100 best restaurants in London
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).
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.
When to go: When you need some proper ‘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.
Smoking Goat is dead, long live Smoking Goat. 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.
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.
Ramsay protégé and unstoppable wunderkind Jason Atherton seems hell-bent 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.
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 (flippin’ gigantic, bright red prawns).
The first Barrafina, on Frith Street (RIP), was the original small-plates-and-no-reservations counter bar pioneer, a template that has since gone viral. This bustling, Barcelona-style tapas joint was so adored that owners the Hart brothers were under pressure to pull something really special out of the bag when they announced a follow-up site in Covent Garden (it’s since been joined by branches on Drury Lane and Dean Street). They didn’t let Londoners down: Adelaide Street is a 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. What are you waiting for? Get in line!
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.
We can imagine your eyes rolling at the inclusion of another barbecue restaurant, but shame on you: Temper comes from Neil Rankin, the dude who was holding the tongs when things began to get interesting on the London barbecue scene. What he learned at Barbecoa, he put to bold use at restaurants such as Pitt Cue Co and Smokehouse – this venture takes things into even more exhilarating territory, via whole prime carcasses grilled or smoked in slabs, then divvied-up and served atop homemade tacos and flatbreads with seriously zingy sauces. It’s pinch-yourself good.
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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.
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 before grabbing the attention – and financial backing – of Trishna’s deep-pocketed co-founder Karam Sethi; a second site in Fitzrovia has since opened to attempt to sate demand for those pillowy buns). 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.
When to go: Whenever you like: you can actually BOOK. The best ‘counter’ is the main one, but on a sunny day, the alfresco tables – a stone’s throw from Clapham Common – are a nice people-watching option.
What to have: The mind-bogglingly good ‘nduja with cultured cream and sour potato flatbread: the best £4 you’ll ever spend.
If you’re the kind of person who likes your napkins starched and a flunkie to turn it back into a ‘bishop’s hat’ while you nip to the loo, then Counter Culture is probably not for you. This tiny spin-off of Clapham’s acclaimed Dairy isn’t known as it’s ‘naughty little brother’ for nothing. The music is grungy, the staff a charming mix of achingly hip and infectiously enthusiastic, but it’s the cooking (contemporary European, but with ingredients borrowed from every corner of the globe) that really breaks the rules. Plates are small but deeply intricate, yet somehow without ever crossing the line into frou-frou or fussy. It’s casual, creative and cool.
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).
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.
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.
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 several 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.
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…
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.
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
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 to make you feel at one with the world.
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.
Self-taught chef Ben Chapman played a whopper of a hand with his first solo gaffe, 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.
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.
Tapas fans prepare to cheer loudly. 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 (small-plate counter grazing downstairs, bookable 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 – especially if you’re up-close to the action downstairs.
When to go: When you want some of that Bao magic, with a side order of razzle-dazzle and minus the stomach-tightening queue (Xu takes bookings).
What to have: The pancakes with bone-marrow-enriched beef shortrib topped with potato crumb – an insanely good mash-up of Peking duck pancakes and cottage pie.
Imagine the pressure the trio behind Bao must have felt thinking of a follow-up to 2015’s smash hit? We didn’t know what to expect from this love letter to 1930s’ Taipei, but we liked what we found: the vintage vibe, the smart but not smarmy atmosphere, the upstairs tea bar, and of course, the dishes. Their subtle nuances in texture and playoff between sweet, sour and spicy flavours give diners a real feel for Taiwanese cuisine beyond the bao. What’s next, guys?
When to go: When you want to prove you’re in touch with the avant-garde.
What to have: Umami mainliners such as chervil roots layered with miso, apples and ‘turbo whey’ – plus any of the bizarrely alluring cocktails.
Any venue from boundary-breaking cocktail wizard Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) is bound to be off-piste, but Cub is something different. Located above the repurposed Super Lyan bar, this is a multi-sensory gastro ‘experience’ with drinks. The menu is plant-heavy (but not strictly veggie), with lots of sustainable ingredients – as in a deconstructed tomato salad with Muscat grapes and lemon verbena. Cocktails are decidedly bonkers too, but we’d expect nothing less from Mr Lyan. We also love Cub’s super-savvy staff and house-party vibe.
