Don't be fooled by the name: this red and yellow boozer just off Oxford Street's ropier end is not a hotspot for sherries and fine tapas (see nearby Barrica for that). In fact, it’s not even a bar. Bradley’s is definitely a pub, and with its jumble sale decor and tattered furniture, it sure puts the 'shabby' in 'shabby chic'. But don't be put off: Londoners love Bradley’s for its low-key and unpretentious vibe. At the tiny two-floor venue, the atmosphere is warm and friendly (except for when there's a Spain v England football match on), the drinks are a fair price for area and, the real showpiece, there's a vinyl jukebox pumping out Motown classics and disco bangers in the ground-floor bar. So fond of this place are the locals that in summer months the thirsty post-work crowd forgo chairs and tables (and walls) and take to the street outside, much to the annoyance of taxi drivers who use Hanway Street as a sneaky shortcut.
There’s a vast bar-restaurant in Helsinki called Zetor (‘Tractor’), where Finns go to sit on hay bales, admire each other’s checked shirts, then indulge in wildly drunken barn dancing. It’s also a place to witness the infamous Finnish capacity for booze. Heavy drinking is something that Londoners do well too. Getting in touch with our inner bumpkin, however, is still a niche interest in London, and it’s one that Barnyard is now here to satisfy – particularly those with a more sober desire for rus in urbe than the Finns. Barnyard’s walls are corrugated iron, the tables stripped planks; plates are enamelled, some seats are oil drums. But wait a minute, isn’t this the latest venture from Ollie Dabbous, a chef so cutting edge he could probably chop down a wild elderberry shrub with his bare hands while out foraging. Of the modernist restaurant Dabbous, the one that’s fully booked until the northern hemisphere runs out of chilled pine infusions and fig leaf broth? Ollie Dabbous doesn’t just do hifalutin’ cookin’, that’s clear; he can also do casual, family-friendly, and affordable. Barnyard’s menu at first glance can read like motorway service station caff – cauliflower cheese, sausage roll, chicken in a bun – until you delve a bit deeper. ‘Lard on toast’ and ‘mince and dumpling’ are just that, in small-plates portions – but both dishes were full-flavoured and beautiful in their simplicity. More complex was the crispy chicken wings, rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic and l
There are reasons why Ethos might make you wary. It’s near Oxford Circus, it’s vegetarian, it’s a self-serve buffet and you pay for your food by weight. (That’s the weight of the food, not your weight.) This ‘comida por quilo’ system is a popular economy-restaurant style in Brazil, but it’s been relatively unexplored in the UK. Adding to the gimmicky potential, on any given day the main menu might include more than a dozen dishes from the diverse cuisines of Japan, Southeast Asia, Italy, Korea, India, Mexico and Lebanon – and anywhere else that does brilliant vegetarian dishes – plus a few of their own creations. You can choose as few or as many as you like, building your own bespoke meal, before having your plate weighed and then paying at the counter. The concept may seem incoherent at first. Standing by the platters and bowls at the buffet – hot on one side, room temperature on the other – wondering whether the Korean kimchi might go with some nasu dengaku (Japanese miso-roasted aubergine), or the restaurant’s Indian-inflected ‘scotch egg’. But sitting in the spacious, box-fresh surroundings – the decor is predominantly Nordic white and blue, with some bucolic trunks of silver birch reaching skywards – you taste the food and think: ‘Hang on, this is really good.’ Rather than worrying about whether Thai sweetcorn fritters are complemented by a lovage-laced tomato and bread panzanella salad, the world tour of dishes becomes a mini-adventure in flavour, colour and textu
Opened in January 2013, Attendant occupies London’s most original location for a coffee bar: a late-nineteenth-century gents’ toilet. The urinals provide seating with small tables, and there’s additional seating at a banquette at the back. Be warned: this place is tiny, and rammed at a weekday lunchtime. But that was the only problem apparent. Everyone in the young office-worker crowd looked very happy, and the food – cold sandwiches, hot sandwich of the day, various salads – looked great. Coffee-lovers will love Attendant. The barista, obsessively committed to his craft, apologised because the Caravan blend might have a little too much citrus flavour from sitting for just three days after roasting (he likes six). It was citrusy; but it was wonderful. He offered to brew a free cup of something else, so we could compare and contrast. All in all, this is a great place. The only difficulty is resisting making jokes about Attendant’s previous life. We could crack a million of them, but you’d only get pissed off. Looking for another caffeine fix? Find more coffee shops in the capital
Soho’s lively little Lebanese hub continues its success, judging by the numbers who cram around the tables in the distinctive yellow, black and white interior. At the back is a counter stacked with ready-made wraps to take away. This cheery café is a world away from staid traditional Lebanese restaurants. There’s none of the formality (or the space), but the standard of food is just as high. On a recent visit, we loved the tangy stickiness of sawda djej (melt-in-the-mouth chicken livers), which, in this version, came in a dark sauce sweet with pomegranate seeds. Falafel made a great contrast: soft, cushiony insides and crisp shells, served with a generous portion of tahina. They went well with the dense, garlicky houmous too. Manakish zaatar was perfect: pitta bread drizzled with olive oil and dusted with lemony zaatar spice, warmed in the oven just enough to let the flavour flood out: simple but delicious. Yalla Yalla is popular as a lunch spot – and staff can get overwhelmed – but it’s open in the evening too, and serves grills and mains alongside the meze all day. It also has an extensive, largely Lebanese, wine list and cocktails.
