bolster your culture-vulture credentials with a sophisticated pre- or post-theatre supper.
What to have: The signature fish pie or a plateau de fruits de mer – but new additions such as the lobster and shrimp burger are classics in the making.
Despite its recent name change, the Sheekey brand is so well established, and so well known among tourists, that you’d be forgiven for assuming it couldn’t possibly still be maintaining its original high standards. Wrong. At J Sheekey and its neighbouring oyster bar, the kitchen buys the cream of the marine crop and serves it in (mostly) simple styles that do justice to this top-flight produce. The menu in this lovely, capacious bar differs relatively little from that of the main restaurant; both offer convenience (this is the heart of Theatreland, after all), and comfort. You can eat quickly to make your curtain, or dawdle if you wish. A classic.
When to go: Whenever they can squeeze you in.
What to have: The menu changes constantly, but Dabbous is particularly skilled with fruit, veg and foliage: if it’s got leaves, herbs or flowers in it, order it.
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 and tables became some of the most sought after in London. Dish names may be simple, but the execution of this inventive food is of the highest standard. The four-course set lunch (£35) is terrific value, but for a show-stopping special occasion dinner, it’s worth saving up for the £75 tasting menu. (There’s also a middle ground: the four-course set dinner, at £59.) Whichever way you pay and play, you won’t be disappointed.Book Online
When to go: When the sun is shining, the weekend stretches ahead, and you want a reminder of how brilliant London’s ever-changing dining scene is.
What to have: Anything made with seafood is hands-down delicious, but don’t miss the plump duck hearts in almond buttermilk.
Portuguese chef Leandro Carreira has more than filled the gap that Som Saa left when it upped sticks to E1. The industrial style of the arched dining room, with its concrete floors, reclaimed wood, chalkboards and simple furniture, perfectly suits this chef’s contemporary approach and laid-back style, but don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of any of his dishes – a lot of fiddling goes into making them this memorable. Carreira’s experience at restaurants such as Viajante and Koya influences the classic dishes of his homeland – plugged-in staff can give you the full run-down on how each ingredient is dried, cured, grilled (sometimes all three) to make the finished dish.
When to go: For a leisurely lunch – bring your own bottle if you want to make it a boozy affair.
What to have: The menu changes daily, but don’t miss out on the brilliant desserts, from sticky date pudding to elderflower jelly.
Fondly remember sneaking a fag round the back of the school bike sheds? Salubrious Rochelle Canteen has given the old bike sheds of the neighbouring former Victorian school a new raison d’être. The blonde wood tables of the airy dining room are populated by designer, media and arty types all tucking heartily into the seasonal, ingredients-led menu – on hot, sunny days, it’s a first-come, first-served dash to the courtyard garden’s alfresco tables. Whatever the weather, expect simple, characterful dishes – from rabbit terrine or St John-style anchovy toast, to roast quail with aioli, fennel and lentils, and blood-orange mess. Never mind the cigarettes – time to break out the after-dinner cigars. Elsewhere, natch.
When to go: When you’ve already been to every Polpo and want to try food from the chef who designed many of its dishes.
What to have: Small sharing plates with flavours drawn from across the Med, such as their take on piadina (an Italian sarnie) with nettle pesto, goat’s curd and asparagus. The veal osso bucco is another must-have.
You know the almost-saying: behind every great restaurateur is a great chef. In the case of mega-brand Polpo, which now boasts six branches in London alone, owner Russell Norman became a media star while chef-director Tom Oldroyd worked quietly at the stoves. But the self-taught chef has finally got a place of his own, and quite rightly gone and put his name above the door – no risk of anyone forgetting about him now. It’s very small and split across two rooms: the street-level space houses a teeny kitchen and a handful of casual walk-in tables; the restaurant proper is upstairs, in a deep blue-hued room so narrow you may well get bumped from behind. But lose yourself in the innovative, high-impact cooking and you won’t even notice.
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, The Clove Club unashamedly puts food at the centre of its experience. The stark, Shaker-style dining room with its attractively utilitarian furniture and most open of kitchens feels part pop-up, part school dinner hall, but the food is a major departure from both – seasonal, esoteric ingredients fill the ever-changing menu. The cosy bar is worth a try, too, with excellent bar snacks that make a lighter (and cheaper) alternative to a full meal – try the buttermilk-fried chicken with pine salt – a throwback from chef Isaac McHale’s days at white-hot residency Upstairs at the Ten Bells.
When to go: When you’re with your very best mates and you want to eat, drink and get the party started.
What to have: The cauliflower shawarma (order an extra plate – do it!) and the hummus. For something more meaty, it has to be the smoked pork belly lavished with pomegranate molasses babrecue sauce.
First things first: Berber & Q is not the place if you want a quiet chitchat, or if you’re one of those chronic hand-washers who can’t touch anything sticky. This stripped-back, under-the-arches Haggerston spot (near neighbour to Tonkotsu East) is loud and dark; food comes heaped on sharing trays, and eating with fingers is encouraged. Flavours are Middle Eastern and smoky, but unlike most grill joints, it’s the vegetarian dishes that really shine. The deliciously charred cauliflower shawarma, with its balance of sweetness and smoke, softness and crunch, is mind-blowingly good, but don’t overlook the tahini-slathered, pine nut-strewn hummus either. Team it with a cocktail – we love the Haggerstoned, a citrusy muddle of tequila, green Chartreuse, pistachio syrup and orange bitters. The just-launched Shawarma Bar, on Exmouth Market, is a fittingly epic kebab shop for London’s most gastronomic street.
