£11.95, 63-64 Frith Street, London, W1D 3JW
Let’s get a few things straight. This ‘burger’ has no bun. It has no mustard or mayo. And no salad (unless you count a garnish of frou-frou micro herbs). But its dense, meaty texture, packed with chunks of almost-sweet squid and ocean-fresh mackerel, make a pretty perfect patty. Throw in some cockles (or sometimes razor clams) and a verdant sauce of sea purslane on the side, and you’ve got yourself a plate of seafood that’s somehow both casual and luxurious at the same time. Not to mention being such a hit with diners that it hasn’t been off the menu since Arbutus first opened.
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£12.75, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
Gourmet burgers have become a fetish object among London’s food bloggers and trend-chasers, but the best versions are found not in a pop-up street van in Dalston, but – improbably – in a smart Knightbridge French restaurant. Daniel Boulud’s dinky creation sees a layer of morbier cheese, confit pork belly and dijon-spiked tomato compote added to a sirloin patty. Rich and juicy, it’s a mini-burger fit for a king. Don’t forget to order a side of pommes frites – proper thin-cut French fries, no messing.
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£7 small/£14 large, 12 Archer Street, London, W1D 7BB
Most people who recommend this Soho Italian mention ‘that radish and celeriac salad’. It’s been on the menu since opening days back in 2008, and thankfully it has stayed. We love the combination of earthy radish and celeriac, pops of tangy sweetness from the pomegranate seeds, the aroma from truffle oil and the saltiness from crumbly pecorino bringing it all together. A real taste of la dolce vita.
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£14.50, 127 Ledbury Road, London, W11 2AQ
In many ways, the Ledbury remains a neighbourhood restaurant (its kitchen staff famously protected customers from last summer’s rioters with knives and rolling pins). But this dish, from Aussie chef-patron Brett Graham, explains not only why the venue is considered to be one of the finest haute cuisine restaurants in London, but why diners are prepared to cross town to eat a lunch here. The silky mackerel has a unique burnt-wood smokiness, and comes with a delicate smoked-eel paste, while squiggles of shiso and mustard deliver freshness and bite. A masterful composition.
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£6.95, 23 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JS
The first time we had this tapa, one of the signature creations of the Salt Yard/Dehesa/Opera Tavern group, we were a little disappointed that it wasn’t easier to divvy up for sharing. Then we saw the light – this is a dish that’s too good to share. The belly comes in three layers: tender, juicy base; fatty, full-flavoured middle; and a thick, crunchy top layer of crackling (the bit that’s tricky to cut). All this on a bed of stewed, starchy cannellini beans with just enough rosemary running through. Simple, but hugely comforting.
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£16.90, 34 Portman Street, London, W1H 7BY
Read it on the menu, and this starter at elegant Marylebone high-flyer Texture may seem a gimmick. When the dish arrives, gloriously adorned with an intact pigeon leg (claw and all), it may even shock. But the substance more than matches the style: this is an intelligently composed, superbly executed creation. Fat little slabs of ruby-middled pigeon flesh meet with an intense red wine jus. Charred pieces of corn and a delicate sweetcorn purée offset the subtle gaminess of the bird. And a few pieces of ‘bacon’ popcorn (flavoured with bacon powder) round it off. Taste? Sublime. Texture? You betcha.
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Three for £6, 6 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7NW
Meatballs are rarely sexy, and never pretty. But they can be very, very good. These versions, which first appeared at Da Polpo’s ultra-trendy Soho predecessor Polpo, sparked a meatball-loving trend across the capital. They are surprisingly light, and the hit of fennel is a revelation. Once you’ve had three, and mopped up the smooth tomato sauce they arrive smothered in, you’ll feel deeply comforted. What’s more, while most of the Polpo restaurants are squarely pitched at the generation who don’t mind waiting for a table, the far more accessible Da Polpo actually takes bookings until 6pm.
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£14.50, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
The signature dish at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, and no doubt one that will join the likes of ‘snail porridge’ and ‘bacon and egg ice cream’ when summing up the zany chef’s creations. But lord, is it good. A beautiful orb with an exterior of thin, sharp mandarin jelly encases some of the lightest, creamiest chicken liver parfait known to man – a triumph of flavour, texture and vision that fills us with childish glee.
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£7.95, Salt Yard, 54 Goodge St, W1T 4NA
One of our top ten dishes
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Salt Yard’s frilly-edged courgette flowers are jammed with monte enebro (a salty goat’s cheese with blue cheese notes) before they’re tempura-battered, deep-fried, and drizzled with delicately scented lavender honey. In 2012 versions of this dish are widely available elsewhere, but we still think that the one at Salt Yard (and its younger, sexier siblings Dehesa and Opera Tavern), with its perfect balance of creamy and crispy, sweet and salt, is worth seeking out.