Looking for somewhere you can have a pleasant, relaxed meal after 11pm – but want to avoid the late-night party venues where food is secondary to drinking? Here's our pick of places in the West End and beyond.
The neon sign outside reads ‘sex shop’; the mannequin in the entrance wears a PVC gimp suit. But the real excitement begins when you descend the stairs into the bowels of this nightclub-like restaurant. It’s so dark and loud you’ll need a moment to adjust (the light bulbs have been blacked out). By comparison, the homely Mexican cooking can feel run-of-the-mill, though effort is put into presentation. On our visit, soft flour tacos with a tender beef filling arrived beautifully arranged on a specially designed wooden board; a crunchy cheese and roasted tomato quesadilla was served ‘open’; pinto beans with a spicy chorizo kick came in a dinky glazed bowl. The real highlight was the dish least concerned with its own looks: a rich lamb shank in intensely dark juices. Seafood cazuela (a one-pot dish like a wet paella), containing clams, squid, prawns and mussels, was creamy, tangy and perfectly fine, though not especially memorable. Factor-in the small portions and two-hour table limits (though you can decamp to the bar), and you might wonder what the fuss is all about. But that would be missing the point. You come here to see and be seen, and for a thrilling atmosphere and exceptionally friendly service. A must-try.Read more
Restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, creators of the Wolseley and the Delaunay, have struck gold with this grand art deco basement brasserie. It’s a huge set-up and attracts a mix of tourists, office types and couples. Affordable French staples are the big draw and set menus start at under a tenner for two courses. In the months after it opened, we’d been impressed by the quality of cooking and on-the-ball service, but recently we’ve detected a dip in standards. In a meal of hits and misses, highlights included a generous main course of beef bourguignon – meaty chunks simmered in a robust red wine-onion-garlic sauce, accompanied by buttery mash. The haché steak was less impressive, though; instead of chopped meat being shaped and loosely held together, we were presented with a salty, overcooked burger patty. Chocolate profiteroles helped to restore faith – the perfectly baked crisp globes of choux pastry, crammed with splendid whipped vanilla cream, went down a treat with an indulgent chocolate sauce. The house wine, priced at bargain basement rates, provides great value. Let’s hope the kitchen brigade is back on track soon, and service staff numbers are increased at busy times.
Restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, creators of the Wolseley and the Delaunay, have struck gold with this grand art deco basement brasserie. It’s a huge set-up and attracts a mix of tourists, office types and couples. Affordable French staples are the big draw and set menus start at under a tenner for two courses. In the months after it opened, we’d been impressed by the quality of cooking and on-the-ball service, but recently we’ve detected a dip in standards. In a meal of hits and misses, highlights included a generous main course of beef bourguignon – meaty chunks simmered in a robust red wine-onion-garlic sauce, accompanied by buttery mash. The haché steak was less impressive, though; instead of chopped meat being shaped and loosely held together, we were presented with a salty, overcooked burger patty. Chocolate profiteroles helped to restore faith – the perfectly baked crisp globes of choux pastry, crammed with splendid whipped vanilla cream, went down a treat with an indulgent chocolate sauce. The house wine, priced at bargain basement rates, provides great value. Let’s hope the kitchen brigade is back on track soon, and service staff numbers are increased at busy times.Read more
The Delaunay was Chris Corbin and Jeremy King’s 2012 follow-up to the Wolseley and, like that handsome behemoth, it looks like it’s been here for decades. Grand European cafés provide the inspiration, and the interior is a treat – a David Collins-designed mix of green leather banquette seating, dark wood, brass rails, antique mirrors and a black and white marble floor. The café and bar area leads through to the main dining room; next door is the Counter (a café serving savouries, cakes and coffee, with takeaway available). The menu runs from breakfast to dinner, taking in afternoon tea (a not-to-be-missed opportunity to try the Austrian-biased cakes, all made in-house). There’s a dish of the day (goulash, say, or chicken curry), soups, salads and egg dishes, plus savouries (welsh and buck rarebits) and crustacea. The sandwich selection runs from croque monsieur to a brioche burger with french fries. Starters include steak tartare and smoked salmon plates; mains take in kedgeree and choucroute à l’Alsacienne. There’s also a good choice of sausages, served with potato salad, sauerkraut and caramelised onions: try the käsekrainer (an Austrian meat and cheese version). In short, there’s something for everyone, at prices that aren’t greedy given the setting, the quality of the service and the assuredness of the menu.Read more
A swish Bombay brasserie in the style of the old post-colonial 'Irani cafés' of Bombay, Dishoom is filled with retro design features: whirring ceiling fans, low-level lighting and walls adorned with vintage Indian magazine advertising. The look is certainly distinctive, but the effect can be so slick when compared to the real thing that the venue can feel rather soulless and corporate. This doesn’t stop the design-conscious and Indophile thronging here through the day, from breakfast (for sausage nan rolls with chilli jam) to dinner (for the stir-fries and tandoori grills). The main attraction though is the menu, loosely styled on Irani café food with birianis, bhel (crunchy puffed rice with tangy tamarind chutney) and even pau bhaji (toasted white bread rolls with a spicy vegetable stew as a filling). Our black dal was exemplary, and the lamb biriani suitably moist. We particuarly like the endlessly refilled house chai (Indian-style tea), but the other drinks are interesting too – excellent lassi concoctions, good wines by the glass, even the soft drinks Limca and Thums Up in glass bottles imported from Mumbai. Queues are common in the evening (bookings are taken for breakfast and lunch, but only for groups at dinner), though the basement bar helps make the wait more than bearable.Read more
