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London’s best restaurants
Photograph: Andy Parsons

The best restaurants in London you should be booking

Dine out at the best restaurants in London, from well-seasoned stalwarts to tasty newcomers doing fresh things in the kitchen

Angela Hui
Written by
Angela Hui
Written by
Tania Ballantine
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The places on the Time Out list of London’s best restaurants have been handpicked by our local Food editor. They all have great food, but also offer a fantastic experience: great staff, a cool space, maybe a leafy terrace. And all at the right price. This doesn’t necessarily mean cheap (if you’re on a tight budget, check out our dedicated cheap eats list), but definitely does mean value for money.

From the special-occasion destination to the cult shipping-container spot, if it’s on this list, we think it’s awesome. And we reckon you will too.

Eaten somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutEatList

Find out more about how Time Out makes recommendations and reviews restaurants.

100 best restaurants in London

Kiln
  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When your funds are running low but you still want to eat exciting food – go with a group to taste as much as possible.

What to have: The superbly tender, Burmese-spiced short-rib curry is a true crowd-pleaser; or snap up any of the nightly specials.

If you like Kiln, you may like…
Smoking Goat, The Begging Bowl

Self-taught chef Ben Chapman played a whopper of a hand with his first solo gaff, Smoking Goat; this second venture is a continuation of the Thai barbecue theme. Kiln is a little less dive-y than its sibling. Instead, its simple, stripped-back looks work perfectly with the Soho setting and the style of cooking. Quality, Brit-sourced meat and fish are chargrilled over embers, Thai-style, and served with the fiery, flavour-packed sauces typical of rural Thailand – sit up at the counter to watch the chefs and furnaces in action. 

  • Restaurants
  • North African
  • Seven Dials
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: It’s most fun at dinner, but you do need to go early to get a seat. Even better, go at 5pm, when you can actually book.

What to have: Anything from the tandoor (such as the naan bread) or the grill (such as the charred octopus, which is the best in London).

If you like The Barbary, you may like…
The Palomar, Berber & Q

It’s not possible to have a bad time at The Barbary. Sure, you’ll probably have to queue, but even that’s tolerable, because then you get to feast on moreish deep-fried snacks (like the Moroccan cigars) that don’t appear on the main menu. If the queue is huge and spills out of the door, then you get to hang out in Neal’s Yard, one of London’s loveliest hidden courtyards. The food is labelled as ‘modern Israeli’, though in truth, it’s anything but. What they’ve done is taken the ancient recipes from across North Africa (from the one-time Barbary Coast) and the Middle East that have gone on to influence food in today’s Israeli kitchen, then reimagined them. The smoky room is stuffed full of music, laughter and people that are beautiful in the best way: inside and out.

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Hoppers
  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you want to say to your mouth, ‘you SHALL go to the ball!’

What to have: The bone marrow varuval (a sort of dry, bone marrow curry for spreading over a buttery roti), plain hoppers and any of the curries (tip: order an extra curry instead of several chutneys).

If you like Hoppers, you may like…
Bao, Gunpowder

There’s nothing like Hoppers in London. Sure, there’s good Sri Lankan food in certain pockets of the capital. But very few restaurants are exclusively Sri Lankan (most are South Indian and certainly don’t do hoppers, the egg-topped pancakes after which this Soho restaurant is named); the few exceptions are okay, rather than amazing. So the fact that Hoppers is outrageously good is even more impressive. The small room, a sexy Soho take on all things Sri Lankan, is always full and always buzzing (and yes, you’ll almost certainly have to queue), but it’s more than worth the wait. If small plates, full flavours and unapologetic spicing are your bag, Hoppers will get your pulse – and your tastebuds – racing.

Smoke & Salt
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Brixton
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When only some genius modern small plates will do

What to have: Everything wows, but try the parsnip and flatbread combo with burnt yeast cream, pickled garlic and apple

If you like Smoke & Salt, you may like…
Clove Club, Pidgin

A restaurant in a ‘magic box’ (well, a shipping container, actually), Smoke & Salt has inherited what was once Kricket’s pop-up space – and look what happened to that Indian firecracker. This is a place with personality, but it’s not all show – these guys can really cook, and their dishes are a triumph of careful composition and texture. How about crunchy-edged new potato halves over a yin-yang duo of sauces (gorgonzola and chimichurri) topped with silky slices of beef heart; or buttery nuggets of octopus and salsify in a large clam shell with blood orange accents on the side. It’s all ludicrously good value, and then there’s the service – affable, clued-up and perfectly paced.

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Bright
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Global
  • London Fields
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: when you’re bored of all other food.

What to have: the menu changes daily, but plates which embrace carbs are especially strong: look out for the likes of home-made goujeres, herby pizzette or plates of pasta. Not forgetting that white-bread sarnie, with katsu chicken inside.

If you like Bright, you may like…
Leroy, Scully, Hicce

Eating at Bright is a little like eating in a high-ceilinged, metal-framed glass box, but that’s a good thing: there’s less to distract you from the food. The compact menu changes daily, but is generally an eclectic mix of modernish small plates: look out for the signature chicken katsu sarnie (a crusts-cut-off white-bread number, in dainty quarters), slices of artisanal charcuterie, dinky plates of off-the-clock pasta, plus inventive plates of fish, meat or veg (grilled radicchio with preserved cherries, say; or mussels with curry leaves in a smoked mackerel broth). Best of all: you can book.

Padella
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Borough
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you’ve had a morning workout and you can totally justify two or three plates of pasta to yourself.

What to have: Pasta, pasta and more pasta. Big shapes, little shapes, fat and thin. Don’t bother with starters or puds (nice, but not why you’re here) and definitely don’t miss the pappardelle with eight-hour beef shin ragù.

If you like Padella, you may like…
Artusi, Trullo

Pasta is a funny old thing. On the face of it, so simple. Boring, even. But this chic little Borough Market pasta bar – from the people behind Islington’s trendy Trullo – will change the way you feel about it for ever. There’s a daily-changing menu of plates, small enough to allow you to try a few (around two each, if you pass on starters and puds), but large enough to leave you feeling genuinely satisfied. It’s all made and cooked to order right in front of you – everyone gets to perch up at the L-shaped counter, for maximum viewing pleasure – while the setting, all glass, marble and steel, is effortlessly chic.

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Social Eating House
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Soho

Price: Blowout

When to go: When you want slick service and a big-ticket menu without the formality.

What to have: Shareable jars and killer cocktails kick things off in style.

If you like Social Eating House, you may like…
Trinity

Gordon Ramsay protégé and unstoppable wunderkind Jason Atherton seems hellbent on building an international restaurant empire every bit as revered as that of his mentor. This was one of three London openings he oversaw in 2013 and his first Soho venture – but he’s barely stopped to draw breath since then. Social Eating House’s dark, low-slung dining room, with its mirrored ceiling and modern artworks, feels cool and informal, while chef Paul Hood’s menu delivers dishes that are at once highly sophisticated, accessible and above all delicious – often throwing in a welcome touch of theatricality when you least expect it. Efficient, attentive staff keep this star-studded show on the road.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Covent Garden
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you fancy Indian food without Indian-restaurant clichés – any here come courtesy of nostalgia for the British chop house. 

What to have: The malted kulfi dessert – intensely flavoured malted ice cream topped with caramelised banana and salted peanuts. Pass the smelling salts…

If you like Tandoor Chop House, you may like…
Gunpowder, Kricket

This cleverly manufactured concept borrows heavily from Dishoom: think small plates of sexed-up Indian dishes eaten in a buzzing, friendly, café-style setting (but, for now at least, minus the mile-long queues). We hoovered up almost everything we tried here, and so will you – from the herb-strewn seekh kebab and fantastic beef dripping keema naan, to the finger-licking, blistered, spiced lamb chops, it’s all excellent. Staff couldn’t be nicer, too, tending to their customers like family members. 

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The Counter at Sabor
  • Restaurants
  • Spanish
  • Regent Street
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re in need of some tapas fun.

What to have: Everything wows, but the just-runny salt-cod tortilla is sheer eggy bliss.

If you like Sabor, you may like…
Barrafina, Boqueria, Donostia

After years as executive chef at Barrafina, Spanish queen bee Nieves Barragán Mohacho has opened her first solo gaff – a highly distinctive set-up spread over two floors (this small-plate tapas counter downstairs, bookable tables for communal wood-fired feasting upstairs). Some of Barrafina’s favourite ingredients are still here, but the style is more rustic, from an incredible salad of black tomato, chorizo and confit artichoke to a two-part dish involving stuffed chipirón (baby squid) in a puddle of black ink alongside a piece of breaded hake with aïoli. Also pray that they’re serving their drool-inducing tartaleta filled with fragrant poached rhubarb and booze-laced mascarpone. The food’s all-round flawless and eating here is such fun.

  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Shoreditch
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you need some ‘drinking food’ with a proper kick.

What to have: Red-hot smokin’ Thai barbecue, a bowl of lardo fried rice and as much booze as you can manage.

If you like Smoking Goat, you may like...
Kiln, Som Saa, Begging Bowl

Having moved from its original Soho dive to new premises in Shoreditch, this rockin’ Thai barbecue joint now looks and feel like a real restaurant – albeit one with loads of smoke, noise and music. It’s all about ‘drinking food’ here, chilli-spiked in-your-face flavours that simply cry out for a few beers: we suggest the signature fish-sauce chicken wings, the crunchy deep-fried shell-on prawns (eat ’em whole) and anything involving unctuous bulked-out noodles. You know your friend who doesn’t really like spicy food? Yeah, don’t bring them.

