NOVEMBER 2019: We’ve gone back to the icons, adding a sprinkling of all-time faves that we’ve recently re-reviewed and are delighted to report are as marvellous as ever. Hat-tips to Soho’s always-excellent and ever-buzzy Ducksoup, Marylebone’s atmospheric modern tapas joint Twist, and two Mayfair maestros: warm and welcoming steak joint Goodman, and Italian special-occasion spot Murano (from the one and only Angela Hartnett).
Welcome to the Time Out EAT List. The best restaurants in London, handpicked by our local food editor. Places that, yes, have great food, but more importantly will also guarantee you a good time. They might have a killer soundtrack, a cool room, or just really kick-ass service. Or dishes that go beyond excellent but make you smile, too. And all at the right price. Which doesn’t necessarily mean cheap (if you’re on a tight budget, check out our dedicated cheap eats list), but definitely means value for money. In short, the best restaurants, at every price point, across London.
From the special occasion destination restaurants to the cult shipping container spots, if it’s on the list, we think it’s awesome. And we reckon you will too.
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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: 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 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 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 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.
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. Which is a brilliant bizarre mix of eclectic, modernist small plates. 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.
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 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.
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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: 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 you’re in need of some tapas fun.
What to have: Everything wows, but the just-runny salt-cod tortilla is sheer eggy bliss.
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.
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.
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 spice? Yeah, don’t bring them.
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). 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: 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.
If you’ve loved Ryan ‘Mr Lyan’ Chetiyawardana’s bars (White Lyan, Dandelyan, Super Lyan), you’ll love this friendly hangout with its party soundtrack and funky, recycled, retro decor. Chef and co-founder Doug McMaster (of Brighton’s Silo) is a no-waste supremo who creates food that’s as sustainable as it is stunning. The price of the set menu may have gone up since its launch, but if you’re after an experience something just that little bit different (the price includes ‘matched cocktails’), then Cub is the place for you.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 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.
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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 home-made rotis or tacos, plus plenty of your favourite Asian or Latin spices. All set to backdrop of party tunes (MJ, Beyoncé etc.), 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.
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).
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 chic 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.
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.
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.
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10 Greek Street, Popolo, Two Lights
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.
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.
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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 (all 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.
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 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.
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 n’duja croquettes if they’re on.
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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.
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).
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 on 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.
Venue says Join us for Sunday Roasts - built around our In House Meat at the time - currently Yorkshire Beef before we move on to Hogget in February
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: 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.
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.
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.
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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 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.
The first thing anyone ever says about Xu is that ‘it’s from the people behind Bao’. But Xu is an entirely different kettle of smoked eel. True, it’s Taiwanese, but it’s a smart restaurant with a glam, vintage Taipei vibe. Think waiters in black tie and upbeat jazz over the speakers, plus a dedicated ‘tea bar’ and semi-private mahjong tables. The food is sensational (don’t miss the chilli egg-drop crab) and the bill, given the quality, will be affordable. Best of all, you can actually book.
Venue says XU's new brunch menu comes with free-flowing Perrier-Jouët Champagne, for just £25 extra per person! Available Saturdays and Sundays!
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: 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!
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.
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.
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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.
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: 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 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.
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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 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: 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.
There are two restaurants at Hide (plus a basement bar, if you’re counting), And while the a-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’s leafy treetops). 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 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.
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.
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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’re after classic seafood in a cute Covent Garden setting.
What to have: the fabulously fresh daily specials.
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, 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.
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 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’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.
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.
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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 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: For lunch (Tuesday to Saturday) or a weekday dinner (Tuesday to Thursday), both of which offer less weepingly expensive ways to eat here.
What to have: Whatever you’re given. It’s a tasting menu (and set lunch) kind of place. But don’t panic: the food is beautiful, so you’re in safe hands.
If nothing else, the Roganic crew deserve an award for making this once-awkward site on Marylebone’s Blandford Street, formerly home to L’autre Pied, into a place of cool, calm loveliness. On the whole, the food – from star chef Simon Rogan – is stunning. This is a tasting-menu-only kind of a place (with long or short options, plus a much speedier set business lunch that’s also a steal). And we especially like the service: the GM is a delight.
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.
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!
Venue says A vibrant Mexican restaurant with an upstairs tequila and mezcal bar, serving authentic regional Mexican cuisine and cocktails.
When to go: When you want a special occasion restaurant in west London that’s not the Ledbury.
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.
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.
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.
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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 Stick to those New Year resolutions, make time for friends & perk up your Jan with 25% off bento boxes, every Monday from 12 - 3 pm!
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…
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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.
Venue says Our celebrated breakfasts are served every day from 7am during the week and 8am on the weekend.
When to go: When you want to pretend that you’re a grown-up, but still be made to feel welcome.
What to have: Less of the ‘small courses’ than you’d imagine. Two is sufficient for lunch, but 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.
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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 either. This is partly the food, and partly the staff, who are a lovely, welcoming bunch. This is a place to be spoil or be spoiled. Hats off to Ms Hartnett.
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’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.
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 town. 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.
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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Core by Clare Smyth
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: 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.
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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 blonde wood tables of the airy dining room are populated by designer, media and arty types all tucking heartily into the seasonal, ingredients-led menu – on hot, sunny days, it’s a first-come, first-served dash to the courtyard garden’s alfresco tables. 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.
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 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).
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?
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.
For an evening pretending to be on a Bond film set, 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.
Venue says Get ready for Chinese New Year! Park Chinois is hosting the ultimate in luxe CNY dining and entertainment, from the 22nd Jan - 2nd Feb.
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.
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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: 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’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’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.
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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 fancy a French experience of ‘Amélie’-esque proportions.
What to have: A golden oldie such as chicken chasseur.
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.
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.
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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).
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.
A long way from St Leonards 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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
Venue says This year, why not just add lobster? High in protein, energy & low in fat, lobster is here to answer all your 2020 goal-smashing dreams 💪🦞
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).
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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: 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’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.
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.
Venue says Dedicated to sourcing the finest ingredients to create innovative, unique, contemporary and seasonal dishes.
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: 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 you want a beautiful meal but without that ‘oof’ feeling at the end.
What to have: Norwegian king crab or quail with bacon popcorn – just two of their classics.
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Long before the so-called New Nordic fashion infiltrated London’s menus, this dining room in a former Georgian townhouse was turning out food that was quietly groundbreaking. Though of the haute school in creativity and technical detail, the dishes – courtesy of Icelandic head chef and co-founder Agnar Sverrisson – were (and are) deliciously light, with butter and cream both banned. Staff are charming and polished without being afraid to let their personalities shine through. A delightful place.
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. 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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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. It’s particularly appealing in the summer, when you can sit outdoors in serene St John’s Square.
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.
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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’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