It might not look like much, but Lahore Kebab House is a place of pilgrimage for curry lovers. Queues snake out of the door at weekends, with diners travelling from afar to sample Punjabi-style tandoori grilled meat and generous portions of ghee-laden curry. Bargain prices, attentive service and a BYO policy add to the draw. Piles of sweet onion bhajia and heavily spiced lamb chops might start off a meal, before the choice velvety dals, boldly flavoured curries (many of them on the bone) and buttery nans. The house specials are worth ordering, especially the nihari and dry lamb curry, all served in utilitarian karahi bowls with minimal fuss. Decor is equally no-nonsense. Spartan and to the point, this place is all about the food. Sure, the big LCD screens blaring out IPL games or Bollywood movies are a little distracting, but the open kitchen provides most entertainment. There’s nothing better for whetting the appetite than watching an army of cooks kneading dough for the tandoor and flipping meats on the grill – unless it’s the mouth-watering aromas. Lahore is hard to beat for truly authentic, vivid flavours in a no-nonsense setting: more than worth having to queue.Read more
A Polish ‘milk’ bar (‘bar mleczny’) seems ideally suited to the Elephant & Castle shopping centre. More transport caff than a haven of Polish home cooking, Mamuska! offers filling fare, fast and at bargain prices. Spacious, clean and family-friendly, it’s unsurprisingly popular with an eclectic clientele. Sadly, the food isn’t exactly homely. We weren’t looking for frills, and happily accepted the dense dough of the pierogi, and the simple garnish of long-cooked bacon lardons, as ‘filling a gap’. If the pork filling of the meat dumplings was super-minced, and tasted recooked – well, that’s the way you economise and fill an empty stomach. Decent bottled beer (Zywiec, Zubr and the like) accompanied the starters nicely. Mains might have been more welcome were we still ravenous; as it was, kielbasa and goulash continued to fill without exciting. Potato dishes (mash, salad and pancakes) seemed stolid, and the ‘dish of the day’, a ‘tenderised pork’ escalope, proved so dry and chewy it defeated our best efforts. A mushroom sauce had little fungi flavour, and we wondered if a packet mix had come into play; chocolate cheesecake caused similar musings. Still, there’s no arguing with the friendliness, humour, cleanliness and wallet-friendly pricing.Read more
Variety is the spice of life, unless you’re artists Gilbert and George, who eat here every night and have done for years. We saw them arrive at 8pm, sit at their favourite table, and ask for exactly what they’d been eating every night for the past few weeks (our waiter revealed they do intermittently try something new). Perhaps the duo should check out some local alternatives, as Mangal II isn’t quite at the top of its game. The bread looked the part, thin and lightly crusted, but was lukewarm, didn’t taste fresh and arrived alone – the izgara sogan (grilled onions with pomegranate juice) you get for free elsewhere on Kingsland Road costs £4.95 here. More disappointingly, tavuk tava (pan-fried chicken) was tepid and chewy. The Mangal special main (baked aubergine with spinach, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and cheese) was generously portioned and not oily, but also lukewarm. At least the doner kebab succeeded. This is one of the few proper restaurants to serve the much-maligned dish, and it’s done well, with high-quality lamb steak and minimal grease. However, Mangal II needs a bit more spark – and much more heat – to compete, although some customers will doubtless keep dining here regardless.Read more
For a lesson in how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, head to Spuntino. A challenge to find (look for ‘number 61’), the venue is laid out as a bar – and a tiny one at that, with a smattering of fixed, backless seats allowing diners to perch along the counter. This is no wholesome 1950s-style diner, but a dark, grungy space where dim lights dangle in cages, the walls are cracked and battered, and the staff sport daring tattoos under flimsy vests (and that’s just the girls). The anti-establishment vibe trickles into the menu, which is Italian-American with plenty of ‘additude’. Served mostly on all-the-rage enamelled tin dishes, food features big bold flavours packed into tiny portions: from our dinky slider (mini-burger), filled with moist pulled pork and pickled apple, to a black-edged pizzetta (mini-pizza) topped with long stems of pleasantly bitter cicoria (Italian dandelion), thin salami slices and a hit of chilli. The salads are equally innovative, as seen in a tumble of kohlrabi (a mild turnip) and apple with crumbly feta, hazelnuts and black sesame seeds. Only dessert proved a let-down; our chocolate, pecan and bourbon cake had plenty of nuts but no discernible liquor. We wondered whether the bartenders had necked it on the sly.Read more
A self-proclaimed ‘café-restaurant in the grand European tradition’, the Wolseley combines London heritage and Viennese grandeur. Its black, gold and cream colour scheme suggests prestige, and you might easily imagine the buzz of conversation and the chink of crockery to have reverberated around the high ceilings since the 1920s. Yet the venue is only a decade old. Nevertheless, it’s now firmly on many a London visitor’s checklist, alongside nearby bastion of tradition Fortnum & Mason. The kitchen is much-celebrated for its breakfasts, and the scope of the main menu is admirable. From oysters, steak tartare or soufflé suisse, via wiener schnitzel or grilled halibut with wilted spinach and béarnaise to tarte au citron or apple strudel, there’s something for everyone. On the Sunday afternoon of our visit, however, three-tiered afternoon tea stands were in abundance, enjoyed by a diverse mix of patrons: from Japanese businessmen to groups of female friends. Mini cakes and scones on the top tier are as English as the jam that accompanies them, while crustless finger sandwiches at the bottom are replenished by formal staff from a huge service team. Our waiter appeared a touch jaded, but he was certainly efficient, and dealt with complaints from the next table about weak coffee with grace.Read more