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  • Restaurants
  • Taiwanese
  • Soho
  • price 1 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you’re in the mood for fiery food you can eat with your fingers – and have time to queue.

What to have: The fried chicken or confit pork bao, though the small plates (pigs’ blood cake, trotter nuggets) are brilliant too.

If you like Bao, you may like...
Flesh & Buns, Smoking Goat

Forget Narnia. This is a wardrobe you really want to enter, but then stay in. Okay, Bao isn’t actually a wardrobe, but the interior of the dinky Soho eatery feels so much like being inside a giant wood-veneered Ikea creation, you can almost hear the couples debating whether they really need 350 tea lights. But looks aside, Bao is a truly exceptional place. It serves award-winning Taiwanese street food with plenty of kick (it started life as a tiny Netil Market stall). It’s the kind of stuff that’s great if you’re a little bit drunk. Just not paralytic – it’s too good to be wasted on the wasted.

  • Restaurants
  • Spanish
  • Covent Garden

Price: Mid-range

When to go: As early as poss if you don’t want to stand in line for hours – although it’s totally worth the wait (itself made more bearable if you order in-queue drinks and snacks).

What to have: How to choose... It’s all so good. Mix classics such as the impeccably runny-centred tortilla with more adventurous regional dishes and going-going-gone specials such as carabineros (gigantic, bright red prawns).

If you like Barrafina, you may like…
Donostia, José, Copita

The first Barrafina (RIP), on Frith Street, was the original small-plates-and-no-reservations counter bar pioneer, a template that has since gone viral. This bustling, Barcelona-style tapas joint now has branches across town, but Adelaide Street is the slightly glitzier, slightly larger venue that pays homage to the original without being a straight copycat. So there’s the same striped marble bar overlooking the kitchen, but its curved design cleverly allows for a couple more grateful bums on those burgundy leather stools. There’s a menu that includes the tapas holy trinity of tortilla, croquetas and jamón, plus Barrafina’s signature market-fresh seafood, but which also runs to Josper-grilled meats, offal delicacies such as deep-fried lamb’s brain, and Mallorcan specialities. In short, it rocks.

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Scully
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Global
  • St James’s
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you want to rekindle your love affair with fusion food.

What to have: Everything – from the heirloom tomato salad to the goat’s cream cheesecake with strawberries.

If you like Scully, you may like…
Modern Pantry

Born in Malaysia and raised in Sydney, with Chinese/Indian blood on his mum’s side and Irish/Balinese on his dad’s: no wonder this debut from eponymous chef Ramael Scully delivers an eclectic hotchpotch of flavours. How about a rebooted heirloom tomato salad involving green strawberries, grated coconut and a poured-at-the-table ‘shrub’ (cider vinegar, soy and sweet tommie juices), or a downright velvety dish of marinated goat – slow-poached sous-vide for a whopping 36 hours, then presented atop a splodge of green-chilli-flecked yoghurt, slivers of pickled red onion and urd lentils. This is sharply focused, bold and surprising stuff served in a dining room with personality.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Soho

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you think you’ve tried and tasted every dining concept that London has to offer. Been there, barbecued that? Think again.

What to have: As much as your body can handle – it’s all sooo good. But don’t miss the tacos with soy-cured beef, if those smoky, sweet and fiery gems are on the menu.

If you like Temper, you may like…
Smokestak

Scottish chef and barbecue fan Neil Rankin (ex-Smokehouse, ex-Bad Egg) has created something mega-thrilling at this huge fusion smokehouse in a Soho basement. Imagine deliciously charred meat carved from whole prime carcasses, served over homemade rotis or tacos, plus plenty of your favourite Asian or Latin spices. All set to backdrop of party tunes, with seats in diner-style booths or up at the counter, where you can watch the action. You don’t have to imagine it: it’s real.

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  • Restaurants
  • Burmese
  • Shoreditch
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you and some mates fancy taking the road to Mandalay without leaving the East End.

What to have: The coconut noodles with chicken and the fragrant fish cake salad (with caramelised onion, crisp cabbage and crunchy split peas).  

If you like Lahpet, you may like…
Som Saa

Originally holed up in a pokey space on Maltby Street Market, Lahpet has relocated to an airy site on Shoreditch’s eastern fringes and has turned itself into an achingly stylish Burmese star – all handsome wood, muted grey paintwork and patterned upholstery. Burmese cuisine is a cross-breed of Thai and Indian, but the flavours are still very much their own – if you don’t believe us, try one of their zingy signature salads or the chunky, succulent hake fillet on a moreish rösti with a fiery masala sauce. The vibe is buzzy, service is clued-up, portions are enormous and it’s terrific value – so grab five friends, request one of the booths, and order as much as you possibly can.

  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Seven Dials
  • price 4 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: When your carnal urges will only be satisfied by something big and bloody.

What to have: A small steak – because the large ones would feed a family of cheetahs, and you need to save room for sensational sides and old-school desserts.

If you like Hawksmoor Seven Dials, you may like…
Goodman Mayfair

The original Hawksmoor in Spitalfields is a great bar and grill – but this newer branch is a truly sensational one. The entrance is a bit hidden, despite the Covent Garden location, but once you’re inside you see it’s a real beauty of a basement bar and dining room, which looks as if it’s been there for at least a century – in fact, it only opened as a restaurant at the end of 2010. The meat is of better quality, and better cooked, than at many more expensive Mayfair steak restaurants. That’s not to say that Hawksmoor is cheap, of course, but dining here is an experience that every omnivore should have at least once.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re out in Soho and it’s early. You can book for three or more, or for two if you’re happy to go eat in the basement. But the walk-ins-only ground floor, ideally at the counter, is where you want to be.

What to have: Whatever your waiter suggests. The menu changes constantly, but there are often ‘versions of favourites’ on it, and the staff here know what’s what. Just let them order for you – or just stab blindly at your menu. You won’t find a dud dish.

If you like Ducksoup, you may like…
10 Greek Street, Popolo

One of the original wave of Soho small-and-sharing plates spots, Ducksoup makes up for its size (or lack of) with clued-up staff, bags of atmosphere and, oh yes, terrific food. Ingredients are exciting and eclectic, but pulled together in a broadly modern European way that makes them feel accessible. From cold plates of fennel salami, courgette achar or jersey rock oysters, to warm plates: roast sand carrots with coco beans, chervil and goat’s curd, say, or mussels with mogrhabieh, coriander and chilli, it’s anything but boring, especially when teamed with a glass or three from the daily-changing natural wine list. One other thing: most of Ducksoup’s street-level seats are up at the counter: be prepared to get cosy.

Kudu
  • Restaurants
  • South African
  • Peckham
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you want something smart and off-piste in Peckham.

What to have: Anything that’s been cooked in a pot or licked by the flames – try the lamb braai: it’s seriously lekker.

If you like Kudu, you may like…
Ikoyi

A good-looking restaurant specialising in South African-inspired small plates, Kudu may be named after a species of antelope, but don’t come here expecting exotic decor: the dining room has the vibe of a sleek, vintage lounge bar (marble tables and crushed velvet banquettes), while the kitchen shows its ‘rainbow nation’ allegiances with several dishes arriving in traditional cast-iron skillets (as in the old country). Our picks? A pot of warmly spiced mussels with seaweed-flecked gnocchi; a flawless tart of caramelised onions and goat’s curd, and Kudu’s take on mosbolletjies (a soft, sweet Afrikaans loaf that’s dunked into melted shrimp butter). With enthusiastic switched-on staff doing the rounds, this is a real feather in SE15’s cap.

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Soho

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you want to get your glad rags on and enjoy a decent meal in a smart but relaxed central spot.

What to have: Go for small plates so you can try more, and don’t miss the radish, celeriac, pomegranate and pecorino salad with truffle dressing – it’s a Bocca classic.

If you like Bocca di Lupo, you may like…
Padella, Artusi

There’s as much buzz around the food at this enduringly popular Soho Italian as there is around the celebs who dine here. This can make getting a table at short notice tricky for mere mortals, so book ahead. For the full experience, counter seats make for a lively meal with views of the chefs at work – but bear in mind it can get a bit hot there. Otherwise, the smart dining room at the back is more discreet. Take a tour of the regions of Italy via small plates or large-portion dishes, with addictive deep-fried snacks – such as breaded olives stuffed with minced pork and veal – alongside salads, homemade pastas and grills.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Marylebone
  • price 3 of 4
When to go: When you’re in the mood for romance. Or cracking food. Or, well, why not both?  

What to have:
 The menu is deceptively large, but everything is delicious: if you’re stuck, just pick an item from each section. The Josper-grilled seafood and red-meat cuts are particularly strong, but don’t miss the ’nduja croquettes if they’re on.    

If you like Twist, you may like…
Barrafina, The Counter at Sabor, Ember Yard

Here is a restaurant that’s about a thousand times cooler than its oh-so-slightly naff name might suggest. The vibe is rustic chic and atmospheric: all copper-pipe wine racks, unpainted plaster walls and worn wooden floors. Factor in the warm, low lighting, and it’s a pretty perfect spot for a date. Just make sure it’s someone deserving of the food, which is, as you’ve probably figured, tapas with a ‘twist’. That is, creative and contemporary, but not weird. Think Sicilian prawns served like a sashimi salad, or Josperised (aka ‘torched’) hispi cabbage sprayed with chilli and garlic oil at the table. Service on our visit was on the frosty side, but we’re hoping that was a one-off. Besides, the food and atmos cancel it out.  
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Nest
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Hackney
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: You need to commit and plan ahead, but the rewards are immense.