When to go: When there are four of you (so 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 homespun comfort food bandwagon: this Fitzrovia restaurant was created by chef Ollie Dabbous and chums. This younger, hipper sibling of Michelin-starred Dabbous, which is just down the road, 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 suckling pig with pineapple chutney; smoked paprika chicken wings; acorn flour waffles.
When to go: When you have menu fatigue or need an in-and-out treat.
What to have: The burger is undeniably tasty, but the lobster wins in the value stakes.
Burger & Lobster wins fans for its simple, high-quality and great-value offering – a prime burger, half-lobster or lobster roll, with salad and chips, for £20. The bijou Mayfair original was promptly packed out, and its resolutely first-come first-served policy saw huge queues forming. So this Soho behemoth was swiftly opened to soak up the lobster-loving overflow. This smart flagship branch boasts a huge, lively dining room and lightning-quick service, meaning it easily accommodates bookings and walk-ins alike. Still, queues at peak times are inevitable for spontaneous types. But there are branches from Farringdon to Fitzrovia.
100 best restaurants in London: 40-31
When to go: When you want a kick-ass modern Indian meal in retro Raj-era surrounds.
What to have: Kick off with one of the selection of posh tikkas – the tandoori broccoli, perhaps, or the pricey but delicious stone bass tikka.
Gymkhana models its look on Indian Colonial clubs in the days of the Raj. But if the look and feel are retro, co-founder Karam Sethi’s cooking is anything but. Based on regional cuisines from across the subcontinent, the cooking is modern in approach, and the spice can be serious without overwhelming the layers of big and subtle flavours that bring this menu to life. There is even a nice touch of theatricality: Indian punches come in sealed medicine bottles, with an ice-filled silvery goblet on the side.
When to go: Whenever you can get a table (book ahead or go off-peak if it’s a special occasion, otherwise just try walking in for counter seats).
What to have: All the small plates, from ‘posh things on toast’ (taleggio with London honey, wholegrain mustard and truffle shavings; whipped cod’s roe on dainty soldiers) to grilled things, like the lamb cutlets, with their pink middles, deliciously charred outers and coating of mint, parsley and anchovy.
As with the eighteenth-century courtesan it’s named after, you pay Kitty Fisher’s a visit if you want to leave with a smile but don’t mind paying for the pleasure. One signature dish, beef from ten-to-12-year-old Galician milking cows (chargrilled and served with cheese-stuffed potatoes and blackened onion), costs £88 for two. Happily, other dishes are equally good and easier on the wallet. The basement dining room is intimate and atmospheric; the street-level wine bar best on a sunny day (as are the two alfresco tables overlooking so-picturesque-it-should-be-in-a-Richard-Curtis-movie Shepherd Market). Putting your meal together from small plates is the best way to leave without having spent a fortune.
When to go: When you’re with friends – make this your plan (instead of meeting for drinks and then drunkenly inhaling a takeaway on the way home).
What to have: The katsu curry Scotch egg is an east-west hybrid that’s the perfect foil to a local craft beer.
The third London restaurant from chef/restaurateur Brett Redman (he of Elliot’s Café and The Richmond), this izakaya majors in fried chicken, Japanese style (that’s on skewers, FYI). Enter, order a craft beer (perhaps a London-brewed Beavertown Neck Oil or Japan’s Hitachino Nest Saison du Japon), then get stuck into yakitori dishes that make use of more than just the breast and thigh: moreish minced chicken skewers seasoned with chives come with a raw egg for dipping; tender chicken hearts are paired with morsels of smoked bacon. These, and the short selection of vegetable- and fish-heavy small plates, make for perfect pub snackage.
When to go: When you want inventive cooking with no affectations.
What to have: The menu changes weekly, and you don’t get a choice, but it’s always interesting – from sea trout with delicate elderflower-infused beurre blanc, tart gooseberries, yellow beetroot and chickweed, to desserts based on a Thai-style Pimm’s.
Love supper clubs but can’t be bothered with the restrictive dates and dodgy venues? Then you’ll like Pidgin, one of a growing breed of polished eateries with supper-club souls. The debut restaurant from James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, one-time hosts of acclaimed supper club The Secret Larder, it’s a super-cute, wonderfully convivial neighbourhood spot with copper-trimmed tables, twigs they’ve gathered from the New Forest on the walls and a seascape-papered loo complete with the sound of crashing thunder overhead. They’ve hired a pro to run the kitchen (Elizabeth Allen, formerly of Islington’s excellent Smokehouse), and the food, which costs £40 for four courses (and includes bread with ‘burnt’ butter, gooey chocolate truffles and a shot of ‘Pidgincello’ at the end), is terrific.
When to go: When your lunchtime destination needs to feel like a home away from home.
What to have: Plenty of small plates to pick at, plus something sweet – their cakes are too good to pass up.
