Covent Garden is home to some of the finest restaurants in London. From succulent steaks at Hawksmoor Seven Dials to a superior French affair at Balthazar, spoil yourself and visit one of the top tables in the area. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Venue says: 2-for-1 on drinks, Monday to Friday from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at Pisco Bar.
Turning up at a smart destination restaurant with a large suitcase is always going to be awkward. What’s more awkward is not being able to find the front door. I’m not sure who was more surprised, us or the kitchen porters, when we marched, suitcase in tow, through the kitchen door of Central, currently the hottest restaurant in Lima, Peru. Central is so discreet it doesn’t even bother with a sign. But its dishes are the opposite, with plate after plate dazzling its mixed clientele of tourists and wealthy Lima residents. There’s no such problem finding the new London outpost – its sign is clearly visible. And considering the near-impossibility of transposing chef Virgilio Martinez’s uniquely Peruvian style of cooking more than 6,000 miles, they’ve done a pretty good job. This is Martinez’s second London restaurant, following on from the success of Lima in Rathbone Place, an elaborate affair that has already bagged him a Michelin star. Lima Floral, on Covent Garden’s Floral Street, is not a copy but an extension of this gambit, and showcases more Peruvian classics. This time there’s a little less fuss, a more reasonable price tag, and a bar in the basement serving pisco cocktails. Interesting textures and depth of flavour, rather than the high-tech wizardry of Central or Lima, take centre stage here. Sea bream ceviche comes as a sublime starter, teamed with mounds of guacamole-like avocado uchucuta (salsa), speared with dried onion slices and sprinkled with toasted corn. Sea bRead more
Venue says: Kopapa is perfect for your pre or post theatre visit. We have set menu options available with 2 courses for £18.95 or 3 courses for £21.95
Fusion maestro Peter Gordon (of the Providores & Tapa Room) co-owns this handily located, stylish all-dayer. He oversees an exciting and well-executed menu that runs from breakfast to dinner, with missteps a rarity. Turkish eggs (poached eggs with yoghurt, hot chilli butter and flatbread) – a favourite from the Tapa Room – makes a welcome appearance on brunch and breakfast menus. Lunch features weighty sandwiches (steak on focaccia with caramelised onion, mustard cream cheese, roast tomatoes and pickles) and burgers (soft-shell crab burger with Asian salad, spicy peanut mayonnaise and avocado), alongside salads (belper knolle cheese, roast grapes, mixed leaves, pickled ceps, walnuts and black vinegar dressing) and a selection of more inventive dishes. Many of these also appear as large or small plates on the evening menu. Pan-fried sea bream with broccolini, rainbow chard, coconut coriander chutney and paprika crumbs is a typical main – quality produce, imaginatively teamed. There’s the occasional disappointment (a slightly flabby serving of deep-fried sesame and Urfa chilli salted squid with sumac mayo, for example), but you’ll never be bored. Smiling staff are attentive and clued-up about the menu, which changes monthly. A wide-ranging wine list is buttressed by an eclectic set of cocktails, and even the modish brasserie-style decor globe-trots, very prettily in the case of the Turkish floor tiles.Read more
Venue says: We have launched our corporate incentive scheme! If you book often with us, call the restaurant to find out the benefits we can offer you!