What to have: Seven plates. No choice. Always interesting. Perhaps venison wellington with a pear concealed inside it – or fermented cabbage and mint (from the separate veggie menu).

If you like Nest, you may like
Clove Club, Lyle’s, Pidgin

Three pals. One teeny Hackney restaurant. A seven-course no-choice menu (eight if you count bread, which you should, because it’s delicious), all created from a single meat. Result? Something special. Nest’s focus is on using one animal at a time (the meat changes every six weeks or so). There’s less waste. It’s more sustainable. Oh, and did we mention the cooking is terrific, too? They get plus points for the atmospheric Paris bistro via Hackney vibe and the enthusiasm of the small team. Nest is simply charming.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Highbury
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range.

When to go: When you want the sophistication and smoothness of a central London restaurant, but with the friendliness and heart of a true local.

What to have: This is a fish-forward restaurant, but the juicy, crisp-skinned guinea fowl with its daintily prepared, heartily flavoured caesar-style salad is not to be missed.

If you like Westerns Laundry, you may like…
10 Greek Street, Primeur, Soif

This former prison launderette (and sibling to the much-loved Primeur) has been repurposed as a cool neighbourhood destination, serving the day’s best produce in a constantly changing line-up of modern European dishes (all delicious). The restaurant is decidedly of its time. Open kitchen? Check. Communal tables? Of course. Almost illegible blackboard menu? Sure thing. Natural wines? Oh, yes. But instead of feeling like a cynical restaurant by numbers, the concept fits this place as snugly as a just-washed pair of jeans.

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The River Café
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Hammersmith
  • price 4 of 4

When to go: for lunch on a sunny day. No-one will mind if you just have a plate of pasta (the cheapest way to eat here) and you can go for a walk along the towpath afterwards.

What to have: a plate of the perfect pasta (especially if you’re on a budget). Otherwise, anything they suggest. It’s all simple, but sensational stuff.

If you like The River Café, you may like…
Hide Above, Lorne, J Sheekey Atlantic Bar

Still going strong after more than three decades, this iconic Italian restaurant is right to retain its loyal following (mostly a well-heeled west London/home counties crowd from the creative industries: think A-list actors and their agents, publishers and so on). If you’ve never been, don’t expect river views (it’s set back from the Thames, though you can take a lovely walk along the towpath after your meal) or cosy interiors (it was originally designed as a canteen for the architect’s practice of co-chef Ruth Rogers’s husband, and retains an air of modernist simplicity). Do go for elegant, unfussy food made from top-notch ingredients, served by genuinely welcoming staff. And, if you’re lucky, celeb-spotting.

Chicama
  • Restaurants
  • Peruvian
  • King’s Road

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re looking your best: everyone eating here has the glossily groomed aura of a true Chelsea-ite. 

What to have: The snacky starters are one of the highlights here – don’t miss the savoury tapioca ‘marshmallow’. Desserts, conversely, aren’t worth much attention.

If you like Chicama, you may like…
Chotto Matte

London gasped a collective ‘WTF?’ when Peruvian food was tipped as an imminent mega-trend all those years ago, but look at us now – we can’t get enough of pisco sours and purple potatoes, ceviches and seamlessly integrated superfoods. Marylebone’s party-party Pachamama is a bigwig on the Peruvian scene; this is its ever-so-slightly toned down sibling, sitting pretty in deepest Chelsea. The open kitchen’s modish plates are as small as a size zero dress but pack some impressive flavours – scoff them with abandon and then forgo the more lacklustre desserts.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Belgravia
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive.

When to go: When you don’t mind spending top-whack for tiny portions of food, so long as they’re sensational (they are).

What to have: The double-crab roll with yuzu: the combination of Cornish spider crab and soft-shell crab makes this dish leg-tastic.

If you like Dinings SW3, you may like…
Roka, Sushisamba

This long-awaited follow-up to the Marylebone original is Dinings 2.0. The setting is fancier, for a start, and more spacious, with high ceilings, arched windows and a marble counter for watching the chefs while you eat. The menu, too, pushes the envelope, with shiny new dishes that are ‘ta-dah!’ stylish without teetering into show-off territory. Portions are predictably tiny despite their high prices, but at least that gives you an excuse to sample as much as your wallet will allow. You only live once, people.

Leroy
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Shoreditch

Price: Mid-range

When to go: A dandy mash-up when food and wine are both on your mind.

What to have: There’s hardly a dud, but our fave is a dish simply described as ‘mussels and tomatoes on toast’ – trust us, it’s magnificent!

If you like Leroy, you may like…
10 Greek Street

Ellory is dead, long live Leroy. It’s the same team, and (almost) the same name as before, but this EC2 reboot of the short-lived Hackney star is miles better than the original – mainly because the whole package is much more relaxed. The new site was originally a wine bar and the ethos of pairing Euro-accented small plates with lovely glasses of vino lives on: how about confit duck with plum and cobnuts complemented by a Grenache 2016 Le Grappin Côtes du Rhône? Ingredients are unfussy and the flavours shine – from nuggets of tender, piquant quail on a skewer to locally cured trout with a kaleidoscope of condiments, including a tiny Jenga stack of sweet pickled cucumber. Hugely welcoming staff know their food and their wine, too.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Soho

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re in the mood for well-constructed small plates in an unpretentiously convivial atmosphere.

What to have: Mix and match from the concise, regularly changing menu – every dish is primed to delight.

If you like 10 Greek Street, you may like…
Bright

It’s not big, it’s not showy, but it is clever. This spot in Soho is the kind of place you’ll want to come back to time and again. There’s only a handful of dishes on the seasonally changing menu – stone bass with artichoke, samphire and chorizo, courgette flowers with goat’s curd, fregola and chestnut honey – but you’ll still have trouble choosing.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Mayfair
  • price 4 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: Whenever you can get a table (book ahead or go off-peak if it’s a special occasion, otherwise just try walking in for counter seats).

What to have: All the small plates: from burrata, to asparagus, to chicken liver parfait and candied pecan. Of the larger dishes, try the lamb, with its deliciously pink middle, and serving of wild garlic and onions.

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J Sheekey Atlantic Bar, Social Eating House

As with the eighteenth-century courtesan it’s named after, you pay Kitty Fisher’s a visit if you want to leave with a smile but don’t mind paying for the pleasure. Prices are high (this is Mayfair, after all), but really luscious smaller dishes like smoked eel and parsely risotto make things easier on the wallet. The basement dining room is intimate and atmospheric; the street-level wine bar best on a sunny day (as are the two alfresco tables overlooking so-picturesque-it-should-be-in-a-Richard-Curtis-movie Shepherd Market). Putting your meal together from small plates is the best way to leave without having spent a fortune.

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Frenchie
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Covent Garden
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: When you have sartorially savvy peeps in tow, this is a super-chic place to take them.

What to have: Skip snacks and mains – they’re perfectly lovely, but it’s the small-plates-slash-starters and deconstructed puds that truly dazzle.

If you like Frenchie, you may like…
Portland

Frenchie is a very special sort of restaurant; a central London dining room (right in the heart of Theatreland), elegant enough to take a top client, yet relaxed enough to never make you feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Part of the reason this balance has been so effortlessly achieved is thanks to the ‘Frenchie’ himself, Gregory Marchand (the nickname was given to him by Jamie Oliver, many years ago), who combines his classical, technical training with a playful, creative approach to cooking. It’s why the original Frenchie, in Paris, has a six-month waiting list. As for the setting – if it’s light and airy you’re after, sit upstairs, at street level; for more buzz (or on a gloomy day), go for the basement, where you can watch the chefs glide around the gleaming open kitchen.

Lyle’s
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Shoreditch
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you want to be surprised and delighted by a zeitgeist chef in a zeitgeist restaurant.

What to have: Whatever you’re given (if you’re there at night) – there’s no choosing.

If you like Lyle’s, you may like…
Clove Club

If you’re a picky customer, then visit this excellent Shoreditch eatery at lunchtime: you’ll be able to choose what you like, and in what order. Turn up in the evening, however, and you’ll get a no-choice four-course set menu of acutely seasonal dishes that might include asparagus with cured pork fat and walnuts in spring, or monkfish liver with peach and potato in summer, followed by blackcurrant-leaf meringue. The name of chef James Lowe’s starkly minimal, achingly trendy Shoreditch restaurant references his mother’s maiden name; he is definitely one young chef to watch.

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Som Saa
  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Spitalfields
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you have three friends free on the same night as you – you’ll not only be able to book, but also request one of the lovely cabina-style booths.

What to have: The whole deep-fried sea bass, a sensational combo of delicate flesh, crunchy roasted rice-battered skin and fragrant north-eastern Thai herbs. The palm sugar ice cream with unripe banana (really) is insanely good, too.

If you like Som Saa, you may like…
Begging Bowl, Smoking Goat

Having raised funds to turn its residency in an east London coffee roastery into a permanent restaurant (it took just three days to raise £700,000, having only asked for £550,000), Som Saa finally opened its doors in April 2016. At last, everyone who’d ever wanted to sample the fiery Thai street food menu could do so in a stylish and exotic former garment factory within walking distance of Liverpool Street (or Aldgate) tube. And sample it you should. Despite the cooking being from two non-Thais (‘MasterChef’ winner Andy Oliver is a Brit, Mark Dobbie is an Aussie), the authenticity of spicing of some dishes is as straight-from-the-hills-of-northern-Thailand as they come. If your palate is naturally timid, go anyway, just ask the friendly staff to guide you.

Hide Above
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Piccadilly
  • price 4 of 4

When to go: During the day, when you can eat Ollie Dabbous’s Michelin-starred food for less. The daylight also lets you appreciate the view of Green Park’s leafy treetops.

