Covent Garden is so rammed with restaurants that decision fatigue can easily threaten the quality of your dinner. But rest easy: we’ve compiled a list of the best eateries in the area, from cutting-edge spots and classy counter joints to party-ready and casual hangouts, with pre-theatre favourites and cheap eats in among them. Think of it as your Theatreland bucket list.
Restaurants in Covent Garden
As an outpost of uber-chef Joël Robuchon’s Michelin-starred global empire, L’Atelier delights in doing things differently – in a good way. Perch on a red leather stool and revel in acutely calibrated mini marvels such as cod wrapped in marbled kombu on daikon purée – just remember to bring a fat wallet, a wine-loving friend and an open mind. Pricey? Yes. Hoity-toity? No.
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.
If you’re tired of the Berlusconi-themed cabaret shenanigans in Bunga Bunga’s basement bar, head upstairs to Bungatini – a straight-down-the-line, no-nonsense pizzeria with crowd-pleasing credentials. The decor comes with a contemporary edge (note the USB ports at every table), but the menu goes for rustic familiarity in a big way – pizzas with artisan toppings, bookended by antipasti and decadent homemade gelati. You can sip cocktails, too, without having to endure BB’s excesses.
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.
Forget down-and-dirty souks, this is a pimped-out bazaar for Covent Garden’s business crowd, complete with gold walls and pristine silk awnings. An offshoot of Westminster’s auspicious Cinnamon Club, it deals in imaginative fusions of East and West, with top honours going to the lamb rogan josh shepherd’s pie – a life-affirming mix of old-school British comfort and spicy Indian warmth.
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.
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.