If you’re in Fitzrovia, for any reason at all, make a beeline for this little Israeli-run café. The menu is full of homely Middle Eastern dishes alive with colour and texture – think peach and goats’ cheese salad with roasted almonds and orange-blossom dressing, or spiced lamb siniya baked in tahini, wrapped in a pitta and topped with yoghurt and salad. The husband-and-wife team who run the place have impressive credentials as the ex-head-chef at Ottolenghi and executive chef at Nopi. Their idea here is to create dishes inspired by the food they grew up with, everything from what their mums made to the street food of Jerusalem. It’s all made fresh on the premises, and the window is filled with breads, pastries and exotic jams.
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. That’s when media types hold meetings and those old enough to know better soothe their hangovers with brunch. And then it plays hard with the best of the rest come clocking-off time. The long bar and polished loucheness 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.
When to go: When you’re in Soho, feeling spontaneous and with flush friends.
What to have: The house ajo blanco is a creamy, luxurious taste bomb.
This warm and inviting nook in the heart of Soho manages to be both authentically Spanish and admirably cliché-free (apart from the giant hams dangling from the ceiling). High communal tables, a clattering ambience and rapid-fire service make it a perfect post-work pit-stop – as does the exquisitely considered wine list, which offers nearly everything by the glass and carafe. The menu, inspired by the day’s market, mixes top-notch charcuterie with well-balanced dishes such as cauliflower gratin with manchego and miga, or pork jowl with butterbeans and raisin dressing, all at restrained prices – although, as with most tapas joints, the bill swiftly gathers momentum.
When to go: When nothing less than the best of the best will do.
What to have: The tasting menu if you’ve won the lottery, the set lunch if you haven’t.
Though recognised internationally as serving some of the best food (and wine) in the world, The Ledbury retains the feeling of being a neighbourhood restaurant. Yes, it is luxuriously kitted out and very expensive. But it still has the laid-back atmosphere of the bistro round the corner where they greet you by name. A key word for people who might only eat here once is consistency. We have yet to hear anyone say, ‘I must have been there on an off-night.’ The cooking of Australian-born Brett Graham aims to turn unsurpassable raw ingredients into dishes that taste unforgettably good; and flawless execution by a well-drilled brigade ensures that it happens, apparently, every single time. Plan several months in advance to bag a table in a prime dining slot, even for lunch. The wine list is world-class and not scarily expensive considering the greatness of the restaurant.
When to go: When you’re feeling patriotic about ‘great British food’.
What to have: You’ve got to be game for game, whether it’s wood pigeon faggots with prunes and crispy shallots, or roast fallow deer with new-season garlic, smoked bone-marrow tart and baked beetroot.
This is the sort of place that makes one proud to be British. While it’s a wee bit posh with its thick hessian napkins and linen bread bags (oh, and one Michelin star…), its heart is still firmly set in the gastropub tradition. Owners and co-founders 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. Head chef Alex Harper (formerly of Texture and The Ledbury) has upheld the high standards set by his predecessor; dishes packed with British-grown ingredients have knowing flourishes – think black pudding Scotch egg with asparagus, or whipped chicken liver with thyme hobnobs.
When to go: When you have sartorially savvy peeps in tow, this is a super-chic place to take them.
What to have: Skip snacks and mains – they’re perfectly lovely, but it’s the small-plates-slash-starters and deconstructed puds that truly dazzle.
Frenchie is a very special sort of restaurant; a central London dining room, (right in the heart of Theatreland), elegant enough to take a top client, yet relaxed enough to never make you feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Part of the reason this balance has been so effortlessly achieved is thanks to the ‘Frenchie’ himself, Gregory Marchand (the nickname was given to him by Jamie Oliver, many years ago), who combines his classical, technical training with a playful, creative approach to cooking. It’s why the original Frenchie, in Paris, has a six-month waiting list. As for the setting – if it’s light and airy you’re after, sit upstairs, at street level; for more buzz (or on a gloomy day), go for the basement, where you can watch the chefs glide around the gleaming open kitchen.
100 best restaurants in London: 30-21
When to go: When you’re in the mood for Turkish with a side order of chic.
What to have: The lahmacun – a kind of Turkish flatbread pizza topped with minced lamb, which comes with fresh salad (greens and pickled things) that you put in the middle and roll up, to make the best wrap you’ll have this year.
Selin Kiazim is what you’d call a slow burner. She spent years at Providores, and later, Kopapa, learning everything there was to know about smart fusion cooking. No-one had heard of her. Then, at last, she quit, embarking on her dream: to open a restaurant of her own before the age of 30. The first thing she did was host a clutch of acclaimed residencies, testing out her Turkish-with-a-twist cooking and building up a cult following along the way: smart cookie. In November 2015, she finally launched Oklava – a tasteful restaurant on the City fringes (more savvy suits than scruffy Shoreditch) where she could finally showcase the likes of monkfish with spiced runner beans or her trademark chilli garlic chicken with a za’atar crumb (aka Turkish fried chicken). Bravo, Ms Kiazim – keep up the good work.
When to go: When you want to surprise someone with south-of-the-river sophistication.