What to have: You can either plump for the set menu or the à la carte options. Either way, it’ll be amazing.

If you like Hide Above, you may like…
Core by Clare Smyth, Da Terra

There are two restaurants at Hide (plus a basement bar, if you’re counting), And while the à-la-carte-serving Hide Ground has equally fabulous food – and staff – if it’s a special occasion you’re after, you have to climb the stairs. Smaller, lighter and more elegant, Hide Above is the yin to the street-level yang (plus, there are views across Piccadilly to Green Park). Up here, there’s a tasting menu (plus, more recently, a few à la carte options) and, while it’s brutally expensive – go for lunch and lay off the booze if the budget is an issue – it’s the kind of technically flawless, playful stuff that Dabbous made his name with, and that you’ll be talking about for years to come. 

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Ikoyi
  • Restaurants
  • West African
  • St James’s
  • price 4 of 4

Price: Blowout

When to go: When your palate needs a shake-up – one fuelled by the face-sweating heat of full-throttle chilli peppers and fusion flavours from across West Africa.

What to have: Go back to basics with the jollof rice (topped with a wibbly-wobbly scoop of smoked bone marrow), adding other modern takes on traditional West African dishes at will. Even the okra is amazing.

If you like Ikoyi, you may like...
Scully

Sometimes, a restaurant shakes you out of your small-plates stupor and makes you realise how samey your dining experiences have become. Aside from Morocco and its neighbours, African food is woefully underrepresented in the capital; Ikoyi addresses this gap in the market, but without getting all kitsch on our collective ass. Prepare for slices of buttermilk-fried plantain that are sweet, smoky and swelteringly hot all at once, pink-hued mutton chops with tamarind-spiced relish, and unbelievably tender chicken in satay-style sesame-seed sauce. Ikoyi? A thrilling one-off (for now…).

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Covent Garden
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re after classic seafood in a cute Covent Garden setting.  

What to have: the fabulously fresh daily specials.

If you like Parsons, you may like...
Sea Garden, J Sheekey Atlantic Bar

You know the people behind 10 Cases? That cute Covent Garden wine bar? This is from them. Great wine (obvs) but cracking seafood too. It’s a dinky space, like a cross between a fishmonger and a wine bar (white tiles, finned things on ice, a central service bar, a mix of tables high and low). Go for fresh-off-the-day-boat grills or a mix of small plates and snacks, like kick-ass cod roe and the fantastic sea trout tartare.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Fitzrovia

Price: Blowout

When to go: It’s a popular spot for media schmoozing, but also suited to a special occasion when you don’t mind parting with a fair few pennies.

What to have: The robata-grilled scallops with wasabi cream made it into our 100 Best Dishes in London.

If you like Roka, you may like…
Chotto Matte, Zuma

Zuma’s little sister has no trouble standing up for itself. The glass-fronted façade gives passersby a peek of the chefs at work preparing robata-grilled goodies. Their lamb cutlets with Korean spices rank among the best grilled dishes in London. As well as all things charcoal-cooked, their raw dishes are also worth exploring, like ruby-red tuna sashimi. If you’re in need of a stiff drink, head down to the Shochu Lounge in the basement.

Cornerstone
  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Hackney Wick
  • price 3 of 4

When to go: when you want haute cuisine in Hackney, but of the fishy kind.

What to have: plates are small, so you can cast your net wide, but it’s worth looking out for the raw stuff (like slivers of cured or crudo fish, or the must-have pickled oyster).

If you like Cornerstone, you may like…
Chicama, Dinings SW3, St Leonards, Outlaw’s at the Capital

If you’re not a fish fan, look away now. Because Cornerstone specialises in taking the fruits of the ocean – those in shells, those that go glub-glub – and elevating them to things of shining, shimmering beauty. The chef and owner is Tom Brown, who trained under award-winning Cornish seafood maestro Nathan Outlaw, who must be very proud. Don’t miss the pickled oyster with dill oil and horseradish (especially if you’re not an oyster fan: just trust us). All in a slick, stylish Hackney space with concrete floors and classy cutlery.

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  • Restaurants
  • Shoreditch

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you and your mates have something to celebrate – even if that something is just a shared love of barbecued meat.

What to have: Haven’t yet tried Smokestak’s signature beef brisket? Prepare yourself for moist, smoky meat heaped into a bun and topped with barbecue sauce, bone-marrow butter and pickled chillies.

If you like Smokestak, you may like…
Temper

Like an A-lister heading for a public meltdown, this former star of the street-food scene loves to smoke and doesn’t give a damn about calorie-counting. That is a very good thing for us food lovers: expect some big, big flavours on your plate, from garlicky mushrooms cooked in bone marrow and served on beef-dripping toast, through house-smoked pastrami with pickled cabbage, to sticky toffee pudding with smoke-tinged ice cream. Go hungry – and we mean, ‘haven’t-eaten-for-a-week’ hungry.

Uchi
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Clapton
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you want your dinner to have style as well as substance – this place is someone’s Pinterest board in restaurant form.

What to have: Stand-out veggie dishes include melt-in-the-mouth sweet-miso aubergine, and crunchy broccoli tempura wrapped in black rice and nori.

If you like Uchi, you may like…
Koya Bar

The Japanese are masters of minimalism, and this gorgeous restaurant does the aesthetic of its homeland justice with its serene décor, while squeezing in a few design tropes pinched from the internet (see the homespun specials ‘board’ for more details). The menu, too, is minimalist, with just four cold and three hot main dishes, plus a couple of starters and desserts. Thankfully, the lack of choice is a case of quality over quantity: each mouthful, from thickly sliced, melt-in-the-mouth tuna sashimi to piping-hot, chilli-licked karaage, and succulent charred pork skewers, is deliciously satisfying – and pretty presentation feeds the eyes as well as the stomach.

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Santo Remedio
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • London Bridge
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’ve out in a group and you want a step up from tapas.

What to have: Small plates, snacks and sides. But save space for the lamb cutlets, too.   

If you like Santo Remedio, you may like…
Breddos Tacos, El Asador at Sabor, El Pastor

Forget everything we ever said about the first Santo Remedio. The born-again-version of the Mexican restaurant, now moved from Shoreditch to south of the river (opposite the Unicorn Theatre on Borough’s Tooley St), is an absolute slam-dunk. A homely, gorgeous-to-look-at space, with wonderful staff and terrific cooking, it’s arguably the best Mexican in London. Do not miss the quesadilla or the guacamole. Grasshoppers optional!

Core by Clare Smyth
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Notting Hill
  • price 4 of 4

When to go: When you want a special-occasion restaurant in west London.

What to have: The potato and roe (Smyth is from Northern Ireland: this is her homage). It’s literally a large-ish waxy potato in a puddle of velvety beurre blanc, with lip-smackingly briny trout roe and handmade, fermented-then-fried crisps.

If you like Core by Clare Smyth, you may like…
Da Terra, Hide Above

We love Clare Smyth. Not only was she the first female British chef to hold three Michelin stars (at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, where she used to run the show), but she has a sense of humour. Expect potatoes and (posh, handmade, artisanal) crisps on her menus, as a playful nod to her northern Irish roots. But also go in anticipation of stunning, super-technical plates of food – smoke from under dishes, at-the-table-spritzing – from a kitchen with not one but two well-deserved Michelin stars. The room is swish and stylish rather than formal. Staff are polished but genial. One for the super-foodie in your life.

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The Wolseley
  • Restaurants
  • Brasseries
  • Piccadilly

Price: Mid-range

When to go: Breakfast at The Wolseley is arguably the best meal of the day.

What to have: Owner Chris Corbin always orders the pancakes. If they’re good enough for him…

If you like The Wolseley, you may like…
Bellanger

This glamorous European grand café is a London institution that caters to everyone without snobbery. Perhaps this is why not everyone can get a booking, because of the sheer demand. So a date in the lofty, clattering dining room – with its black marble pillars, geometric tiled floor and imposing chandeliers – is a treat indeed. The eclectic all-day menu takes luxury as its unifying theme: breakfasts of pastries, french toast and eggs benedict segue into fruits de mer, caviar-laced omelettes and cream teas later on in the day – all brought to the table by an army of expertly trained staff.

Murano
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Mayfair
  • price 4 of 4

When to go: When you want to pretend that you’re a grown-up, but still be made to feel welcome.  

What to have: Fewer of the ‘small courses’ than you’d imagine. Two is sufficient for lunch, three is fine for dinner, especially if you’re on a budget Don’t forget: you’ll get freebies like amuses bouche, bread and petits fours, too.

If you like Murano, you may like…
Locanda Locatelli, Luca, The River Café

For those of you who only know Angela Hartnett off the telly and can’t perhaps fathom how the warm, Essex-accented chef came to own and run an Italian restaurant, you should know that she was taught to cook by her Upminster-based Italian nonna. The food at Murano, which was originally launched by her mentor Gordon Ramsay, but which she bought outright after winning it a Michelin star, is a reflection of her heritage. It carries all the technical skill of her time in some of the capital’s best fine-dining spots, but is still, ultimately, food made with love, that you could imagine coming out of a (very fancy) Italian home. The vibe is similar: sure, it’s tasteful and plush (no open kitchen, no loud music, lots of carpet), but it’s not stuffy. This is partly the food, and partly the staff, who are a lovely, welcoming bunch. This is a place to spoil or be spoiled. Hats off to Ms Hartnett.  

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  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Fitzrovia
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When your boss is treating your team to a slap-up office lunch (and paying).