Class, poise, judgement: these words might well be embossed on Moti Mahal’s burnished copper bar, beside the serried ranks of expensive whiskies. This London outpost of Delhi’s celebrated restaurant group is geared to international business diners and priced accordingly. Weighty linen tablecloths, polished wooden flooring, an ambient soundtrack and a spotless open kitchen (viewed behind a curvaceous glass partition) lend gravitas to the ground-floor dining room – as do diligent, multinational staff and a bulky wine list. The basement, with its enveloping red-velvet banquettes, has more date-appeal. The food? It’s moderately inventive pan-Indian, with expertly balanced spicing and a lightness of touch evident in the superb breads and rice. We were sad to see brain had slipped from the menu, but noted the varied choice of vegetarian dishes, including jackfruit in a roasted onion and coconut masala. Perfect salad specimens presented on a board with DIY spicing (in pestle and mortar) account for the £1.50 cover charge. An à la carte starter of crab and quail’s egg rolls had ample flavour and just-cooked zing, though the eggs were quite rubbery; a set-lunch main of gosht shakarkandi was like rogan josh, with beautifully tender lamb and dense, flavour-soaked chunks of sweet potato. Puddings are also worth exploring. You’ll get high-class cooking in impressive surroundings, but gastronomic adventurers might yearn for more thrills – and blench at the prices: £7.50 for a nondescriptRead more
This former fruit warehouse is now Carnivore Central in Will Beckett and Huw Gott’s confidently expanding empire, and the bar a place of pilgrimage in its own right for cocktail geeks. Winner of Time Out’s Best New Restaurant award in 2011, the discreet-fronted basement location is elevated to a high-end destination with a characterful interior of reclaimed materials and the fan-boys’ zeal for premium meats and other taste sensations. The bad news is, with a similar appreciation of gustatory pleasures (a couple of cocktails, say, followed by crab or lobster, sirloin and side dishes, wine and pudding), dinner here can easily set you back £100 a head. The good news is the express menu (ideal pre-theatre when tables are easy to snare) proffers two courses for £22 and three courses for £25 – and still allows enjoyment of fine Ginger Pig Longhorn ribeye (a more-than-strictly-needed 250g), and bone marrow with onions. Desserts here, in our experience, don’t benefit from the same obsessive attention to detail as the beef dripping chips, kimchi burger, hot dogs or historic anti-fogmatics – still, there’s the post-prandial cocktail list to peruse featuring the likes of Climpson’s espresso martini. See more mouthwatering Sunday roasts in the capitalRead more
In early 2013, Keith McNally’s much-anticipated NYC import Balthazar finally opened, and London got to see what this Manhattan interpretation of a French brasserie was actually like. The response was positive, and for weeks afterwards it was hard to get a table. Chef Robert Reid has tinkered little with the nostalgic transatlantic menu, and we loved signature dishes such as the onion soup (grilled gruyère lid on thick country bread, immersed in a rich and sweet chicken stock); duck shepherd’s pie was another powerfully flavoured treat. More recently, some of the gloss seems to have worn off (though service remains prompt and friendly). The cheeseburger, no bargain at £17, was a chunky patty but had little flavour, and needed more than the limited, bland trimmings to give it an oomph that might have justified the price tag. A pleasant gruyère and herb omelette tasted as though it had lingered a little too long at the pass. Best was pavlova (one of several delightfully retro desserts) – it may not have looked like a classic version (the meringue sat on the fruit, rather than the other way round), but it tasted good. Bread, from master baker Jon Rolfe, is a must-try. Balthazar London mimics the New York original perfectly, with red awnings, red leather banquettes, giant antiqued mirrored walls and mosaic floors, but to British eyes, the decor can look a little too close to any old chain brasserie.Read more
Who’s to blame for the no-reservations trend, which leaves us queuing for an hour or more to get into a restaurant? Some might point the finger at places such as Polpo in Soho, Burger & Lobster in Mayfair or Meat Liquor in Marylebone. But the first restaurant that gave a mandatory wait with dinner was Barrafina in Soho, which opened in 2007. And that hour-long queue for proper Spanish tapas is still there. So is this second branch of Barrafina worth the seven-year wait? Taking no chances, we arrived just before the 5pm opening time and were the first customers seated, allowing us to watch the other tables fill up over the next hour. Much like the original Barrafina, it’s a simple room, but beautifully done: a long marble countertop, tall bar stools, plate glass windows letting in lots of light, and smiling Spanish staff in crisp white and maroon uniforms. Barrafina’s menu is studded with Mallorcan and Catalan tapas dishes. Ortiguillas are a type of sea anemone eaten around the Balearic Islands. There, they’re marinated in vinegar, coated in a tempura-like batter and fried. Here they’re served in a paper cone, a crunchy seaside snack with soft centres, like fried oysters. Escalavida con pan de coca combines a firm Mallorcan bread base (the ‘pan de coca’ bit, like a flatter, chewy ciabatta) with a topping of chargrilled aubergine, peppers, onion and garlic, the smoke from the grill permeating the vegetables. The grill is still a core part of the Barrafina formula, for exampleRead more