What to have: The homemade pasta is a knockout – but leave room for the day’s cake (lemon polenta with crème fraîche, perhaps).
This classy venture in Peckham thumbs its nose at run-of-the-mill local Italians. With its smart looks, daily menu of simple yet accomplished dishes and carefully chosen cellar, it could give the best central London Med joints a run for their money. The minimal interior, complete with communal table and open kitchen in the back room, lets the food do the talking. The short menu – full of punchy propositions such as smoked ox heart with romesco sauce plus own-made pasta and wickedly good ice cream – is an ambitious labour of love that further ups the ante on Peckham’s poshest street.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for well-constructed small plates in an unpretentiously convivial atmosphere.
What to have: Mix and match from the concise, regularly changing menu – every dish is primed to delight.
It’s not big, it’s not showy, but it is clever. This spot in Soho is the kind of place you’ll want to come back to time and again. There’s only a handful of dishes on the seasonally changing menu – stone bass with artichoke, samphire and chorizo, courgette flowers with goat’s curd, fregola and chestnut honey – but you’ll still have trouble choosing. Be prepared to get friendly with your neighbours as the tables are tightly packed, and be aware that it’s no-bookings for dinner, but that’s all part of the charm. The team also has another great restaurant, 8 Hoxton Square, in Shoreditch.
When to go: When you want to feel like you’ve travelled the world before you’ve even finished breakfast.
What to have: The fragrant, crunchy coated za’atar fried chicken has pride of place on a seasonal menu that changes every day. For brunch, the Iraqi aubergine pitta stuffed with fried aubergine, chopped egg and mango pickle takes some beating.
This neighbourhood charmer specialises in all-day breakfasts and evening sharing plates with a broadly Middle Eastern bent, influenced by flavours from all over North America. The small dining room is appealingly but simply designed, with colourful produce displays, plenty of light, and a counter overlooking the bar and open kitchen. Ordering from the menu is stressful only because everything sounds incredible: shakshuka topped with merguez sausage; Montreal meat hash; saddleback pork ribs in sticky date glaze; roast cauliflower with tahini yoghurt and pomegranate molasses. Go with a large group and order the whole damn lot.
When to go: With some fashionable friends in tow – these plates were meant for grazing.
What to have: Tickle your taste buds with the delightful ‘tar tar’ chips – like mini tacos, filled with crabmeat or scallop, salmon and tuna tartare.
This tiny Japanese restaurant, set in a beautiful Georgian townhouse, is a place we recommend for a treat. The contemporary take on Japanese cuisine means small plates are re-christened as ‘Japanese hot tapas’, and nigiri are topped with salsas, truffle and jelly cubes of ponzu (a citrus-tinged soy sauce) to delicious effect. Dishes are immaculately styled, yet presentation is always trumped by flavour; sizzling scallops with yuzu, garlic and chilli look as divine as they taste. It’s no surprise, then, that a meal here doesn’t come cheap.
When to go: When you’ve had a morning workout and you can totally justify two or three plates of pasta to yourself.
What to have: Pasta, pasta and more pasta. Big shapes, little shapes, fat and thin. Don’t bother with starters or puds (nice, but not why you’re here) and definitely don’t miss the pappardelle with eight-hour beef shin ragu.
Pasta is a funny old thing. On the face of it, so simple. Boring, even. But this chic little Borough Market pasta bar – from the people behind Islington’s trendy Trullo – will change the way you feel about it forever. There’s a daily-changing menu of plates, small enough to allow you to try a few (around two each, if you pass on starters and puds), but large enough to leave you feeling genuinely satisfied. It’s all made and cooked to order right in front of you – everyone gets to perch up at the L-shaped counter, for maximum viewing pleasure – while the setting, all glass, marble and steel, is effortlessly chic.
When to go: When you’re dining à deux, haven’t booked, and want to get really up close and personal at the counter with your date.
What to have: Everything off the ‘raw’ (more accurately: ‘cold’) bar is terrific, such as the beautiful beetroot carpaccio with burnt goat’s cheese, hazelnut brittle and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
Ever since Yotam Ottolenghi first introduced Londoners to the notion of ‘Jerusalem’ food (modern, non-kosher Israeli cooking) we haven’t been able to get enough of it. Just look at The Palomar. In its opening week it was full of homesick Israelis tucking into dishes influenced by the Levant, North Africa and southern Spain. Within weeks, though, they’d been elbowed out by native Soho-ites, squeezing onto the cramped no-bookings counter seats (warning: you’re likely to get seriously jostled) or booking weeks in advance for the small back room (less lively, but more comfortable). The downside: tables are now turned every two hours, and service can occasionally feel muddled.
When to go: When you’re planning to splash the cash on a love interest – these heights are romantic.
What to have: The deboned and deep-fried lamb ribs are tender and packed with flavour.
Halfway up The Shard, this glitzy Hong Kong import offers high-end Chinese food with some of the best views of London. The smoulderingly stylish interior, with plenty of dark wood and red lanterns, makes Hutong a sophisticated dining spot for anyone aiming to impress their guests. Dishes are no less showy with the likes of deep-fried soft-shell crabs arriving in a huge bowl of fiery red chillies – the latter purely for decoration. Southwestern and Northern Chinese dishes less commonly seen on London menus are the main attraction, but there are also more familiar dishes such as crispy duck, plus steamed dumplings to choose from on the lunchtime dim-sum list.