What to have: Anything offally, from the ox-heart tartare, given zing with cornichons, anchovies and mustard, to the silky, umami-rich calves’ brain meunière. Go on…

If you like Clipstone, you may like…
10 Greek Street, Portland

Restaurateurs Will Lander and Daniel Morgenthau have cornered the market for chic, contemporary small-plates outfits in Fitzrovia via Clipstone and its sibling Portland. There’s a lot to like here: the understated, simple dining room lets the food shine, and laidback service fits with the neighbourhood vibe that prevails despite the central London setting. Snackettes such as steeply priced pork, rabbit and foie gras rillettes are ruinously moreish; each of the main courses will contain at least one ingredient you’ll have to ask about; but you’ll leave feeling you got your money’s worth. 

Scott’s
  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Mayfair

Price: Blowout

When to go: When you’ve had the foresight to book weeks ahead for a fabulously fancy fish supper.

What to have: The filleted fish dishes from the main menu are a particular delight.

If you like Scott’s, you may like…
CornerstoneJ Sheekey Atlantic Bar

Some of its younger A-list clients may have migrated to Chiltern Firehouse, and it’s hard not to think about that Charles and Nigella incident, but one thing’s for sure about Scott’s: it’s still one of the finest fish restaurants in this fair city. The setting oozes glamour, from the grand oyster bar (a great place to perch and survey the room), to the impeccably groomed clientele and suave staff. Caviar, lobster and dover sole may be pitched at the money-to-burn crowd, but there are also humble sardines and deep-fried haddock (complete with mushy peas), plus pretty much every variety of seafood in between.

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  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Shoreditch

Price: Affordable

When to go: For a leisurely lunch – bring your own bottle if you want to make it a boozy affair.

What to have: The menu changes daily, but don’t miss out on the brilliant desserts, from sticky date pudding to elderflower jelly.

If you like Rochelle Canteen, you may like…
St John Bread & Wine

Fondly remember sneaking a fag round the back of the school bike sheds? Salubrious Rochelle Canteen has given the old bike sheds of the neighbouring former Victorian school a new raison d’être. The blond wood tables of the airy dining room are populated by designer, media and arty types all heartily tucking in to the seasonal-ingredients-led menu – on hot, sunny days. Whatever the weather, expect simple, characterful dishes – from rabbit terrine or St John-style anchovy toast, to roast quail with aioli, fennel and lentils, and blood-orange mess. Never mind the cigarettes – time to break out the after-dinner cigars. Elsewhere, obvs.

Gunpowder
  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Spitalfields
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re in the mood for spice with a side order of adventure – and not the stomach-churning sort of adventure associated with the curry houses of Brick Lane...

What to have: The vegetarian dishes are show-stealers (who gave broccoli a licence to taste so good?) Also: do not leave without ordering the molten spice chocolate cake with masala chai custard.

If you like Gunpowder, you may like…
Kricket, Hoppers, Tandoor Chop House

Ex-Tamarind chef Nirmal Save has pulled off a real humdinger of a restaurant here: a hip, no reservations, East End Indian that puts the identikit curry canteens of nearby Brick Lane to complete shame by focusing on styled-up home cooking from all over the subcontinent. Cliché-busting pan-Indian dishes all come with a story: the supremely tender, cardamom-scented wild rabbit pulao is filched from an aunt; delicious Kashmiri lamp chops are based on a recipe by Save’s mother-in-law; while the dreamy spiced chocolate fondant with masala chai custard is based on the chocolate chai sold on the streets of Mumbai. Gunpowder: it’s a blast.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Great Portland Street
  • price 3 of 4

When to go: when it’s just you and a pal – or a date – and you’re after fish, fusion, fashion and fun.

What to have: anything that’s getting the blow-torch treatment. With a side plate of a half-and-half plate of shitake and kinpara gobo (that’s sweet mushroom and spicy burdock root to you, friends).

If you like Sushi Atelier, you may like…
Dinings SW3, Roka

So you want to have a good time? You’re in the right place. Because this sushi joint, from the same crew as top-notch Mayfair spot Chisou, may be bijou (it’s mostly at the counter, plus a sprinkling of tables to the side and a few more downstairs), but it’s also fun. The music is upbeat, the chefs are not just filleting fish, but actually enjoying themselves (and will chat to you as they hand over the dishes). The food has fusion-y, fashion-y touches, but it works. Oh, and there are a lot of blowtorches. Need we say more?

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Mayfair

Price: Blowout

When to go: When you’ve got cash to splash and someone to impress – preferably someone who digs live jazz.

What to have: The signature park carbonara: an Asian version of the Italian classic, whose slinky udon are stirred with an umami overload of egg yolk, sea urchin and nori dust.

If you like Park Chinois, you may like...
Yauatcha
Xu

For an evening pretending to be in a Bond film, head to gold-fingered restaurateur Alan Yau’s glitzy, gilded, wincingly expensive Chinese. A slice of 1930s Shanghai whose lounge-style tables are angled towards the live music acts on stage, it’s perfect for the sort of date where comfortable silence (or glossing over uncomfortable silence) is in order. Your companion had better be worth it: even appetisers range from £16-£85(!). Have a stiff drink before requesting the bill, and remember: you only live twice.

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  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Soho

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you don’t want the food to distract you from the gossip.

What to have: The smoked haddock soufflé is good enough to eat twice.

A permanently buzzing hidey-hole for London’s social animals, this grand dame of the Soho scene puts its serious face on during the day. That’s when media types hold meetings and those old enough to know better soothe their hangovers with brunch. And then it plays hard with the best of the rest come clocking-off time. The long bar and polished loucheness of the Georgian-era dining room are great for cocktails and people-watching, while the menu of comfort food – think rib-eye with chips and béarnaise, or dover sole – is familiar and failsafe. The main draw, however, is being in the thick of it all.

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Covent Garden
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: To bolster your culture-vulture credentials with a sophisticated pre- or post-theatre supper.

What to have: The signature fish pie or a plateau de fruits de mer – but new additions such as the lobster-and-shrimp burger are classics in the making.

If you like J Sheekey Atlantic Bar, you may like…
Le Pont de la Tour, Scott's

Despite its recent name change, the Sheekey brand is so well established, and so well known among tourists, that you’d be forgiven for assuming it couldn’t possibly still be maintaining its original high standards. Wrong. At J Sheekey and its neighbouring oyster bar, the kitchen buys the cream of the marine crop and serves it in (mostly) simple styles that do justice to this top-flight produce. The menu in this lovely, capacious bar differs relatively little from that of the main restaurant; both offer convenience (this is the heart of Theatreland, after all) and comfort. You can eat quickly to make your curtain, or dawdle if you wish. A classic.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Asian
  • London Bridge
  • price 4 of 4

Price: Blowout

When to go: When you’re planning to splash the cash on a love interest – these heights are romantic.

What to have: The deboned and deep-fried lamb ribs are tender and packed with flavour.

If you like Hutong, you may like…
Hunan

Halfway up The Shard, this glitzy Hong Kong import offers high-end Chinese food with some of the best views of London. The smoulderingly stylish interior, with plenty of dark wood and red lanterns, makes Hutong a sophisticated dining spot for anyone aiming to impress their guests. Dishes are no less showy, with the likes of deep-fried soft-shell crabs arriving in a huge bowl of fiery red chillies – the latter purely for decoration. Southwestern and Northern Chinese dishes less commonly seen on London menus are the main attraction, but there are also more familiar dishes such as crispy duck, plus steamed dumplings to choose from on the lunchtime dim sum list.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Bermondsey

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you fancy a French experience of ‘Amélie’-esque proportions.

What to have: A golden oldie such as chicken chasseur.

If you like Casse-Croûte, you may like…
Blanchette, Provender

Ask anyone to list 20 things they’d expect to see in a classic French bistro and chances are you’ll find at least 15 of them at this dinky Gallic charmer, including lettered mirrors, tobacco-coloured walls and a tubby Michelin figurine behind the bar. The restaurant has been full from day one because of its sensible prices, artful grub, elbow-to-elbow bonhomie and peerlessly efficient staff. The chalkboard menu majors in boldly flavoured French hits such as fish soup, steak tartare and boeuf bourguignon, plus plenty of wines by the carafe.

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Berners Tavern
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Fitzrovia

Price: Expensive

When to go: When you’re in the mood for a bit of glamour.

What to have: One of the classics-with-a-twist starters, such as prawn cocktail with lobster jelly, avocado and crispy shallot. Or a slice of uber-traditional pork pie with piccalilli, hewn tableside.

If you like Berners Tavern, you may like…
Pollen Street Social

Jason Atherton’s third opening of 2013 took a different turn from his highly successful Social ventures (Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Social Eating House, City Social and Social Wine & Tapas) with an impressively showy setting. From opulent chandeliers to floor-to-ceiling framed art, enjoy Atherton’s signature modern European dishes in the grandest of settings. Your credit card is sure to get a battering – this kind of decadent dining doesn’t come cheap. But for a special occasion it’s the ideal place to get your glad rags on and eat in style. Be sure to enjoy a cocktail in the Punch Room (booking advisable) before heading into the glitzy dining room (or do away with an Ageing Hipster – a typically inventive riff on an Old Fashioned – from the comfort of your table).

St Leonards
  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Shoreditch
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: Special occasions when you feel like flashing your cash on some seriously modern food.  

What to have: Something raw, something cooked and something sweet.