This Covent Garden fixture reopened in spring 2013 after a major refurbishment of its grand, imposing premises (Grade II-listed and formerly a casino). Everything we ate during our weekday lunch was excellent: two starters from the carte and a couple of dishes from the set lunch. Two clichés of London’s American restaurant scene, caesar salad and crab cakes, were flawlessly executed. From the set lunch, beef carpaccio was top-notch yet almost overshadowed by a main of blackened salmon with ‘jambalaya risotto’. The flavourful rice showed real understanding of cajun seasoning – rare in London – and the flavourful fish was properly blackened while remaining juicy within. You can pay serious money for steak or Maine lobster, but the Martini Bar serves relatively inexpensive meals. The pre- and post-theatre set menu is a bargain, and brunch offers everything from granola to ribeye steak. Service is confident and competent, and the wine list is a welcome rarity for places of this kind: ignoring expensive trophy bottles, sharply focused on offering quality at every price range, starting from around £20. Many American-style restaurants have popped up since this venue opened in 1991. They still have much to learn from Christopher’s.Read more
Rules may look as though nothing has changed for 50 years (or more, the restaurant was established in 1798), but this old-stager hasn’t made it this far without adapting to the times. Together with the dark wood and red colour scheme, patterned carpet, caricatures and old paintings are modern touches. Witness the Kate Middleton cocktail (Sipsmith gin, Pinky vodka, Lillet aperitif wine and crystallised violets and rose petals).A menu of classics, with an emphasis on game, runs from potted shrimps to saddle of rabbit. Everything is cooked plainly, but with care and using decent ingredients – for example, the sirloin steak with béarnaise and chips, was pretty much perfect– golden chips, crunchy on the outside, hot and yielding on the inside; tender meat, grilled just-so and with real flavour. Guinea fowl caesar salad was an average salad lifted by top-notch bird; grilled plaice topped with artichokes and capers, served with a side of braised red peppers (from the specials list), scored for looks and flavour. Kir royal jelly with blackcurrant sorbet and summer fruits ‘salad’ made a good summer alternative to the wintery delights of golden syrup sponge pudding with custard.Service is polite and attentive, characteristics much admired by the mainly middle-aged-and-over clientele. Like the menu, the Rhône Valley-oriented wine list holds no bargains, but is carefully constructed.Read more
That’s right, a branch of that most inimitable restaurant, The Ivy. The time has come at last for the current owners to cash in on one of London’s most recognisable and exclusive brands, and roll it out. Yet this is hardly an Ivy sellout – it’s no McIvy Burger, Pret-a-Shepherd’s-Pie, or Hard Ivy Rock T-shirt of Posh and Becks tucking into rhubarb cheesecake. It’s all done in the best possible taste. But rather than being discreetly located in a Covent Garden sidestreet lined with paparazzi, this one’s bang on Covent Garden Piazza – where no ordinary Londoners, never mind A-list celebs, ever set foot. The interior’s lovely, in a classy, bourgeois brasserie, my-family-own-Dorset sort of way. The service is, for the most part, better polished than a Bentley hub cap. And the menu’s a good read, with a pleasingly retro Continental feel to the dishes, but using mainly British ingredients. Much research has been done by psychologists on how setting affects our appreciation of a meal: get the look and circumstances right, and school dinners taste great. Take away the white linen, silver bowls and embossed plates, and the wow factor is reduced. A prawn cocktail looked pretty, but the shellfish were merely okay. Shepherd’s pie was rich in butter, but otherwise ordinary. A fried fish sandwich didn’t really work, as the toasted bread failed to envelop the contents; butties are better untoasted. A chocolate bombe was a shell that melted on having hot caramel sauce poured over it; the rRead more
Best-known for their macarons and other confections, the Paris-based Ladurée has opened a branch in Covent Garden Piazza. This is their third in London, the flagship being a remarkable café inside Harrods. While this latest Ladurée doesn’t have the same wow factor, the location is hard to beat, opposite the Apple store and with outdoor tables on the cobbled piazza. Be warned though that you’ll be assailed by street performers, as their main stage is right next door.Read more
