Covent Garden is so stuffed with restaurants that decision fatigue can threaten the quality of your dinner. If only the best Covent Garden restaurants are good enough, then our list of the cream of the culinary crop will steer you to the right tables. From pre-theatre favourites and cheap eats to restaurants for a special occasion. Think of it as your Theatreland bucket list.
Restaurants in Covent Garden
The hype surrounding its launch has long subsided, but this polished tribute to the ultimate French brasserie is still charged with dynamite je ne sais quoi from leisurely breakfast through to late-night nibbles. It’s got good pedigree, see: owner Keith McNally made the NYC original the place to be, and backed up the London buzz with a menu of treat-yourself French fancies, from escargots sizzling in garlicky butter, to Dover sole meunière and towering rhubarb soufflé.
You know those people who languish in the shadow of their elder sibling? In that respect, The Barbary is more of a Miliband – it whisked away the ‘hottest-seat-in-town’ crown from 2014’s Palomar, over in Soho, when it launched. It echoes Barrafina, with its counter dining, convivial buzz and (sob!) no reservations, but its dishes are plucked from Africa’s Barbary Coast – must-orders include the slow-braised, robata-grilled octopus and the oozing knafeh dessert. Take your brother (if you’re still speaking to him).
To see and be seen in Covent Garden, a stool at the counter of this well-appointed corner site is a must. This is tapas the way they do them in Spain (Barcelona, to be precise). The surroundings are shiny (all mirrors and marble); the cooking is choreographed under your nose, with dishes passed over to you as they’re ready; and every bite is market fresh, admirably authentic and utterly delicious. You’ll have to queue, but it’s time well invested.
Calling Barrafina a ‘tapas bar’ is like calling Ryan Gosling a ‘good-looking guy’ – the words don’t quite convey how extraordinary it (and indeed, he) is. Luckily for anyone heading to Covent Garden, two of the chain’s three branches occupy the same postcode (if only there were a similar supply of Goslings). At Drury Lane, the Barrafina calling cards – expensive decor, counter seating, an open kitchen, and staggeringly good tapas – are enhanced with menu specials, vermouth cocktails and a terrace.
Soho House Group has aimed its whimsical grand café squarely at tourists and theatregoers, who could be forgiven for thinking this spot has been around since London was overrun with Hansom cabs. It’s a beautifully aged (but recently landed) throwback to the belle époque, with chandeliers, wood panelling, and crisp-jacketed waiters carrying plates of Continental indulgence, from coq au vin and crab ravioli to Paris-Brest and panna cotta. Exec chef Rowley Leigh covers all bases at this confident crowd-pleaser.
The unbreakable Angela Hartnett is known for her don’t-sweat-it demeanour – consequently, her high-end restaurants offer a more relaxed, intimate style of fine dining. This Covent Garden offshoot of her Murano brand is the most laid-back yet. We’re not talking ‘rock-up-in-your-flip-flops’ relaxed, more ‘let’s-splash-out-on-a-posh-Italian-meal-without-feeling-talked-down-to’. So dress up, then wallow in the no-gimmicks luxury that is truffle arancini, game lasagne and caramel panna cotta.
Even if you’ve scarfed more battered birds than you can shake a drumstick at since fried chicken took over London, we urge you to return to the frontline for pop-up veteran turned hats-off restaurateur Carl Clarke’s Chick ‘n’ Sours. Here, the meat is double-fried, Korean style, for super crunchy batter; Asian-style sauces add the perfect amount of zing and fire. The soundtrack is banging, the sours are a slam-dunk – it’s as much fun as you can have at dinner.
Ever since the original Covent Garden branch of this chain of Bombay-style Irani cafés jazz-handed onto the scene, subsequent Dishooms have been swiftly incorporated into Londoners’ little black books. That’s because this slick operation knows how to imbue everything it does with tongue-in-cheek fun. Expect bacon in a starring ‘roll’ (tee hee) at breakfast, snacky small plates with cheeky menu descriptions, ruby murrays that have never met a korma, and ‘pudding drinks’ such as a boozy chai version of affogato.
Flat Iron are masters of the £10 steak; this was USP enough to start serious queueing outside the tiny Soho branches. The Covent Garden flagship is a different beast: it’s absolutely ma-hoo-sive, so your chances of waltzing in and being seated straightaway are real. Miraculously, those flat iron steaks are still just a tenner, alongside more expensive specials. Extra bonuses – as if we needed more incentive – include a free salted-caramel ice cream cone on your way out. Y’know, just because.
Everything is turned up to 11 in this hip Covent Garden basement, and your initiation starts with the banging rock music that greets you before you even make it down the stairs. Just grab a seat and commit to the concept: Flesh & Buns does ‘drinking food’, so order yuzu margaritas and flavoursome signature bao at a ratio of about 1:1. Go with a group – and don’t miss the finger-licking fried chicken, kickass Cali rolls, and sexed-up s’mores dessert.
Find more restaurants in central London
Soho has a great range of restaurants to satisfy any culinary craving. If you want to try a traditional British restaurant, try Dean Street Townhouse. If you're more in the mood for authentic tapas, there's Barrafina, and for sumptuous spicy asian buns, try Bao. Read on for our recommendations for the best restaurants in Soho.
Being vegan in London must be punishing. Every other opening sees the capital’s carnivores licking their lips in anticipation at more ribs from a new street-food pop-up or another addition to the city’s army of fancy hot dog and dirty burger joints. Even breakfast haunts are dripping in, well, dripping; while bone marrow is trending apparently. And that’s where Karamel comes in. Tucked away in a quiet, residential bit of Wood Green, this restaurant-cum-bar-cum-gallery space is a haven for north London’s meat- and dairy-shunners. With its vaulted ceilings and basic furniture, Karamel is unpretentious and slightly reminiscent of a village hall, which is no bad thing; at least you could never accuse it of prioritising style over substance. Visiting just before Christmas, we were treated to festive fare. A cheeseless French onion soup was pleasingly sweet and happily arrived without a gloopy substitute (which usually bears more resemblance to plastic than Gruyère). The main course was an uninspiring nut-roast Wellington with all the trimmings – red cabbage went some way to perking up the plate, but the stars of the show were the garlic roasted carrots and parsnips, grown by Karamel’s owners. Pudding, though a trifle underwhelming, was coconut-creamy and fruity, and still managed to round off the meal nicely. Despite the food not exactly setting our taste buds alight, I would go back. Why? Because Karamel is one of the friendliest, most welcoming places I’ve been to in London.