If you like St Leonards, you may like…
Lyle’s, Sparrow, Clipstone

A long way from the St Leonards that’s by the seaside, this spacious Shoreditch eatery is cool but classy, with a look that says casual, cutting-edge elegance. The kitchen is open, but mostly hidden, allowing the two opposing prep stations (an icy raw bar and a smouldering wood-fired oven) to take centre stage. It’s not especially radical, but the food is quietly self-assured, with dabs of creativity applied to its modern European plates. An unexpectedly pretty assemblage of wild sea bass crudo draped in wisps of lardo and slices of sweet kohlrabi, for example, or nicely charred bavette under a snowdrift of micro-planed bone marrow. Or even a deconstructed twist on rum baba involving black treacle, bonfire-smoky pineapple and anise-scented ice cream. Keep an eye on the bill, though, unless you’re bookmarking this one for a no-holds-barred bash.    

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Chiltern Firehouse
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Marylebone

Price: Blowout

When to go: When David Beckham asks you out for dinner. It’s the easiest way to get a table.

What to have: The kitchen can do fiddly and pretty, exemplified by stunning appetisers such as the tiny, slider-like ‘doughnuts’ filled with crab meat. We love love love the steak tartare so much that it’s one of our Top 100 dishes.

If you like Chiltern Firehouse, you may like…
Sketch Lecture Room & Library

If you think you’re just going to pick up the phone and book for dinner tomorrow, dream on. Chiltern Firehouse was a restaurant sensation when it opened in 2014, featuring in tabloids weekly as yet another huddle of celebrities was papped leaving the premises. Yet despite the media frenzy, it is an excellent restaurant – in fact, the warm service and unusual modern international combinations from chef Nuno Mendes make it even more memorable than the clientele. Sit by the kitchen counter if you can, where you can watch the dishes being assembled: it’s like watching the Bolshoi Ballet limbering up.

  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Old Street

Price: Blowout

When to go: When your Instagram and Twitter accounts need some attention.

What to have: It’s Hobson’s choice – although vegetarians do get their own menu.

A self-consciously hip affair, with a no-choice tasting menu of on-trend ingredients in out-there combinations, The Clove Club unashamedly puts food at the centre of its experience. The stark, Shaker-style dining room with its attractively utilitarian furniture and most open of kitchens feels part pop-up, part school dinner hall, but the food is a major departure from both – seasonal, esoteric ingredients fill the ever-changing menu. The cosy bar is worth a try, too, with excellent bar snacks that make a lighter (and cheaper) alternative to a full meal – try the buttermilk-fried chicken with pine salt – a throwback from chef Isaac McHale’s days at white-hot residency Upstairs at the Ten Bells.

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Burger & Lobster Soho
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Soho

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you have menu fatigue or need an in-and-out treat.

What to have: The burger is undeniably tasty, but the lobster wins in the value stakes.

If you like Burger & Lobster, you may like…
Patty & Bun

Burger & Lobster wins fans for its simple, high-quality and great-value offerings of prime burgers, lobsters or lobster rolls, with salad and chips. The bijou Mayfair original was promptly packed out, and its resolutely first come, first served policy saw huge queues forming. So this Soho behemoth was swiftly opened to soak up the lobster-loving overflow. It boasts a huge, lively dining room and lightning-quick service, meaning it easily accommodates bookings and walk-ins alike. Still, queues at peak times are inevitable for spontaneous types. The latest one is in West India Quay.

Artusi
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Peckham
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you want to surprise someone with south-of-the-river sophistication.

What to have: The homemade pasta is a knockout – but leave room for the day’s cake (lemon polenta with crème fraîche, perhaps).

If you like Artusi, you may like…
Padella

This classy venture in Peckham thumbs its nose at run-of-the-mill local Italians. With its smart looks, daily menu of simple yet accomplished dishes and carefully chosen cellar, it could give the best central London Med joints a run for their money. The minimal interior, complete with communal table and open kitchen in the back room, lets the food do the talking. The short menu – full of punchy propositions such as smoked ox heart with romesco sauce plus own-made pasta and wickedly good ice cream – is an ambitious labour of love that further ups the ante on Peckham’s poshest street.

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El Pastor
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Borough
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: Early. At peak times your wait for a table can top two hours (although two hours spent in a bar with your mates is never time wasted…).

What to have: The quesadilla: less dude food, more el dude food, it’s an open-faced slice of tortilla topped with a mess of meat, melted cheese, coriander and salsa.

If you like El Pastor, you may like…
Breddos Tacos, La Bodega Negra Café & Taquería, Temper

Just when we thought the Hart brothers (the charmers behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis) couldn’t put a foot wrong… Gotcha! Of course their boho taco joint in Borough Market has been a Beatles-level hit. Sam Hart and a music mogul friend/co-owner once ran a club in Mexico City, so the vibe here is party party party, and the menu matches that Latin spirit: the signature taco comes topped with 24-hour marinated pork and cubes of pineapple, the salsas are slap-yourself fresh and there’s a serious mezcal menu to complement the frozen margaritas.

Sea Garden & Grill
  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Tooting
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re in the mood for seafood in a quirky setting.  

What to have: Dinky battered fish and triple cooked chips. But also the veg, particularly anything beginning with ‘Textures of…’. And any kind of panna cotta. Trust us.

If you like Sea Garden & Grill, you may like…
Parsons, Wright Brothers Borough Market

Tooting’s Broadway Market just gets better and better. Not only does it have the brilliant Plot, but now there’s this seafood specialist on the same corridor, in the corner spot. As for the food – the seafood small plates are excellent, but there’s more to it than that, including beautiful veg dishes, the odd meat option (also good) and killer puds. Fun fact: that nice man looking after you is probably co-owner Jimmy Luttman, a one-time fireplace fitter who started up Sea Garden with his chef buddy Stacey Clifton. They’ve been pals since nursery. Aww.  

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Honey & Co
  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Warren Street

Price: Affordable

When to go: When your lunchtime destination needs to feel like a home away from home.

What to have: Plenty of small plates to pick at, plus something sweet – their cakes are too good to pass up.

If you like Honey & Co, you may like…
Palomar, Rovi

If you’re in Fitzrovia, for any reason at all, make a beeline for this little Israeli-run café. The menu is full of homely Middle Eastern dishes alive with colour and texture – think peach and goats’ cheese salad with roasted almonds and orange-blossom dressing, or spiced lamb siniya baked in tahini, wrapped in a pitta and topped with yoghurt and salad. The husband-and-wife team who run the place have impressive credentials as the ex-head-chef at Ottolenghi and executive chef at Nopi. Their idea here is to create dishes inspired by the food they grew up with, everything from what their mums made to the street food of Jerusalem. It’s all made fresh on the premises, and the window is filled with breads, pastries and exotic jams.

  • Restaurants
  • Israeli
  • Chinatown

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re dining à deux, haven’t booked, and want to get really up close and personal at the counter with your date.

What to have: Everything off the ‘raw’ (more accurately: ‘cold’) bar is terrific, such as the beautiful beetroot carpaccio with burnt goat’s cheese, hazelnut brittle and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.

If you like The Palomar, you may like…
Honey & Co, The Barbary

Ever since Yotam Ottolenghi first introduced Londoners to the notion of ‘Jerusalem’ food (modern, non-kosher Israeli cooking) we haven’t been able to get enough of it. Just look at The Palomar. In its opening week it was full of homesick Israelis tucking into dishes influenced by the Levant, North Africa and southern Spain. Within weeks, though, they’d been elbowed out by native Soho-ites, squeezing on to the cramped no-bookings counter seats (warning: you’re likely to get seriously jostled) or booking weeks in advance for the small back room (less lively, but more comfortable). The downside: tables are now turned every two hours, and service can occasionally feel muddled.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Hackney
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you want inventive cooking with no affectations.

What to have: The menu changes weekly, and you don’t get a choice, but it’s always interesting – from sea trout with delicate elderflower-infused beurre blanc, tart gooseberries, yellow beetroot and chickweed, to desserts based on a Thai-style Pimm’s.

If you like Pidgin, you may like...
Lyle’s

The debut restaurant from James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, one-time hosts of acclaimed supper club The Secret Larder, it’s a super-cute, wonderfully convivial neighbourhood spot with copper-trimmed tables, twigs they’ve gathered from the New Forest on the walls and a seascape-papered loo complete with the sound of crashing thunder overhead. The food, which costs £40 for four courses (and includes bread with ‘burnt’ butter, gooey chocolate truffles and a shot of ‘Pidgincello’ at the end), is terrific.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: For a casual first date (or a double date if you want to book). Start things off right with exotic cocktails in the stylish drinking den.

What to have: Where to start? Everything is yummy, but unmissable dishes are the pomegranate-studded kid goat raan and the butter crab, packed with garlic and chilli.

If you like Kricket, you may like…
Hoppers

This Indian small-plates star has knocked Soho for six since it made the move from Brixton shipping container to bricks and mortar. (There’s now a permanent spot back in Brixton, too). The industrialised decor is familiar: metal ducts and cage lighting dominate the dining room and open kitchen, although softer touches include blush-pink upholstered stools at the shiny L-shaped counter. The concise menu, however, is no such thing: it offers the likes of bone-marrow kulcha flatbreads, samphire pakoras, and tandoori monkfish with coconut chutney, all delivered in sizes perfect for sharing. Over-order at will, with no regrets.

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The Shed
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Notting Hill
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you want to show a sceptic how far casual British dining has come.

What to have: The kitchen’s homage to the Viennetta combines dark chocolate, salted caramel and own-made ice cream.