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 cheetahs, and you need to save room for sensational sides and old-school desserts.
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 you’re inside you see it’s a real beauty of a basement bar and dining room, which looks as if it’s been there for at least a century – in fact, it only opened as a restaurant at the end of 2010. The meat is of better quality, and better cooked, than at many more expensive Mayfair steak restaurants. That’s not to say that Hawksmoor is cheap, of course, but dining here is an experience that every omnivore should have at least once.
When to go: When David Beckham asks you out for dinner. It’s the easiest way to get a table.
What to have: The kitchen can do fiddly and pretty, exemplified by stunning appetisers such as the tiny, slider-like ‘doughnuts’ filled with crab meat. We love love love the steak tartare so much that it’s one of our Top 100 dishes.
If you think you’re just going to pick up the phone and book for dinner tomorrow, dream on. Chiltern Firehouse was the restaurant sensation of 2014, featuring in tabloids weekly as yet another huddle of celebrities was papped leaving the premises. Yet despite the media frenzy, Chiltern Firehouse is an excellent restaurant – in fact, the warm service and unusual modern international combinations from chef Nuno Mendes make it even more memorable than the clientele. Sit by the kitchen counter if you can, where you can watch the dishes being assembled: it’s like watching the Bolshoi Ballet limbering up.
100 best restaurants in London: 20-11
When to go: During the day for the best open-face Danish sandwiches in London, at night for exquisite Nordic restaurant dishes.
What to have: Open sarnies and pastries by day (try the divine ‘bread and butter pud’ made out of Danish pastries); whatever you’re given at night. Expect light, high-precision cooking with a focus on cured, smoked and spankingly fresh fish that will make you feel like 6,750,000 krone (approx. $1m).
Kell and Jacqueline Skött are a daring duo. Struggling to recruit stylists for their second hair salon, they chanced upon a government initiative allowing A3 retail spaces to be converted to A1 restaurants for two years without planning. They had long dreamed of running a Danish café (she’s British, he’s a Dane). So, they called their lawyer on the Wednesday; agreed on the Thursday; told staff on the Friday; and partied on the Saturday. Initially daytime-only, they later took on Tania Steytler, a Cornish chef so exceptionally skilled, her £35 no-choice Friday night menu is now available from Thursdays to Saturdays, thanks to local demand.
When to go: When you want to get your glad rags on and enjoy a decent meal in a smart but relaxed central spot.
What to have: Go for small plates so you can try more, and don’t miss the radish, celeriac, pomegranate and pecorino salad with truffle dressing – it’s a Bocca classic.
There’s as much buzz around the food at this enduringly popular Soho Italian as there is around the celebs who dine here. This can make getting a table at short notice tricky for mere mortals, so book ahead. For the full experience, counter seats make for a lively meal with views of the chefs at work – but bear in mind it can get a bit hot here. Otherwise the smart dining room at the back is more discreet. Take a tour of the regions of Italy via small plates or large-portion dishes, with addictive deep-fried snacks – such as breaded olives stuffed with minced pork and veal – alongside salads, homemade pastas and grills.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for spice with a side order of adventure – and not the stomach-churning sort of adventure associated with the curry houses of Brick Lane...
What to have: The vegetarian dishes are show-stealers (who gave broccoli a licence to taste so good?) Also: do not leave without ordering the molten spice chocolate cake with masala chai custard.
Ex-Tamarind chef Nirmal Save has pulled off a real humdinger of a restaurant here: a hip, no reservations, East End Indian that puts the identikit curry canteens of nearby Brick Lane to complete shame by focusing on styled-up home cooking from all over the subcontinent. Cliché-busting pan-Indian dishes all come with a story: the supremely tender, cardamom-scented wild rabbit pulao is filched from an aunt; delicious Kashmiri lamp chops are based on a recipe by Save’s mother-in-law; while the dreamy spiced chocolate fondant with masala chai custard is based on the chocolate chai sold on the streets of Mumbai. Gunpowder: you’ll have a blast.
"Now open from 11am on Saturdays and Sundays with a two-course brunch and one glass of organic prossecco. From 11am-12.30pm at £22.50."
When to go: When you’re after a fancy meal that trades eye-widening prices and stiff service for that warm and fuzzy feeling.
What to have: The poached pear with fermented berries, rich fruit jelly, hazelnut crumble and white chocolate foam will change your opinion on fruit desserts forever.
Well hello there, good looking! That’s what this dinky Modern European restaurant seems to call to you from its corner spot on Islington’s Essex Road. You’ll get a warm welcome once you walk through the door, too: this is a modern family affair. Run by two brothers with experience in big-deal restaurants such as Noma, everything about the pared-back dining room and the dishes from the open kitchen brims with their personal touch. Such attention to detail can mean longer than average waits for plates – but what plates! This is high-falutin’ cuisine with real soul: each dish pimped to perfection, every ooh-la-la flourish made to earn its keep. Salut!
