"Festive party menus are available from November 28 to December 24 for lunch and dinner. Menus start from £65 per person."
If there is a formula for the perfect British brasserie, it would undoubtedly involve plush leather upholstery, polished marble floors, a sprinkling of copper and more than a hint of oak. Akin to a stately gentlemen’s club, the service would be impeccable, while the cooking wouldn’t offend diners’ palates or risk displacing older patrons’ teeth. If anyone should know how to set up such a restaurant it’s Des McDonald, who after 20 years running Caprice Holdings is behind this new hotel dining room. From the comfort of the red leather and tartan-trimmed banquettes in the sweeping expanse of his retro dining room, you can tuck into a range of classic British cooking, diner-style dishes and homely desserts, while a host of smart waiters attend to your every need. True to form, the food is mostly subtly flavoured and soft-textured.A starter of roasted langoustine saw the sweet shellfish enveloped in a pleasing garlic and butter sauce simply presented in a cast-iron pan. A main of ‘hock and coq pudding’ turned out to be more racy in name than flavour, with tender strips of chicken and ham encased in a pastry shell, framed by a bright green parsley sauce. The Holborn Dining Room may not serve the most exciting food in the capital, but it’s comforting, won’t scare the maiden aunts or the in-laws, and is an appealing place to get away from the chaos of modern London.
Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a fast-expanding café, with new branches on the King’s Road in Chelsea and at One New Change in the City. But it’s this original in Bloomsbury which is the best, not least because it’s the source of all those spectacular gateaux and special occasion cakes – the busy, and sometimes noisy, kitchen and bakery occupies the rear half of the long and narrow space. Choose your seat in the long corridor facing the counter carefully, as the tables nearest the front bear the brunt of the constant bustle of takeaway customers; further back the room’s only slightly cosier. But people don’t come to Bea’s for the ambience (the tables are wipe-clean bare, though not always spotless) or for the service (frosty on our most recent visit) – they come here for the cakes. The ‘sweet tea’ at £12 comprised a double-decker of plates; the lower deck a too-crumbly scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam, the upper deck a more impressive display of confections. Among them were a moist cupcake the colour of dried blood; a tiny square of peanut and jam brittle; tiny, jewel-bright meringues; a dice-sized brownie, and some wobbly, caramel-coloured marshmallow. All of these were impeccably made with top- quality ingredients. The Jing tea selection also does the trick. The full afternoon tea, with savoury eats, is only served at weekends at the St Paul's branch.
This café-bakery’s focal point is its heavily laden counter of baked delights. Alongside old favourites (moist carrot or chocolate cake), there are more unusual offerings, such as the ‘Fleet Jaffa Slice’ and caramel and peanut butter shortbread – all perfect with a cup of quality Monmouth coffee. The cafe’s tucked-away location has done nothing to inhibit its success, and lunch hour draws a crowd, much of which is from local offices. Sandwiches, quiches and frittatas are also available, and a daily special is offered from midday, when the scene is reminiscent of a school canteen, with customers queueing for staff to spoon a robust portion of steaming stew, bake or pie on to their plates. Such popularity is not without reason: chicken, mushroom and tarragon lasagne (£7) was an unfussy, filling and tasty affair. They have recently added mezze and cheese plates to the offering on Thursday and Friday nights. Decor has a modern-rustic vibe, with reclaimed-door tabletops adding interest to otherwise unremarkable surroundings. If you don’t mind the lack of elbow room, this is a great place to grab a decent lunch for under a tenner.
Although this looks like a London cabby’s chip shop, its adherents are far more widespread. Every lunchtime, businessmen, hungry locals and passing trade wander into this blast from the city’s culinary past. Furnishings don’t seem to have changed much in the 50-plus years since fish were first fried here. It’s a cosy little spot, with Formica-topped tables, long benches and an old-school menu up on the wall. New restaurants may try to recreate this ‘retro’ look, but Fryer’s is effortlessly genuine. Even Giuseppe, the Italian boss who’s been frying in London for the past 45 years, is a no-frills man; he claims not even to like fish, but he certainly knows how to fry it. Cod flakes were moist, against dark, dry and crisp batter, fried the old-fashioned way in beef dripping (or vegetable oil for veggies). Try rockfish as a stronger-flavoured alternative to cod, and make your own butty with a doorstop of bread that comes slathered in butter.
'Healthy. Fresh. Mexican.' This is the tagline for Adobo Mexican, but they're not fooling us – it's another burrito bar. Portions are huge, the permutations of fillings are endless, and the staff we spoke to didn't speak Spanish. Not that you have to, of course.
Like sangria and dicking about with bulls, paella is generally best kept within the borders of Spain. When it’s properly done, shallow-cooked in enormous pans and served with a Mediterranean view, it’s one of the great joys of Iberian cooking. But even London’s best Spanish restaurants often don’t do justice to this Valencian classic. Otherwise decent spots trip up when it comes to packing that ultra-short-grain rice with flavour and moisture. So it takes big cojones to try and tweak the process for office workers on a 15-minute lunch dash. A gang of enterprising Valencians have taken on that task, and at Oh’Lola they’ve somehow served up some of the best paella I’ve tasted outside Spain – and it comes in a cardboard box. ¡Anda! The place they’ve picked is Hatton Garden, better known for jewels than jamón, but only a minute or two from the delicacies of Leather Lane Market. Step in through the big french windows and you can watch Team Lola simmering up three kinds of paella in a semi-open kitchen behind a glass screen. Veggie and chicken options are available, but the seafood special is the most eye-catching thing in the room, coming laden with mariscos: a fat prawn, a mega mussel, squid rings, shrimp, octopus and meaty swordfish. And the rice: ¡qué rico! A big sock of flavour – sticky, juicy, rich, salty and fishy, with just the right metallic tang of saffron – it was so authentically Spanish that it felt odd stepping back out into the British summer drizzle. Prices are dec
"Order a paella for 12 people and enjoy it at the office."