If you like The Shed, you may like…
Rabbit, Social Eating House

The three brothers behind this jolly venue have filled their rustic dining room with tongue-in-cheek farm references such as reclaimed tractor parts, bright portraits of cows and oil drums for tables. However, their intentions are sincere: many ingredients, plus wines, are sourced from the family’s West Sussex farm and vineyard. Start with inventive ‘mouthfuls’ such as hake rillettes, then choose from ‘fast cooking’ or ‘slow cooking’ selections, including the terrific pastry-wrapped beef ‘cigars’, served with the house-made mustard. Each plate has a spring in its step, and smiley staff encourage sharing – you’ll wish it was your local.

  • Restaurants
  • Global
  • Clerkenwell

Price: Expensive

When to go: It’s the best place in London for alfresco dining.

What to have: Breakfast and brunch are just as appealing as the dinner menu.

If you like The Modern Pantry, you may like…
Caravan Exmouth Market

Chef Anna Hansen used to work with Peter Gordon at The Providores, and stylistically, her eclectic cooking style reflects this shared heritage. A signature dish of sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette with spring onion, coriander and smoked chilli sambal is a winner, and we love the ambition and invention in the likes of baharat-and hazelnut oil-marinated duck breast, with root vegetable rosti, blood orange-glazed carrots and hispi cabbage slaw, or ajowan-flavoured pannacotta with lavender, poppyseed and milk crumb, drizzled with orange sauce. Sit outdoors in serene St John’s Square.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chicken
  • Dalston

Price: Affordable

When to go: If your idea of a good meal out involves chair dancing in a disco-leaning dining room while getting messy with peerless fried chicken.

What to have: The Korean-style fried chicken in a bun, topped with crunchy slaw, gochujang mayo and chilli vinegar – paired with a house sour, obviously.

If you like Chick N Sours, you may like…
Meatliquor

Badass chef Carl Clarke has followed up his string of celebrated pop-ups with this good-times diner dedicated to gourmet fried chicken, straight-shooting cocktails and fun. The buzzy dining room, with its dimmed lights, tightly crammed tables and thudding music, is a no-brainer for kicking off a night out in east London – as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk before being fried in rapeseed oil; it’s then paired with wonderful, unexpected, Far East flavours or potent dips – bone-marrow barbecue sauce, for instance, or oh-no-they-didn’t blue-cheese and buttermilk dip. You’ll struggle not to dance on the tables. But don’t.

The Begging Bowl
  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Peckham

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you’re after a street food fix in a contemporary restaurant setting.

What to have: Swerve familiar options such as Thai fishcakes in favour of inventive curries and salads.

If you like The Begging Bowl, you may like…
Som Saa, Smoking Goat

Back in 2012 when The Begging Bowl opened, the phrase ‘street food’ didn’t carry the same cachet. The restaurant was brave and bold not only in experimenting with Thai flavours and styles more often found on the streets, but in setting up shop in Peckham before the likes of Artusi and Pedler had helped make this part of town the dining destination it is now. But it’s no surprise it’s so ahead of the imitators with chef Jane Alty, who trained under Thai expert David Thompson, at the helm. In Begging Bowl’s bright and beautiful setting, Alty is continually reinventing her repertoire – packing in plenty of research trips to Thailand. So get Thai-ed up with seriously sticky pork belly, lemongrass-heavy charcoal-grilled bream, cutting-edge red curries and nahm prik to blow your head off.

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Deptford
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range 

When to go: At night, to make the most of the Italian-inspired cocktails in the hideaway bar before your meal.

What to have: The menu changes after each trip to the market, but everything is dreamy – indeed, we’ve dreamed of returning just for the saffron arancini.

If you like Marcella, you may like...
Artusi, Bocca di Lupo, Trullo

The Deptford foodie tide looks set to turn with the arrival of this sibling to Artusi, the Italian that boosted Peckham’s irreversible rise to foodie stardom. The deal here is more or less the same: an understatedly trendy dining room where exquisite Italian dishes made with mostly homemade and market-fresh ingredients are lovingly plated up for your delectation.

  • Restaurants
  • Turkish
  • Shoreditch
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range

When to go: When you’re in the mood for Turkish with a side order of chic.

What to have: The lahmacun – a kind of Turkish flatbread pizza topped with minced lamb, which comes with fresh salad (greens and pickled things) that you put in the middle and roll up, to make the best wrap you’ll have this year.

If you like Oklava, you may like…
Modern Pantry

Selin Kiazim is what you’d call a slow burner. She spent years at Providores and, later, Kopapa, learning everything there was to know about smart fusion cooking. No one had heard of her. Then, at last, she quit, embarking on her dream: to open a restaurant of her own before the age of 30. The first thing she did was host a clutch of acclaimed residencies, testing out her Turkish-with-a-twist cooking and building up a cult following along the way: smart cookie. In November 2015, she finally launched Oklava – a tasteful restaurant on the City fringes (more savvy suits than scruffy Shoreditch) where she could finally showcase the likes of monkfish with spiced runner beans or her trademark chilli garlic chicken with a za’atar crumb (aka Turkish fried chicken). Bravo, Ms Kiazim – keep up the good work.

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Perilla
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Newington Green

Price: Expensive

When to go: When you want food that’s prepared with cutting-edge direction but served in a welcoming and unpretentious setting.

What to have: The astonishing-value set menu – five courses, including the signature cuttlefish bolognese, for a bargainous £38.

If you like Perilla, you may like…
10 Greek Street, Medlar

Stoke Newington has always been strong on locals’ locals, but who knew it could produce something like this destination diner? Perilla’s gently Scandi interiors generate plenty of atmosphere, which is only added to by the friendly, informed service from its down-to-earth team. Add to the mix inventive Modern European dishes – from seaweed bread brushed with lamb fat and topped with kale and avocado, to spanking fresh fish soup zhushed up with blood orange – and you’ve got a neighbourhood restaurant worth travelling to.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Herne Hill
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range.

When to go: When you want all the perks of dining in central London, but without having to actually go there.

What to have: We loved everything, so you can’t go far wrong. But if the rabbit niçoise salad is on the menu, order it.

If you like Llewelyn’s, you may like… 
Portland, Rochelle Canteen

Anyone living within walking distance of this all-day neighbourhood restaurant in Herne Hill is one lucky duck – prepare to smugly namedrop this place into all future restaurant-based conversations. It’s perfect: the interiors are stylish yet unshowy; the drinks list includes extremely well-curated wines; the service is impeccable. Best of all is the hearty European food: from meltingly tender Hereford beef-shin ragù atop creamy polenta to a sexed-up niçoise salad filled with confit rabbit meat, and don’t-stop-me-now desserts. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Highbury
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: At lunchtime for the peace and quiet (and a lower spend); at dinner for the buzz, the great wine list, and the cheering flavour of charcoal.

What to have: The pappardelle with beef shin ragù is so famous it has had its own Twitter account – and so popular it made the leap on to the menu at sister restaurant Padella.

If you like Trullo, you may like…
Padella, Artusi

This two-floor contemporary Italian is still as popular with Highbury gourmets as it was when it first opened in 2010 – pity anyone who attempts to get a table here for dinner on spec (they’d have more luck at lunchtime). Trullo is all about simple pleasures – its stripped-back interiors are stylishly unfussy, while the kitchen team takes a back-to-basics approach to the menu. Fresh homemade pasta, rolled just before service, is a must-order – it’s too good to drown in gloopy sauce; instead, its quality is allowed to shine through simple seasonal adornments such as marjoram, golden garlic and parmesan. Elsewhere on the short menu, top-quality cuts of meat and ozone-fresh fish are cooked simply over charcoal and served with rustic sides. Desserts, too, are taken seriously – and are seriously delicious, with tarts a speciality. The wine list boasts an excellent selection of Italian regional wines, including natural and biodynamic options.

Luca
  • Restaurants
  • Fusion
  • Clerkenwell
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: When you want upscale Italian comfort food with the cool factor that those Knightsbridge and Mayfair old-timers lack.

What to have: Start with a round of gossamer-light, superbly crisp parmesan fries for the table (and one of Campari sodas).

If you like Luca, you may like…
Bocca di Lupo, Café Murano

For their follow-up to the highly acclaimed Clove Club, Isaac McHale and co have, happily, not succumbed to Difficult Second Album Syndrome. Luca is a looker – all understated glamour with the whisper of money swaying its beautiful drapes – and its concept of ‘British ingredients through an Italian lens’ is a clever continuation of the cooking that made its sibling such a success, without the set menu format. This is fancy but approachable food: bruschetta eschews tomatoes for cream-baked spider crab; pasta is paired with pistachio pesto; and the tiramisu is a game-changing trifle.

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Goodman Mayfair
  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • Mayfair
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: When only steak will do.  

What to have: Steak (obvs), but the burger is absolutely brilliant, too.

If you like Goodman Mayfair, you may like…
Gaucho Picadilly, Mac & Wild, Hawksmoor Seven Dials

Ask any chest-beating alpha male where to get a decent steak and they’ll point you in the direction of a Goodman. This is not just thanks to the fact that its three sites were each cunningly positioned in the three areas of the capital with the best-paid office workers – Mayfair, the City and Canary Wharf – but the sheer fact that the steak here, which is imported from the US but then dry-aged on site, is bona-fide brilliant. But the appeal of this branch goes well beyond food: unlike many restaurants in the area, this dining room is a handsome, atmospheric, unpretentious spot that will make you want to forget about going back to your desk.  

Sparrow
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Lewisham
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive.

When to go: Unless you live in Lewisham, you’re going to have to organise a pilgrimage here – but it will be well worth your time on the tube and train.

What to have: You’re spoilt for choice, with not a dud on this varied and inventive menu. Try the malt duck with its papery, fatty skin, and the rustic yet sophisticated green risotto.