When to go: If your idea of a good meal out involves chair dancing in a disco-leaning dining room while getting messy with peerless fried chicken.
What to have: The Korean-style fried chicken in a bun, topped with crunchy slaw, gochujang mayo and chilli vinegar – paired with a house sour, obviously.
Bad-ass chef Carl Clarke has followed up his string of celebrated pop-ups with this good-times diner dedicated to gourmet fried chicken, straight-shooting cocktails and fun. The buzzy dining room, with its dimmed lights, tightly crammed tables and thudding music, is a no-brainer for kicking off a night out in east London – as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk before being fried in rapeseed oil; it’s then paired with wonderful, unexpected, far-eastern flavours or potent dips – bone-marrow barbecue sauce, for instance, or oh-no-they-didn’t blue-cheese and buttermilk dip. You’ll struggle not to dance on the tables. But don’t.
When to go: When you want good times, good wine and great food.
What to have: Dishes change with the seasons, but the potatoes with cod roe – crunchy chunks with delicately oniony crème fraiche plus roe and nasturtium leaves – is typical of the style: simple yet stunning.
There’s a lot to love about this bright, tiny, neighbourhood wine bar, with its mere 24 seats (ten at the window, ten at tables and four at the coveted ‘kitchen counter’). Aussie chef-patron Magnus Reid is as laid-back as they come, but while his menu of seasonal small plates may seem straightforward, flavours are exceptional. There’s great music; a young, enthusiastic staff and a short but thrilling wine list. As for the enigmatic name, it’s not just a nod to the area – Legs happens to be in Hackney’s ‘fashion district’ – but a reference to a technical wine term, for the boozy trickles you get down the inside of your glass. So now you know.
"Three course pre-theatre menu for £25 now available, featuring the best of wild, British food!"
When to go: When you want an intimate dinner that’s sweet, yet special.
What to have: The deer (they can tell you about the different kinds; there’s always at least one in season).
Once upon a time, this tiny Neal’s Yard site was a bead shop. Now, it’s the dinkiest of dinky restaurants, with its kitchen taking up most of the street level (complete with obligatory stools so you can perch at the counter) and most of the tables in the basement. It’s cute: whitewashed walls and greenery; old books in the loo. So are the staff, enthusiastically led by Imogen Davis (whose Northamptonshire family own a falconry business; she still has her own falcon) and friendly chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes, who was self-taught before training at Devon’s River Cottage. Their street stall, specialising in dishes made from ‘wild’ British ingredients – game, native fish, hedgerow greens and so on – was a hit, so they opened this place. Don’t let the simplicity of the setting deceive you: the food is stunning.
"Traditional Japanese cuisine in the heart of Hackney, east London."
When to go: When you want your dinner to have style as well as substance – this place is someone’s Pinterest board in restaurant form.
What to have: Stand-out veggie dishes include melt-in-the-mouth sweet-miso aubergine, and crunchy broccoli tempura wrapped in black rice and nori.
The Japanese are masters of minimalism, and this gorgeous restaurant does the aesthetic of its homeland justice with its serene décor, while squeezing in a few design tropes pinched from the internet (see the homespun specials ‘board’ for more details). The menu, too, is minimalist, with just four cold and three hot main dishes, plus a couple of starters and desserts. Thankfully, the lack of choice is a case of quality over quantity: each mouthful, from thickly sliced, melt-in-the-mouth tuna sashimi to piping-hot, chilli-licked karaage, and succulent charred pork skewers, is deliciously satisfying – and pretty presentation feeds the eyes as well as the stomach.
When to go: When you want to be surprised and delighted by a zeitgeist chef in a zeitgeist restaurant.
What to have: Whatever you’re given (if you’re there at night) – there’s no choosing.
If you’re a picky customer, then visit this excellent Shoreditch eatery at lunch: you’ll be able to choose what you like, and in what order. Come in the evening, however, and you’ll get a no-choice four-course set menu of acutely seasonal dishes that might include asparagus with cured pork fat and walnuts in spring, or monkfish liver with peach and potato in summer, followed by blackcurrant leaf meringue. The name of chef James Lowe’s starkly minimal, achingly trendy Shoreditch restaurant references his mother’s maiden name; he is definitely a young chef to watch.
"Four-course set lunch menu for £25, Wednesday to Saturday."
When to go: Mid-week, for the terrific value lunch (four plates for £25, Wed–Sat), or anytime you’re with food-obsessed friends.
What to have: Everything is sensational, right down to the own-baked bread, but the crispy chicken skins (pressed into layered ‘chunks’) with a sweet, smoky barbecue sauce and lightly fermented ribbons of cabbage can’t fail to please. And dessert. Do not miss dessert.
Some ’hoods get all the luck. Already blessed with 2013’s hot newbie The Dairy, in November 2014 Clapham welcomed its sibling, The Manor. Larger and airier, with pale woods and clean lines, it has a grown-up elegance (though the unreconstructed loos are graffitied to the point of vandalism). As at The Dairy, the cooking will knock your socks – and probably the rest of your clothes – right off. Unusual ingredients, cutting-edge techniques – it’s all here. Clued-up and cheery young staff are an added bonus, as is the excellent dessert bar, affording you a front row seat to some liquid nitrogen-fuelled theatre. If you don’t want to schlep to SW4, try the third restaurant in the group, Paradise Garage, in Bethnal Green.