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.
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.
When to go: When you’re craving some fabulously fresh Japanese finger food.
What to have: No contest. It has to be the temaki rolls, fresh from the chef’s fair hand with the nori wrapping still crisp.
As Japanese restaurants go, Jugemu is rather humble and relaxed – the kind of place where you have to pencil in your order on a basic paper menu. No matter, the food here is a class apart, from the sushi and sashimi to warm street-food snacks and cold plates such as bonito-flecked tomatoes in a soupy wasabi/soy dressing. Ultimately, however, we would sell our souls for just one of their incomparable temaki hand rolls – even though these are only available at the counter.
When to go: When you’ve over-indulged and want to dine out guilt-free (or pretend you’re a West Coast celebrity being interviewed over lunch).
What to have: Escape your comfort zone with some of the wackier menu items: the ‘forbidden’ rice bowl and the roast cauliflower steak are both memorable in a good way.
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The Ned is one of those London arrivals that you just have to visit, if only to gawk at the staggeringly beautiful, no-expense-spared design job that has transformed the ground floor of the hotel – a former banking hall – into nine separate restaurants. This light-filled offering serves up a flavour-packed, Cali-style clean-eating menu, with dishes that are mostly suitable for veggies and vegans; the rest is a blend of on-trend imports (hello, poke) and cleaned-up classics such as a gourmet burger in a potato bun.
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 ragu.
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 forever. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When to go: When you want good times, good wine and great food.
What to have: Dishes change with the seasons, but the potatoes with cod roe – crunchy chunks with delicately oniony crème fraiche plus roe and nasturtium leaves – is typical of the style: simple yet stunning.
There’s a lot to love about this bright, tiny, neighbourhood wine bar, with its mere 24 seats (ten at the window, ten at tables and four at the coveted kitchen counter). Aussie chef-patron Magnus Reid is as laid-back as they come, but while his menu of seasonal small plates may seem straightforward, flavours are exceptional. There’s great music; a young, enthusiastic staff and a short but thrilling wine list. As for the enigmatic name, it’s not just a nod to the area – Legs happens to be in Hackney’s ‘fashion district’ – but a reference to a technical wine term, for the boozy trickles you get down the inside of your glass. So now you know.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 walking distance from Liverpool Street (or Aldgate) tube. And sample it you should. Despite the cooking being from two non-Thais (ex-‘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.
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’re a picky customer, then visit this excellent Shoreditch eatery at lunch: you’ll be able to choose what you like, and in what order. Come 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 a young chef to watch.
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.
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.
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.
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. Be prepared to get friendly with your neighbours as the tables are tightly packed, and be aware that it’s no-bookings for dinner, but that’s all part of the charm. The team also has another great restaurant, 8 Hoxton Square, in Shoreditch.
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 good.
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 asses. 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…).
When to go: When you want food that sends you all ‘When Harry Met Sally’, and a superfood salad just won’t cut it.
What to have: The signature Reuben, featuring their celebrated salt beef on rye, topped with melted cheese, mustard and shredded sauerkraut. Perfection.
There’s more to Monty’s Deli than salt beef sandwiches, but it’s those towering tributes to the Jewish food of the founder’s childhood that got him noticed when he set up at Maltby Street Market. So let’s focus on them. First, the salt beef: this is one of the few places in London where it is made from scratch; dry-cured in a secret blend of spices, salts and sugars, then soaked and simmered until effortlessly yielding. Scarf it piled into a bagel or heaped onto rye bread (both also made in house, as is the mustard). All hail the Katz’s of London.
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.
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 onto 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.
When to go: When the rest of your day or night doesn’t have to be productive: that way you can get stuck into the fantastic cocktails as well as the food.
What to have: At least one scallop with ’nduja EACH to start – it’s hands down one of London’s best dishes. And don’t skimp on the exceptional sides, either.
Rök’s Shoreditch debut was such a hot ticket that a second branch was inevitable – it was surely high-fives all round for Islington residents when the follow-up site was announced. Although the Upper Street restaurant has more room for diners to breathe, it still taps into the original’s minimalist-yet-cosy Scandi atmosphere, thanks in part to the open kitchen’s fire, wafting lemme-attem smells around the room. It’s a pre-whiff of their coal-smoked dishes, served with fermented and preserved ingredients: from kid goat with celery relish, burnt leeks and capers, to pork with collapsed apple and tangy sauerkraut.