London’s Tex-Mex eateries are currently ten a peso, and the branded interior of Benito's Hat looks ripe for replication – no doubt something owner Ben Fordham, a former City lawyer, has considered. Lime and orange walls overlook functional wooden tables, with cactus pots sitting precariously among the condiments. The fast-moving production line serves some of the best burritos in town. We plumped for one loaded with slow-cooked pork, and loved the soft, floury tortilla, the freshness of the fiery salsa brava (made several times daily) and the black beans, which were authentically flavoured with avocado leaves. Chicken, steak and vegetable options are also available, as are suitably merciless margaritas.
On this site for 60 years, the Indian YMCA sees little need to change a formula that has successfully fed generations of Indian students newly-arrived in the UK. The concrete and glass post-war modernist building looks institutional but is an institution, though these days you are more likely to share your table with a bargain-hunting British office worker than an trainee doctor from the Punjab. Queue canteen-style at the counter, while checking off the low prices on the pegboard menu above; ‘tin fruits 75p’ is typically succinct. We recommend the freshly-prepared dishes: the curries (fish, mutton, veg, chicken) are all cooked home-style and sensitively spiced. The dahl is a comforting version, the turmeric-coloured toor dal giving body to the dish. Mounds of rice soak up the sauces; be warned that the pilau rice uses generous sprinklings of vivid food colourings. Although most of the dishes are North Indian in style, a soothing South Indian breakfast snack of dahi wada is a lentil rissole swathed in a heavy, palliative yoghurt. A sink for washing your hands afterwards is discreetly concealed behind a glass screen, not on public view in the Indian way. The Y’s better for lunch than dinner.
The Youth Hostel Association’s newest hostel is one of its best – as well as being one of the best hostels in London. The friendly and well-informed receptionists are stationed at a counter to the left of the entrance, in a substantial café-bar area. The basement contains a well-equipped kitchen and washing areas; above it, five floors of clean, neatly designed rooms, many en suite. Residents have 24hr access and the location is quiet but an easy walk from most of central London.
This small vegetarian café, opened in summer 2014, has plenty to recommend it: a bright, pleasant space with skylight at the back, a display counter at the front bearing the photogenic food offerings of the day, friendly and attentive staff. And the promise is partly made good by the food itself, which majors on salads, sandwiches and baked goods both savoury and sweet. Not every dish is above criticism. A buckwheat roast was a little dense and dry, and the selection of salads all contained a fair proportion of grains and/or pulses which added up to carb-overload when assembled on the plate. But the salads themselves were individually good, if perhaps a little under-seasoned. The star of the show was an improbably flavourful spinach soup: great depth of flavour, coarse-textured, with the odd fragment of sweet, soft garlic to provide a surprise. Don’t expect cutting-edge vegetarian cooking here. Indeed, there was something pleasingly retro-veggie in some of the dishes, especially that roast. But the food is good, and the vibe is quiet and soothing. Finish with a single-estate Aeropress brew from Workshop coffee roasters and you’ll walk away content. We’re certainly happy to join the Kin family.
Venue says: “Pasta, salad or pizza and a selection of Obicà specialities. All the flavours of our cuisine in one dish, at £12! Monday to Friday noon-3pm.”
This Charlotte Street mozzarella bar is one of five London branches of a worldwide chain boasting outposts in Japan, the USA and, of course, Italy. The southern-Italian cheese plays a lead role here, though Italian small plates, pizzas, pasta, salads and soups also feature.
At £3.50, you’d be hard pushed to find a cheaper bibimbap in London than the one on offer at this Korean caff tucked that's relocated from behind Centre Point to just around the corner on Great Russell Street. Pay an extra quid and they’ll add some beef, chicken or tuna to the rice, fried egg, vegetable and chilli sauce combo. Other highlights of the classic Korean menu are generously proportioned seafood pajeon pancakes – not the crispest, but guaranteed to fill you up – and fried rice dishes or spicy stews with boiled rice for around a fiver.
Whether homesick Scandinavian, or hungry Brit, you get a warm welcome from the smiley staff at SK. They cope well even during busy periods, when seats (at tables at the back, plus a few stools and a sofa at the front) are at a premium, and are a dab hand at doling out decent coffees (made with Monmouth beans) and Swedish cinnamon buns. At lunch, there are mix-and-match combos of salads (beetroot and apple, carrot and courgette, sweet potato with rye grain – all good), open sandwiches (such as smoked salmon) and wraps (smoked ham and Scandinavian cheese), plus a soup of the day (always vegetarian) or a hot dog with crispy onions. Cakes are baked every day: kladdkaka (Swedish sticky chocolate cake, served with whipped cream) and apple cake are excellent choices; there’s a good range of teas, such as elderflower and ginger, too. Further temptation comes in the form of Scandinavian groceries, from crispbreads to herring and liquorice, dotted about the red- and black-accented premises (with even more available online).
The Pepys Riverside Bar & Dining
The views are quite the draw at this pub and dining room right on the river - get the right seat and you can cast your eye all the way from Bankside down to London Bridge, and The Shard spiking the London sky. Inside looks good too though, with generous leather chesterfields, exposed brickwork, filament lightbulbs and interesting art all part of the recent refurb. Food comes from a varied menu ranging from burgers, dogs, charcuterie boards and salt and pepper squid to rib-eye steaks, pan-fried sea bass and calves' liver and bacon served with grilled tomatoes, a herb mash and a red wine jus. Stone-baked pizzas prove popular, with margheritas alongside marinaras, calzones and spicy diavolos - chorizo and chilli providing the heat. Cocktails range from a maple old fashioned to espresso martinis, a house bloody mary and a candy floss - a mix of Beefeater gin, passion fruit liqueur, strawberries and cream. A range of mojitos are on offer, too. Wines take in the big-hitting regions of the wine making world, while beers are sourced from well-known and lesser-known breweries.
Venue says: “Pepys prosecco Fridays are back for 2017! Enjoy our favourite Fantinel Brut at only £20 a bottle, all day every Friday.”