100 best restaurants in London: top ten
When to go: It’s a popular spot for media schmoozing, but also suited to a special occasion when you don’t mind parting with a fair few pennies.
What to have: The robata-grilled scallops with wasabi cream made it into our 100 Best Dishes in London.
Zuma’s little sister has no trouble standing up for itself. The glass-fronted façade gives passersby a peek of the chefs at work preparing robata-grilled goodies. Their lamb cutlets with Korean spices rank among the best grilled dishes in London. As well as all things charcoal-cooked, their raw dishes are also worth exploring, like ruby-red tuna sashimi. If you’re in need of a stiff drink, head down to the Shochu Lounge in the basement.
When to go: When you want slick service and a big-ticket menu without the formality.
What to have: Shareable jars and killer cocktails kick things off in style.
Ramsay protégé and unstoppable wunderkind Jason Atherton seems hell-bent on building an international restaurant empire every bit as revered as that of his mentor. This was one of three London openings he oversaw in 2013, and his first Soho venture – but he has barely stopped to draw breath since then. Social Eating House’s 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 – often throwing in a welcome touch of theatricality when you least expect it. Efficient, attentive staff keep this star-studded show on the road.
When to go: When you don’t want to have to compromise on food, cocktails, ambience or service – this hip destination delivers all the goods.
What to have: Meet the ‘nduja scallop, delivered to the table sizzling in its shell – it’ll be gone in 60 seconds, but you’ll never forget the encounter.
What with its smokehouse moniker and custom-made charcoal grill, you might expect Rok to be all about meat. Sure, it’s fantastic – brined and cured, Nordic style, then cooked sous-vide before being pulled over the coals – but ignore the rest of the menu at your peril, because the kitchen team has somehow ensured that every dish, from the solitary scallop to sides you can’t stop eating, is a talking point. Rok’s narrow dining room is beautifully designed in that cosy yet unvarnished way typical of Scandinavia, and clued-up staff are simply charming. Our tip? Arrive a bit early and sink a pre-dinner cocktail at the bar – they’re so yummy you’ll probably return for a nightcap.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for fiery food you can eat with your fingers – and have time to queue.
What to have: The fried chicken or confit pork bao, though the small plates (pig’s blood cake, trotter nuggets) are brilliant too.
Forget Narnia. This is a wardrobe you really want to enter, but then stay in. Okay, Bao isn’t actually a wardrobe; but the interior of the dinky Soho eatery feels so much like being inside a giant wood-veneered Ikea creation, you can almost hear the couples debating whether they really need 350 tea lights. But looks aside, Bao is a truly exceptional place. It serves award-winning Taiwanese street food with plenty of kick (it started life as a tiny Netil Market stall before grabbing the attention – and financial backing – of Trishna’s deep-pocketed co-founder Karam Sethi; a second site in Fitzrovia has since opened to attempt to sate demand for those pillowy buns). It’s the kind of stuff that’s great if you’re a little bit drunk. Just not paralytic – it’s too good to be wasted on the wasted.
When to go: When you’re after a Latin dance party on your palate.
What to have: The Don Ceviche: sea bass chunks in citrus with a scattering of red chilli and soft diced sweet potato, is the Strictly winner of the raw-fish world.
There was a flurry of Peruvian openings in London in 2012, but Ceviche – which has since spawned an Old Street offshoot – was the Machu Picchu, towering over several peaks. Showcasing the eponymous dish of citrus-cured fish spiked with chilli, the place serves half a dozen versions of ceviche. But the kitchen knows a lot more than just how to skin and slice a fish – there are also excellent chargrilled meat and fish skewers (anticuchos), crumbly corn cakes and other nibbles on offer. Be sure to sample a pisco sour or two at the bar while you’re there.
When to go: When you want to say to your mouth, ‘you SHALL go to the ball!’
What to have: The bone marrow varuval (a sort of dry, bone-marrow curry for spreading over a buttery roti), plain hoppers and any of the curries (tip: order an extra curry instead of several chutneys).
There’s nothing like Hoppers in London. Sure, there’s good Sri Lankan food in certain pockets of the capital. But very few restaurants are exclusively Sri Lankan (most are South Indian and certainly don’t do hoppers, the egg-topped pancakes after which this Soho restaurant is named); the few exceptions are okay, rather than amazing. So the fact that Hoppers is outrageously good is even more impressive. The small room, a sexy Soho take on all things Sri Lankan, is always full and always buzzing (and yes, you’ll almost certainly have to queue), but it’s more than worth the wait. If small plates, full flavours and unapologetic spicing are your bag, Hoppers will get your pulse – and your tastebuds – racing.
When to go: When you have three friends free on the same night as you – you’ll not only be able to book, but also request one of the lovely cabina-booths.
What to have: The whole deep-fried seabass, a sensational combo of delicate flesh, crunchy roasted-rice-battered skin and fragrant north-eastern Thai herbs. The palm sugar ice cream with unripe banana (really) is insanely good, too.