When to go: When nothing less than the best of the best will do.
What to have: The tasting menu if you’ve won the lottery, the set lunch if you haven’t.
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Though recognised internationally as serving some of the best food (and wine) in the world, The Ledbury retains the feeling of being a neighbourhood restaurant. Yes, it is luxuriously kitted out and very expensive. But it still has the laid-back atmosphere of the bistro round the corner where they greet you by name. A key word for people who might only eat here once is consistency. We have yet to hear anyone say, ‘I must have been there on an off-night.’ The cooking of Australian-born Brett Graham aims to turn unsurpassable raw ingredients into dishes that taste unforgettably good; and flawless execution by a well-drilled brigade ensures that it happens, apparently, every single time. Plan several months in advance to bag a table in a prime dining slot, even for lunch. The wine list is world-class and not scarily expensive considering the greatness of the restaurant.
When to go: With a Japanese visitor, as this is a real taste of home. But make sure they’re paying: prices are at Tokyo levels, too.
What to have: The sashimi moriwase: 18 pieces of fish dressed up with edible flowers, intricate vegetable carvings and fresh wasabi.
If you’re a stickler for authenticity when it comes to dining Japanese, then Sakagura will be right up your street (actually, unless you own a Mayfair pad, you’ll be tubing it there like the rest of us). But here, authenticity and tradition aren’t bywords for a staid and strait-jacketed experience: friendly, unpatronising staff are schooled in the good, old-fashioned art of Japanese hospitality. The menu, like the decor, seamlessly blends the modern with the traditional to fresh effect: the sprout tempura, and the burdock and carrot sushi maki are delicious veggie options.
Venue says Sample from eight sake breweries paired with tasty Japanese bites at our Sake Journey. Use code 'TIMEOUT' for £35 tickets instead of £39 🍷
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’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.
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).
Like your plates small and your options smaller? Then you’ll love Nest with its seven-dish no- choice seasonal menu, restricted opening times and low-intervention wines. The menu’s limitations are deliberate, a reflection of the owners’ ‘zero wastage’ policy – especially when it comes to meat and game. One night it might be British Lop pork, on another occasion it could be axis deer in different guises and outfits. Yes, the ideas come thick and fast: beetroot and smoked eel terrine; blowtorched mackerel with puréed and pickled veg; a rustic combo described baldly as ‘potato, onion and barley’. We also love Nest’s cosy neighbourhood vibe, its funky soundtrack and its Paris-meets-Hackney interiors – full marks to the three fizzingly enthusiastic owners.
When to go: Whenever you can get a table – despite its softly-softly launch, this converted garage has become a sleeper success.
What to have: The unbelievably unctuous Jacob’s ladder – fall-apart beef short rib served with caramelised black-garlic purée.
If you like 108 Garage, you may like…
The food here literally speaks for itself: 108 Garage was launched with precisely zero fanfare in an area of west London not known for its bucket-list restaurants by a first-time restaurateur (and colourful ex-banker)… but the chef he found (via a Gumtree ad) confidently came up with the goods. The faithful came – and told everybody what a great time they’d had – and the rest is history. Now it’s difficult to swing a table in the grungy, industrial dining room thanks to British-Asian fusion dishes that marry beautifully artistic presentation with an expert balance of flavours.
When to go: When you want all the perks of dining in central London, but without having to actually travel 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.
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; and the service is impeccable. Best of all is the hearty European food: from meltingly tender Hereford beef-shin ragu atop creamy polenta to a sexed-up niçoise salad filled with confit rabbit meat, and don’t-stop-me-now desserts.
When to go: When your boss is treating your team to a slap-up office lunch, or you’re entertaining your favourite clients.
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…
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 laid-back 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.
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.
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.
When to go: When your private jet is having its MOT but you can’t shake your longing for a sun-soaked taste of Provence.
What to have: The lamb à la ficelle is French peasant food at its finest – it’s cooked dangling over a wood fire, then served with creamy white beans and salsa verde.