If you like Sparrow, you may like…
Levan

Like a mirage shimmering at the side of the A20, Sparrow looks too good to be true. But the restaurant is real, in all its white-walled, aquamarine-tiled, pared-back glory. Step inside and into another world, one in which the kitchen melds expertise honed in big-hitting restaurants, such as Pollen Street Social, with a casual, makeshift vibe. Dishes are as diverse as three styles of duck (malted breast, confit leg and crisp skin) and satay rabbit, but all are thrilling – especially when discovered in SE13.

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  • Restaurants
  • Spanish
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you’re in Soho, feeling spontaneous and with flush friends.

What to have: The house ajo blanco is a creamy, luxurious taste bomb.

If you like Copita, you may like…
Morito

This warm and inviting nook in the heart of Soho manages to be both authentically Spanish and admirably cliché-free (apart from the giant hams dangling from the ceiling). High communal tables, a clattering ambience and rapid-fire service make it a perfect post-work pit-stop – as does the exquisitely considered wine list, which offers nearly everything by the glass and carafe. The menu, inspired by the day’s market, mixes top-notch charcuterie with well-balanced dishes such as cauliflower gratin with manchego and miga, or pork jowl with butterbeans and raisin dressing, all at restrained prices – although, as with most tapas joints, the bill swiftly gathers momentum.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Newington Green

Price: Affordable

When to go: Best when you’re already in the area, but any time if you need a taste of the true south (of Europe).

What to have: The specials of the day. Clams with garlic and parsley, lamb leg with flat beans and olives, or turbot with borlotti and bacon.

If you like Primeur, you may like…
40 Maltby Street

A former garage in a residential part of Highbury, this lovely restaurant is a slick operation hiding behind a practisedly nonchalant exterior. The menu – scribbled on a piece of A4, hot off the kitchen press – combines the rustic savoir-faire of France and the gastronomic gusto of Italy with the best of British seasonal produce: daily-changing Med-accented dishes range from salt veal with borlotti beans and vibrant green sauce, to spider-crab soup with punchy aioli. The wine list is as much of a draw as the food: from the hundred-bin cellar, staff pick a dozen or so wines for the day’s list, mostly low-intervention, many by the glass.

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  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Mayfair

Price: Expensive

When to go: When you want a kick-ass modern Indian meal in retro Raj-era surrounds.

What to have: Kick off with one of the selection of posh tikkas – the tandoori broccoli, perhaps, or the pricy but delicious stone-bass tikka.

If you like Gymkhana, you may like…
Brigadiers, Kutir

Gymkhana models its look on Indian colonial clubs in the days of the Raj. But if the look and feel are retro, co-founder Karam Sethi’s cooking is anything but. Based on regional cuisines from across the subcontinent, the food is modern in approach, and the spice can be serious without overwhelming the layers of big and subtle flavours that bring this menu to life. There is even a nice touch of theatricality: Indian punches come in sealed medicine bottles, with an ice-filled silvery goblet on the side.

  • Restaurants
  • Peruvian
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When you’re after a Latin dance party on your palate.

What to have: The Don Ceviche (sea bass chunks in citrus with a scattering of red chilli and soft, diced sweet potato) is the winner in the world of raw fish.

If you like Ceviche, you may like…
Senor Ceviche

There was a flurry of Peruvian openings in London in 2012, but Ceviche – which has since spawned an Old Street offshoot – was the Machu Picchu, towering over the other peaks. Showcasing the eponymous dish of citrus-cured fish spiked with chilli, the place serves half a dozen versions of ceviche. But the kitchen knows a lot more than just how to skin and slice a fish – there are also excellent chargrilled meat and fish skewers (anticuchos), crumbly corn cakes and other nibbles on offer. Be sure to sample a pisco sour or two at the bar while you’re there.

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Hakkasan
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Tottenham Court Road

Price: Blowout

When to go: With its high price tag, enduringly cool atmosphere and exquisite food, Hakkasan is strictly for the hottest of dates and the most special of occasions (unless you’re the lucky owner of an expense account…)

What to have: Long-standing, budget-blowing signatures are front and centre on the à la carte and include a delectable version of peking duck with caviar.

If you like Hakkasan Hanway Place, you may like…
HutongYauatcha

The original and best branch of this high-end Chinese restaurant spawned a global empire – even almost 20 years on it’s easy to see why trendsters from Miami to Mumbai crave a taste of it. Hakkasan’s magic lies in its heady combination of high-octane atmosphere (is that a triple A-lister you spy through the gloom, or an anonymous local hottie?) and wonderfully executed, luxury-laden dishes. If you can afford to go all out, do so. If not, what the hell are you doing here?  

St John
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Farringdon
  • price 3 of 4

Price: Expensive

When to go: When entertaining serious food lovers.

What to have: Something you’ve never heard of or wouldn’t normally try. It will be great.

If you like St John, you may like…
Pollen Street Social

As ‘British cuisine’ continues to establish its own identity, it becomes clearer how groundbreaking Fergus Henderson’s Smithfield restaurant really was. It’s far from faddy, and St John’s continued commitment to well-sourced, simply cooked traditional food has stood the test of time: it’s still one of the most reliably exciting places to eat in London, 21 years after opening its doors. Forgotten cuts and obscure ingredients grace the twice-daily-changing menu, and despite the reputation for concentrating on meaty things, fish cookery is expert and very serious. While this stripped-down luxe doesn’t come cheap, neither is it as expensive as roughly comparable places. St John remains a model many other restaurants aspire to.

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Ember Yard
  • Restaurants
  • Spanish
  • Soho

Price: Mid-range

When to go: It’s off the beaten track in Soho, so you can afford to be a little spontaneous; but ring first anyway, and avoid peak times.

What to have: The meats and fish are all beautifully grilled, but make sure you try some of the vegetable dishes, such as the courgette flowers stuffed with monte enebro cheese and drizzled in blossom honey.

If you like Ember Yard, you may like…
Tapas Brindisa Rupert Street, Morito

The Salt Yard Group have produced some stunning but little-known restaurants such as Dehesa and Opera Tavern, and have gone from strength to strength as they add new branches. Taking the Italian-Iberian small-plates ethos of Salt Yard, but with the cooking done over smoky coals, Ember Yard goes one better. The ground floor is a wine bar and restaurant with lots of warm woods; if you’re in the basement, try for the bar counter. Every tapas flavour combination is a winner; tender octopus with peas, smoked tomato and wild garlic, say, or ibérico pork ribs grilled to melting softness.

Dishoom
  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Shoreditch
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Affordable

When to go: When your gastronomic sat nav says no to a Brick Lane curry.

What to have: The house special, lamb raan, which is a slow-marinated, spice-laden delight.

If you like Dishoom, you may like…
Rasa, Zumbura

The second of four branches (the first in Covent Garden, the third in King’s Cross, the latest in Soho), this Dishoom is one of the best places to eat in Shoreditch. The interior is modelled on the Iranian cafés of Bombay, with booths and mosaic floors creating intimate nooks with a charming makeshift feel – but also with a touch of cool. Dishes on the feisty modern Indian menu are vividly described and peppered with brilliant asides and interesting facts – whether referring to superior versions of chicken tikka and lamb biryani, or lesser-known classics such as a Frankie. Spicy breakfasts and brunches throw a cracking curveball, too.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Bayswater

Price: Mid-range

When to go: For a lunchtime dalliance with dumplings.

What to have: Look to the dim sum specials list for innovative treats (fried minced squid balls, maybe), and don’t miss the black sesame dumplings in peanut crumbs to finish.

If you like Royal China Bayswater, you may like…
Imperial China, Royal China Club, Phoenix Palace, Yauatcha

After all these years, the original Royal China branch still holds its position at the top table of London’s dim sum venues. Enter its glossy black-lacquered interior, where curling waves and geese in full flight embellish the walls, and deliberate over the menu of mouth-watering snacks. Glutinous rice in lotus leaves (wonderfully aromatic, full of delicious tidbits) will provide ballast for such delicacies as honey roast pork puffs (divine pastry) and scallop dumplings, as well as inspired creations from the specials list. The full menu has its attractions, too, including classic stewed pork belly hotpot.

Arthur Hooper’s
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Borough
  • price 2 of 4

Price: Mid-range.

When to go: In the evening, when the 50 shades of grey in the dining room seem atmospheric rather than oppressive.

What to have: Don’t miss awesome veggie sides like the harissa-stirred butterbeans topped with charred tenderstem broccoli and ricotta.

If you like Arthur Hooper’s, you may like…
10 Greek Street

It takes guts to open any kind of restaurant in quality-saturated Borough Market. However, Arthur Hooper’s isn’t built on bravado – both the kitchen and front-of-house teams at this Italian-leaning small-plates restaurant knock it out of the park. Skills are evident in meat and fish dishes plus perfect pasta, and customer-friendly service whose pacing and attention to detail result in a delightfully old-school meal out.

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  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Mayfair
  • price 4 of 4

Price: Blowout

When to go: When you need to nail a power-broking lunch (or you already did that and are treating yourself to a celebratory meal).

What to have: Order the mango rasmalai – a spongey, sharp-sweet nod to good old-fashioned cheesecake – for dessert.

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Trishna, Kutir

Big-name restaurants from the subcontinent have a habit of popping up in Mayfair, and so it was for this pan-Indian gem from luxury hotel group The Leela. The sumptuously designed, clubby interiors mix rich colours with colonial excess – happily, the food tastes even better than everything else looks. Whether you devour deftly spiced dishes from the royal kitchens of the north, or opt for upmarket twists on street snacks from the south, you can’t order badly at this consummate place.

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