Having raised funds to turn its residency-in-an-east-London-coffee-roastery into a permanent restaurant in record-breaking time (three days to raise £700,000, having only asked for £550,000), Som Saa finally opened its doors in April 2016. At last, everyone who’d ever wanted to sample the fiery Thai street food menu could do so in a stylish and exotic former garment factory walking distance from Liverpool Street (or Aldgate) tube. And sample it you should. Despite the cooking being from two non-Thais (ex-masterchef winner Andy Oliver is a Brit, Mark Dobbie is Aussie), the authenticity of spicing of some dishes is as straight-from-the-hills-of-northern-Thailand as they come. If your palate is naturally timid, go anyway, just ask the friendly staff to guide you.
When to go: It’s most fun at dinner, but you do need to go early to get a seat – try 5pm on a rainy Tuesday (not a Monday, when it’s closed).
What to have: Anything from the tandoor (such as the naan bread) or the grill (such as the charred octopus, which is the best in London).
It’s not possible to have a bad time at The Barbary. Sure, you’ll probably have to queue, but even that’s tolerable, because then you get to feast on moreish deep-fried snacks (like the Moroccan cigars) that don’t appear on the main menu. If the queue is huge and spills out and over the door sill, then you get to hang out in Neal’s Yard, one of London’s loveliest hidden courtyards. The food is ‘modern Israeli’, though in truth, it’s anything but. What they’ve done is taken the ancient recipes from across north Africa (from the one-time Barbary coast) and the Middle East that have gone on to influence food in today’s Israeli kitchen, then reimagined them for 2016. The smoky room is stuffed full of music, laughter and people that are beautiful in the best way: inside and out.
When to go: Whenever you like: you can actually BOOK. The best ‘counter’ is the main one, but on a sunny day, the alfresco tables – a stone’s throw from Clapham Common – are a nice people-watching option.
What to have: The mind-bogglingly good nduja with cultured cream and sour potato flat bread: the best £4 you’ll ever spend.
If you’re the kind of person who likes your napkins starched and a flunkie to turn it back into a ‘bishop’s hat’ while you nip to the loo, then Counter Culture is probably not for you. This tiny spin-off of Clapham’s acclaimed Dairy isn’t known as it’s ‘naughty little sister’ for nothing. The music is grungy, the staff a charming mix of achingly hip and infectiously enthusiastic, but it’s the cooking (contemporary European, but with ingredients borrowed from every corner of the globe) that really breaks the rules. Plates are small but deeply intricate, yet somehow without ever crossing the line into fru-fru or fussy. It’s casual, creative and cool.
When to go: As early as poss if you don’t want to stand in line for hours – although it’s totally worth the wait (itself made more bearable if you order in-queue drinks and snacks).
What to have: How to choose... it’s all so good. Mix classics such as the impeccably runny-centred tortilla with more adventurous regional dishes and going-going-gone specials such as carabineros (flippin’ gigantic, bright red prawns).
The first Barrafina, on Frith Street, was the original small-plates-and-no-reservations counter bar pioneer, a template that has since gone viral. This bustling, Barcelona-style tapas joint was so adored that owners the Hart brothers were under pressure to pull something really special out of the bag when they announced a follow-up site in Covent Garden (it’s since been joined by a third branch, on Drury Lane). They didn’t let Londoners down: Adelaide Street is a slightly glitzier, slightly larger venue that pays homage to its Frith Street sibling without being a straight copycat. So there’s the same striped marble bar overlooking the kitchen, but its curved design cleverly allows for a couple more grateful bums on those burgundy leather stools. There’s a menu that includes the tapas holy trinity of tortilla, croquetas and jamón, plus Barrafina’s signature market-fresh seafood, but which also runs to Josper-grilled meats, offal delicacies such as deep-fried lamb’s brain, and Mallorcan specialities. And there’s the same buzz around getting a table, but there’s also a swish private dining room in the basement for those with more cash than patience. In short, it rocks. What are you waiting for? Get in line!
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28°-50° Wine Workshop & Kitchen
The three outposts of 28°-50° share a similar wine list, a French-inspired menu and a bright, on-the-ball attitude, but there the resemblance ends. Fetter Lane is a basement with a French country-kitchen vibe, while Marylebone is a shiny new corner conversion, all glass and zinc with wraparound windows and a central bar. The menu offers predictable platters and pâtés, plus a handful of more involved main courses and grill dishes. The standard is high, give or take the odd stumble (a few unnecessary relishes and flourishes, and a curio of an aubergine main dish whose miso and charred-skin flavours weren’t made for wine-pairing). We particularly rate the grilled meats; the unctuously simple ox cheek braised in red wine; the thin and crispy fries; and the notably generous prawn cocktail starter. The wine list is a thing of joy, offering upwards of 30 varied and delicious wines from on-song suppliers, many of them small producers, plus a changing themed selection. It’s well worth exploring: order 75ml glasses and follow the young staff’s enthusiastic advice. The crowd is smart, with seats at the V-shaped bar attracting plenty of solo customers and shoppers on a quick break.
"‘Winter special’. Aberdeen angus rib-eye steak or seared yellowfin tuna, chips or a salad and a glass of wine, £21.50. Available noon-close."