This southern French stunner gets things just right without conforming to the straitjacket of current restaurant trends. It’s run by a protégé of Stevie Parle, and his influence is evident in everything from the meticulous sourcing of top-quality ingredients to the back-to-basics approach of the kitchen, which produces dishes whose insouciant appearance belies a huge amount of behind-the-scenes preparation. Tuck into the likes of roast quail slathered in piquant anchovy sauce, courgettes stuffed with creamy, featherlight brandade, and melt-in-the-mouth ratatouille, washed down with Viognier on tap.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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 the pisco sours and purple potatoes, the 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, which sits 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.
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).
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.
When to go: On a mild night, when the fairy lights are turned on and you can appreciate the outdoors-indoors setting with a cold, locally brewed beer – no coat required.
What to have: In winter, oxtail croquettes are a winner; in summer, perhaps south coast squid with heritage tomatoes and British chorizo. Just don’t stint on dessert.
This smart, slick operation is one of a number of trendy restaurants neighbouring the knock-off leather jackets and mobile phone accessories on sale in Tooting Broadway Market. Even though competition here is stiff, Plot is worth making a beeline for: its highly seasonal menu is short enough to give you an excuse to try everything, its staff are winningly charming, and as many ingredients as possible are proudly local. Desserts are a strength, from buttery, sweet-salt Bakewell tart with blood-orange marmalade, to lemon posset with Earl Grey-soaked prunes and peppercorn shortbread.
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 up front and centre on the à la carte and include a delectable version of Peking duck with caviar.
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?
When to go: When you’re feeling patriotic about ‘great British food’.
What to have: You’ve got to be game for game, whether it’s wood pigeon faggots with prunes and crispy shallots, or roast fallow deer with new-season garlic, smoked bone marrow tart and baked beetroot.
This is the sort of place that makes one proud to be British. While it’s a wee bit posh with its thick hessian napkins and linen bread bags (oh, and one Michelin star…), its heart is still firmly set in the gastropub tradition. Owners and co-founders Mike Robinson and Brett Graham (head chef of The Ledbury) have put in a lot of effort, heavily promoting the ethos of using seasonal, local and natural produce. The ‘pub’ part is not forgotten either, with the bar dispensing fashionably good British ales. Head chef Alex Harper (formerly of Texture and, again, The Ledbury) has upheld the high standards set by his predecessor; dishes packed with British-grown ingredients have knowing flourishes – think black pudding Scotch egg with asparagus, or whipped chicken liver with thyme hobnobs.
When to go: During the day for the best open-face Danish sandwiches in London, at night for exquisite Nordic restaurant dishes.
What to have: Open sarnies and pastries by day (try the divine ‘bread and butter pud’ made out of Danish pastries); whatever you’re given at night. Expect light, high-precision cooking with a focus on cured, smoked and spankingly fresh fish that will make you feel like 6,750,000 krone (approx. $1m).
Kell and Jacqueline Skött are a daring duo. Struggling to recruit stylists for their second hair salon, they chanced upon a government initiative allowing A3 retail spaces to be converted to A1 restaurants for two years without planning. They had long dreamed of running a Danish café (she’s British, he’s a Dane). So, they called their lawyer on the Wednesday, agreed on the Thursday, told staff on the Friday and partied on the Saturday. Initially daytime only, they later took on Tania Steytler, a Cornish chef so exceptionally skilled, her £35 no-choice Friday night menu is now available from Thursdays to Saturdays, thanks to local demand.
Venue says Snaps & Rye is the winner of Best Restaurant in the Time Out Love London Awards 2018!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, peeps.
When to go: In the evening, when the fifty 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.
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. Skillz are evident in meat and fish dishes plus perfect pasta, and customer-friendly service whose pacing and attention to detail results in a delightfully old-school meal out.
Venue says New vegan menu available! Check out our website for more details.
When to go: When you’re feeling free of FOMO – this experience is a cross between a blind date and tasting menu roulette.
What to have: Standout dishes on our visit were the meat and fish options – especially the exquisite beef tartare with truffle crisps and a soupçon of Big Mac-style special sauce.
The trolley service may be gone (it's used for serving nibbles, then parked to one side), but happily, the inventive small plates at this hip off-Regent Street sibling to Hackney's Michelin-starred Pidgin, remain. The menu changes constantly: ask the supremely friendly staff for tips.