The unusual cylindrical shape of this basement restaurant gives it a height and grace that compensate for the lack of windows, and, with its serene decor, make for a calming bolthole from the Theatreland crowds. Axis is comfortable, quiet and chic, if not especially memorable, with most of its character coming from personable, experienced staff good at intuiting whether you want to banter or be left alone for a business lunch. The carte dishes are also mainly based on a few good ingredients prepared to order, with some nice touches but no unnecessary culinary vanities. A starter of delicate mackerel fillet was expertly grilled to a genteel crispness, served prettily with cauliflower polonaise; and a pre-mixed (slightly bland) steak tartare. Mains were gutsier: generous roast loin of pork with an over-intense risotto; and halibut with pea purée and a highly concentrated red wine jus. The former came with victoria plum jam, the latter with succulent girolles – bearing out claims of seasonality. Catering for its hotel clientele, Axis also serves salads and light main courses (fillet of bream en papillote, for example) plus some crowd-pleasing desserts that are slightly out of keeping with its cultured mood (knickerbocker glory with popping candy, anyone?).Read more
NB: The Ivy is currently closed for refurbishment until 'May 2015'.– Time Out Eating & Drinking Editors , January 2015 This gorgeous room may not attract as many A-list celebs as it once did, but there was one B-plus (glamorous if faded actress) on a Monday lunchtime. Other customers were a nice mix: business people, affluent couples, tourists and a family or two (one with yelping baby). Our meal, ordered both from the carte and the set menu, started startlingly well. Fish soup was as deeply flavourful as any you’ll find in France, and a lunchtime special – poached egg ‘Arlington’ – sandwiched a perfectly cooked egg between a toast round and divine smoked salmon, with luxuriant hollandaise topping it off. Mains let the show down woefully. Bang-bang chicken was bathed in a gloopy sauce that palled after a few mouthfuls. The set lunch main, herb-roasted salmon with horseradish velouté, featured fish so dry it might have been petrified, and had no perceptible herb taste; the smidgen of sauce was bland. Impeccably attentive, smiling service is a redeeming feature. So is the relative quiet, even when busy. The wine list starts, half-heartedly, at around £25 and features some enthusiastic mark-ups. There’s good food to be had, but choose badly and you won’t creep back to the Ivy in a hurry.Read more
A useful bolt-hole if you don’t fancy the Opera House bars, this Covent Garden veteran is determinedly French in outlook. Done out with mini-chandeliers, dark alcoves and prints of prima ballerinas, the studiously inoffensive basement bar fills up quickly at peak times; a late licence allows for more protracted post-show drinking. Wines are split between France and vins étrangers, with an emphasis on the former, especially among the reds. The quality is sound and there are around eight of each colour by the glass. Bar food is standard brasserie fare: starters including onion soup and own-made terrine, followed by omelettes, steak, some large salads and moules marinière. The brasserie and restaurant menus are much more extensive, with prices much lower on the former (£6.50 for all starters and £10.50 all mains).Read more
Sushi bars come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes, when you’re celebrating a special occasion with a coveted reservation at an always buzzing destination – Zuma, say, or Nobu – a hefty price tag is part and parcel of the experience. But when all you want is a light lunch, a wallet-busting bill is another matter. The problem with Murakami, a shiny new sushi offering in the heart of Covent Garden’s theatre district, is that it looks the part of a deeply fashionable modern Japanese restaurant, but beyond this smoke and mirrors lurks very little of substance. The dining room is stylish if unimaginative in a Japanese-restaurant-by-numbers way. Sake bottles as ornaments, a long bar for single diners, modern, minimalist furniture – with one or two oddball conceits thrown in for good measure, such as a long, narrow planter filled with samphire that runs the length of the room. However, that’s as good as it gets. The menu is a line-up of the usual suspects – nigiri, sushi rolls, sashimi and tempura – all competently assembled in the open kitchen without threatening a culinary revolution. The grilled skewers of marinated meat, fish and vegetables that are bite-sized snacks in Japan were true miniatures here, the grilled baby octopuses almost embryonic and the chicken hearts surely from the smallest birds in the coop. Meanwhile, three thick slices of tuna sashimi presented on an absurdly large pile of frilly lettuce had the texture of a mealy winter tomato. The best dish was a plattRead more
This two-floor Covent Garden restaurant and bar is now owned by Prescott & Conran - the group behind Boundary, Lutyens and the Albion venues, in Shoreditch and Bankside. The look remains very much French brasserie, with an updated menu of Gallic classics that ranges from steak tartare, fish soup and moules marinières to îles flottantes and crème brûlée – plus daily and regional specials. There are express pre- and post-theatre menus, too. The global wine list offers 25 red and 25 whites, all available either by the bottle or by the carafe, with around a third available by the glass. Craft beers and ciders also feature, with six options taking in the US, Sweden, Edinburgh, Somerset and France. Classic cocktails are given a twist.Read more