December 2018: We’ve added five more Covent Garden restaurants: the Basque-influenced Henrietta Bistro, four-storey Japanese skewer specialist Jidori, bijou seafood eatery Parsons, sumptuous instant classic Cora Pearl, and the oldest French restaurant in London, Mon Plaisir.
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.
RECOMMENDED: Restaurants in Soho
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.
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.
Like its sister, Kitty Fisher’s, Cora Pearl is named after an English courtesan. Made to be in theatreland, this is exactly the kind of place you would like to dine quietly as a celebrity: all sumptuous upholstery, with languorous ceiling fans and drinks served in antique glasses. There are grown-up plates – veil, or fish stew, say – but don’t miss the snacks or the ace starters centred around toast.
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.
Don’t expect strawberries in December at Farmstand – a clean-lined minimalist diner inspired by the namesake roadside produce stalls of America’s Midwest. Unrefined, GM-free, sustainable and seasonal are its watchwords, and the food’s also healthy without shoving the ethos down people’s throats. Colourful salad boxes and trays are the big sellers, supported by liquid assets including cold-pressed juices, gluten-free lager and filtered water. They do takeaways and online deliveries too.
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.
This chic cousin of the Parisian original has London in its DNA (chef-patron Gregory Marchand once headed up the kitchen at Fifteen, where Jamie Oliver gave him his oh-so-imaginative nickname). You’ll need a stack of cash or an amoeba-sized stomach to be fed to bursting here: the small plates are small. But the menu is all about must-try dishes, from bacon scones with clotted cream, to truffle-stuffed eggs, to pulled-pork sliders. On a budget? Stick to the set lunch.
You might think you’d stumbled into a post-catwalk party during London Fashion Week, what with all the svelte glamour-pusses, David Gandy lookalikes and sundry hangers-on mingling in this capacious marble-hued outpost of the San Carlo group. If you’ve come here to eat rather than pose, however, the food is excellent Italian fare at comfortable prices – from chichi cicchetti and al dente pasta to grills and enticing specials.
Venue says Fumo is a new concept cocktail bar, all day restaurant and late lounge, part of the San Carlo Group.
Nobody – bar the occasional militant vegan – has a bad word to say about this meat paradise. The cavernous subterranean space – all polished wood, ashen leather booths and acres of parquet flooring – is undeniably swanky, but priceless staff keep things refreshingly down to earth. The steaks are hands-down the best in town, but other dishes refuse to be outshone. The only decent thing to do in such circumstances is to stuff your face with as much as you can order.
Stepping out from the shadow of its former tenant, Ollie Dabbous, Henrietta Bistro has become a lovely Basque-influenced spot, mixing cool terracotta walls, a chic mid-century-styled dining area and a menu of small plates, some conventionally delicious, some actively interesting. Highlights include dinky cubes of tuna tartare and a picture-perfect burger.
Venue says The menu, by Sylvain Roucayrol, is ingredient-led with simple, seasonal dishes and a subtle accent of the Basque region.
Not including The Ivy on this list would be a snub akin to not getting a table at this constantly-in-demand grandee. We always hearted it, but since its glitzy revamp, we’ve remembered just how much. During nearly 100 years of (impeccable) service, The Ivy has remained above passing trends, preferring to serve deluxe versions of home cooking with a side of money-can’t-buy glamour. The spoils of its success – the celebs, the paps, the buzz – are on show night after night.
Funky, functional and really great with skewered chicken (yakitori, to be precise) – anything you order on a stick at Jidori will be beautiful. There’s a stellar drinks list and a karaoke room decked out with pink streamers in the basement. Pair your skewers with a Cher banger and head on down for a night to remember.
Everybody’s heard of this Theatreland seafood restaurant: its name has been dropped by London’s high society since it was established – which was now so long ago that Sheekey’s is a name to drop in its own right. Spread across several wood-panelled rooms, Sheekey’s is a historic hidey-hole with a menu featuring all the fishy classics. A lot is comfort food at bling-bling prices, but for your money you get an unbeatable sideshow of luvvies, minor celebs and eccentric London types.
Originally an extension of J Sheekey, this oyster bar quickly became a separate and equally starry destination. Fresher-than-fresh seasonal oysters, meaty Devon cock crabs, and cooked dishes – from Dover sole with caper butter to the signature shrimp-and-scallop burger – are served up quick-smart to pre-theatre diners. It’s all so good you’ll consider missing your curtain call – but on the plus side, you could spot the star of your show propping up the bar here, post-encore.
Crispy fried bugs, ants’ eggs, fermented sausages… welcome to London’s first Laotian restaurant, a funky blend of backpacker café and urban-chic eatery. You can go gung-ho and pretend you’re on ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ or settle for something more mainstream – perhaps chargrilled pork neck or a kickass deep-fried whole fish with larb (a ‘dry salad’ with toasted rice). Boring it ain’t.
If you enjoy luxuriating in sumptuous vintage glamour, you’re going to love Margot – a gloriously old-school Italian complete with a behatted doorman, a jazzy soundtrack, flattering lighting and a wealth of brasserie luxe trappings. The food is smart and elegantly rendered, although it almost plays second fiddle to the ritzy surrounds, cosseting staff and dizzying 300-bin wine list.
Venue says Italian flavors in the heart of Covent Garden. Open seven days a week, serving lunch, dinner, pre-theatre and post-theatre.
Open since the 1940s, Mon Plaisir is London’s oldest French restaurant. And zut alors is it French – think Jacques Tati, necklace of onions, huff-on-a-Gauloises Gallic. Parisian street maps line the walls, and the pewter bar at the back was supposedly pilfered from an old Lyonnaise brothel – then there’s the excellent menu of escargots, duck breast and dauphinois to match.
This sibling to Soho’s Dehesa and Ember Yard has a lot going for it. Its setting in a former pub (the bar stylishly converted into an L-shaped counter) is cosily atmospheric, the food mixes the group’s signature Spanish-Italian small plates (stuffed courgette flowers; pork belly on rosemary-flecked cannellini beans; own-cured charcuterie) with flights of fancy such as scallops with apple-and-blackberry purée, and the whole outfit is low-key enough to cater to real Londoners as well as lucky tourists. Theatreland gold.
The kind of seafood hangout you might find washed up on a trendy Cornish beach, the Oystermen’s catch comes with a side order of Covent Garden panache. Oysters are the main event, although the blackboards are scrawled with piscine delights galore – smoked cod’s roe, spicy deep-fried mussels and Devon crab. Lap up the breezy vibe and imagine you’re on hols.
Every inch of this bijou fish restaurant has been put to good use – from the tiered service bar in the centre, to the carousel of coats on the ceiling. Fish arrives fresh off day boats, with specials – grilled sardines, say, or dover sole – scrawled on the tiled walls or mirrors. Adventurous diners shouldn’t miss a rummage through the snacks section of the menu.
In an era when half of the country voted Brexit because ‘Britain has had enough of experts’, Shuang Shuang could be classed as a zeitgeist restaurant – it’s one of those cook-it-yourself affairs, where ingredients circle the room on a miniature conveyor belt, waiting to be picked off and plunged into diners’ pots of hot broth. You control the temperature, mix your own dipping sauce and select the content of your hotpot. Who needs chefs?
Take the prime meaty cuts that everyone associates with a true-Brit chop house, rub them with Indo-Punjabi spices and subject them to the searing heat of a tandoor – that’s the deal at this close-packed, wood-panelled canteen with old photos on the walls. The food (small plates, of course) ticks all the new-nostalgic Indian boxes for us, but what we really love about TCH is the infectiously cheery service.