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.
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.
When to go: When you want to feel like you’ve travelled the world before you’ve even finished breakfast.
What to have: The fragrant, crunchy coated za’atar fried chicken has pride of place on a seasonal menu that changes every day. For brunch, the Iraqi aubergine pitta stuffed with fried aubergine, chopped egg and mango pickle takes some beating.
This neighbourhood charmer specialises in all-day breakfasts and evening sharing plates with a broadly Middle Eastern bent, influenced by flavours from all over North America. The small dining room is appealingly but simply designed, with colourful produce displays, plenty of light, and a counter overlooking the bar and open kitchen. Ordering from the menu is stressful only because everything sounds incredible: shakshuka topped with merguez sausage; Montreal meat hash; saddleback pork ribs in sticky date glaze; roast cauliflower with tahini yoghurt and pomegranate molasses. Go with a large group and order the whole damn lot.
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.
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: you’ll have a blast.
When to go: When you’re after a fancy meal that trades eye-widening prices and stiff service for that warm and fuzzy feeling.
What to have: The poached pear with fermented berries, rich fruit jelly, hazelnut crumble and white chocolate foam will change your opinion on fruit desserts forever.
Well hello there, good looking! That’s what this dinky Modern European restaurant seems to call to you from its corner spot on Islington’s Essex Road. You’ll get a warm welcome once you walk through the door, too: this is a modern family affair. Run by two brothers with experience in big-deal restaurants such as Noma, everything about the pared-back dining room and the dishes from the open kitchen brims with their personal touch. Such attention to detail can mean longer than average waits for plates – but what plates! This is high-falutin’ cuisine with real soul: each dish pimped to perfection, every ooh-la-la flourish made to earn its keep. Salut!
Venue says We just added a few new dishes to our a la carte menus; roasted beef sirloin in the mains and scallops with black pudding in the starters.
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.
Love supper clubs but can’t be bothered with the restrictive dates and dodgy venues? Then you’ll like Pidgin, one of a growing breed of polished eateries with supper-club souls. 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. They’ve hired a pro to run the kitchen (Dan Graham, formerly of L'Autre Pied and Dinner), and 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.
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.
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.
When to go: When you’re with friends make this your plan (instead of meeting for drinks and then drunkenly inhaling a takeaway on the way home).
What to have: The katsu curry Scotch egg is an east-west hybrid that’s the perfect foil to a local craft beer.
The third London restaurant from chef/restaurateur Brett Redman (he of Elliot’s Café and The Richmond), this izakaya majors in fried chicken, Japanese-style (that’s on skewers, FYI). Enter, order a craft beer (perhaps a London-brewed Beavertown Neck Oil or Japan’s Hitachino Nest Saison du Japon), then get stuck into yakitori dishes that make use of more than just the breast and thigh: moreish minced chicken skewers seasoned with chives come with a raw egg for dipping; tender chicken hearts are paired with morsels of smoked bacon. These, and the short selection of vegetable- and fish-heavy small plates, make for perfect pub snackage.
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.
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.
Venue says Simply the best burger and lobster in town!
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.
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 also 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.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for some old-school ooh-la-la brasserie fare.
What to have: Croque monsieur for weekend breakfasts; smoked fish platter with a pre-dinner apéritif; or something more French than the French, such as braised rabbit or magret de canard.
Even the townsfolk of E11 would be the first to admit it: Wanstead High Street seemed an unlikely place for an esteemed chef to make his comeback. But back in 2012, that’s just what Max Renzland (the brains behind a string of acclaimed self-titled ’90s neighbourhood bistros) did. Provender has since settled into its groove, and lucky Wansteaders have become rather blasé about having rich Gallic fare, terrific wines and a steady stream of foodie tourists right on their doorstep. Sunday roasts – which give a French twist to this most British of traditions – are rightly popular with locals; full-on French desserts, meanwhile, get everyone weak at the knees.
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).
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.
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…
Like an A-lister heading towards 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 (channel those A-listers…).
When to go: When your Instagram and Twitter accounts need some attention.
What to have: It’s Hobson’s choice – although vegetarians get their own menu.
If you like The Clove Club, you may like…
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.