An expert guide to London’s best classic restaurants by chef Lee Tiernan

FKABAM's main man on the joys of St John, Dumplings Legend, Kiln, Quo Vadis and more

Leonie Cooper
Written by
Leonie Cooper
Food and Drink Editor, Time Out London
Lee Tiernan
Birkenstock/St John

If anyone knows their way around London’s classic restaurants, it’s Lee Tiernan. Working at the iconic St John for a decade before opening the acclaimed FKABAM (formerly known as Black Axe Mangal) in Highbury, his classy, whole-beast cookery is deeply indebted to London’s traddest of trad spots, but brings everything bang up-to-date with roaring open-fire cooking, a quite unnerving obsession with offal and extremely decent soundtrack. 

This month, Lee is Birkenstock Studio’s artist-in-residence. What does this mean? It means that Lee will be hosting all manner of demos and cookery workshops at the sandal folk’s swanky space at Dray Walk Gallery at 91 Brick Lane in east London all month long, including events with Time Out faves Mam Sham, Taste Cadets and ice cream sandwich supremos Happy Endings.

Tonight (July 8), Lee will be hosting a cookout, serving up classic dishes from FKABAM, while comedy/food duo Mam Sham’s masterclass on how to create a supper club with a difference is on the evening of July 10. On July 18 there’ll be a blind chocolate tasting with Terri Merciea of Happy Endings, and Lee and Kate Tiernan will be in conversation with Taste Cadets on July 24. All events are free and start at 6pm. You can get tickets here

Here are Lee Tiernan’s six favourite classic London restaurants. All killer, no filler.

St John | Photograph: Stefan Johnson
St John | Photograph: Stefan Johnson

1. St John, Clerkenwell

Founded 1994

Lee Tiernan: ‘My number one restaurant is St John in London. Actually the world. This is where I trained and spent many years as a chef, so my connection to St John is nostalgic and emotional but what keeps me coming back is the food and atmosphere. St John is a portal into another universe, a one-off. You can have a quick bite at the bar or a long, luxurious meal in the main restaurant. I always order a Welsh Rarebit and a pint of Guinness, usually a bone marrow too. Ox heart salad? Why not? Oh and a dozen madeleines. Fuck it go with friend and order everything. Each dish is tantalising. The menu reflects the ethos of nose-to-tail, where you will find everything but the oink present alongside an impressive and extensive wine list. Everyone should go to St John at least once in their lifetime. This restaurant has influenced the industry on a global scale and is more relevant than ever.’

26 St John St, EC1M 4AY 

Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob GreigKiln, Brewer Street - photographed for Time Out London

2. Kiln, Soho

Founded 2016

‘I was gagging to go to Kiln from the moment I heard it was opening. If I am being completely transparent, I love Smoking Goat just as much, but there is a cosy element at Kiln I particularly enjoy, especially if you can nab a seat at the counter opposite the line of charcoal grill and watch the chefs work their woks. This place smells incredible and that’s because they cook outrageously good food. Spicy, punchy and interesting flavours using an array of animals and seafood and utilising every part of each beast. I always like to try something new when I go, and there is always a dish on the menu I’ve never seen before. That’s what I go for.’ 

58 Brewer St, W1F 9TL

3. Pizzeria Bel Sit, Woodford Green

Founded 1981

‘I visit the Bel Sit more than any other restaurant, always with my family, and I still don’t feel like I go there enough. The Bel Sit has been serving top notch Italian food and welcoming customers since 1981 and it is still going strong. I just love it. It’s always packed and for good reason. Most evenings you will probably have to wait a short while for a table as they don’t take bookings, but you can have a drink while you wait and take in the buzz of the atmosphere and let your excitement mount. It will be worth it. Their garlic bread is second to none. The veal milanese is hard not to order, and all the pastas are great. The pistachio semifreddo is the peak of excellence.’

439-441 High Rd, IG8 0XE

The Marksman, Hackney Road
Andy Parsons

4. Marksman

Founded 1865

‘I might be biassed because the patrons of the Marksman, Tom (Harris) and Jon (Rotheram), are two of my best mates. But these gentlemen really know their stuff and are two of the most knowledgeable and talented chefs I know. That is what makes the Marksman so, so good. The attention to detail, from the food to the decor of this vintage boozer is everything you could want for. It’s a proper pub. Have you ever had their beef and barley bun with horseradish cream? If not I pity you, deeply. One of the best bites in London. The Sunday roasts are particularly good and you can walk it off around Columbia Road flower market afterwards.’

254 Hackney Rd, E2 7SB

Quo Vadis
Greg Funnell

5. Quo Vadis, Soho

Founded 1926

‘One of the most stunning dining rooms in London. You instantly know you’re in for a treat when you walk into that room and take a glance at the beautifully crafted menu adorned with witty artwork by the brilliant John Broadley. Jeremy Lee’s smoked eel sandwich is as iconic as they come, but everything on the menu reaches the same giddy heights. It’s impossible not to enjoy yourself here, the staff and service are as impressive as the food. Go for lunch and enjoy the warm Soho sunlight streaming through the windows or go for an evening meal if you’re in the mood for romance. Simply stunning.’ 

26-29 Dean St, W1D 3LL

Time Out London Deals Dumplings Leong's Legend China Town Gerrard Street Dim Sum
Andy Parsons

6. Dumplings Legend, Chinatown

Founded 2010

‘There are loads of great places to eat in Chinatown, but I always find myself sitting in Dumplings Legend at lunchtime ticking multiple boxes on the dim sum menu. It’s impossible not to order too much, but I always say to myself ‘you can take it away if you don’t eat it all’.  In most cases I order too much and scoff the lot anyway and then order more washing it down with ice cold beer. The food comes out thick and fast, nearly as fast as I can consume it. Wear trousers with an elasticated waistband.’

15-16 Gerrard St, W1D 6JE

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