The best restaurants in Holborn
Unlike the many other Vietnamese restaurants in London that seem to gravitate towards each other (Shoreditch, we’re looking at you), Banh Mi Bay stands solo on Theobalds Road. As the name would suggest, this restaurant’s specialty is banh mi, a dish that does a roaring trade with the lunch crowd looking to spice up their usual al desko sandwich. But come in the evenings for hearty bowls of pho and veggie dishes with a real kick.
On the edge of Holborn where the Covent Garden tourists occasionally stray, you’ll find one of London’s foremost restaurants. Barrafina – which has sister sites in Soho and further into Covent Garden on Adelaide Street – serves up scene-defining Spanish tapas from a traditional counter bar. Seafood steals the show, and is found in empanadas, tempuras, ceviches and fresh from the grill. The restaurant doesn’t take bookings, so rock up early or prepare to queue.
A counter at the till in The Black Penny is replete with salads, soups, sarnies, quiches, stews and all sorts of sweet treats. And for central London, the portions and prices are pretty convincing if you’re after a lunchtime pit stop. Otherwise, treat The Black Penny as a breakfast or brunch favourite, with soulful tunes, invigorating coffee and a selection of exciting dishes, from confit duck hash to bubble and squeak.
The High Holborn branch of Burger & Lobster was the tenth in the London fleet when it opened. And like at its sister restaurants, there are just a few menu options that, unsurprisingly, riff off two things: burger and lobster. We vote for the lobster every time, especially in lobster roll form with Japanese mayo. But if sea critters aren’t your thing, the burger is still pretty impressive.
Seeing Mamma Mia in the West End? This is much more authentically Italian. The more relaxed of Angela Hartnett’s Murano venues, this café puts hearty Italian flavours front and centre in peasant classics and more complex cicchetti plates. And much like in Italy, customers can stick with a modest meal of pasta or feast from antipasti, primi and secondi menus. House-made plum negronis are a great way to kick things off, then settle into gorgeous reds from small Italian producers.
If you fancy a bit of a jolt to the senses in the central London smog, pop into Kingsway’s Cha Chaan Teng. The basement restaurant is a kitsch-looking space with art deco booths and a Hong Kong tearoom theme. Meanwhile the menu fuses cuisine from the East and West in madcap ways. We’re talking spam tossed in panko and served in a bun or hoisin Coca-Cola ribs.
Chang’s is a functional Chinese restaurant serving delicious, delicate hand-pulled noodles that are oh-so satisfying in big old bundles or swimming in sumptuous soup. The restaurant doesn’t stop at noodles, mind. Dumplings – including totally on-trend soup dumplings – are fragrant and perfectly chewy, while Sichuan classics will blow your head off, even if you’re used to living on the spicy edge.
Sherry and salt cod are just two reasons to settle in at Cigala with a group of friends. Order up a feast of Iberian standards – on the rustic side – to share. The menu bounds from paellas to juicy cutlets and fish cooked on the plancha, with set lunch and dinner menus keeping the costs down. It’s a little slice of authentic Spain on your plate, but with white tablecloths to suit the area’s business-led diners.
A wood-fired spit gets chooks looking nice and blackened by the time they reach your table at laid-back restaurant Chicken Shop. Order it in quarter, half and whole portions with slaw and fries on the side. With dim lighting and pulsating music, you’re sure to have a good time, but don’t rely on it for a quiet bite to eat. The menu now incorporates Dirty Burger’s naughty little patties too, so head here if you’re looking for an all-out meat feast in the Holborn ’hood.
Venue says: “Join us for our new flambée menu that includes a mixed leaf salad, classic tarte flambée, a glass of wine or beer, plus tea or coffee.”
A classy grand European café, filled with a cool mix of fashion types and old-school business bods. The menu runs from breakfast to dinner, taking in an afternoon tea that features some indulgent Austrian cakes. The rest is classic – think steak tartare, kedgeree and a dish of the day in opulent surrounds. Or for more laid-back café dining, opt for the Counter next door and its tempting range of pastries.
Find more great restaurants near Holborn
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.
Like sangria and dicking about with bulls, paella is generally best kept within the borders of Spain. When it’s properly done, shallow-cooked in enormous pans and served with a Mediterranean view, it’s one of the great joys of Iberian cooking. But even London’s best Spanish restaurants often don’t do justice to this Valencian classic. Otherwise decent spots trip up when it comes to packing that ultra-short-grain rice with flavour and moisture. So it takes big cojones to try and tweak the process for office workers on a 15-minute lunch dash. A gang of enterprising Valencians have taken on that task, and at Oh’Lola they’ve somehow served up some of the best paella I’ve tasted outside Spain – and it comes in a cardboard box. ¡Anda! The place they’ve picked is Hatton Garden, better known for jewels than jamón, but only a minute or two from the delicacies of Leather Lane Market. Step in through the big french windows and you can watch Team Lola simmering up three kinds of paella in a semi-open kitchen behind a glass screen. Veggie and chicken options are available, but the seafood special is the most eye-catching thing in the room, coming laden with mariscos: a fat prawn, a mega mussel, squid rings, shrimp, octopus and meaty swordfish. And the rice: ¡qué rico! A big sock of flavour – sticky, juicy, rich, salty and fishy, with just the right metallic tang of saffron – it was so authentically Spanish that it felt odd stepping back out into the British summer drizzle. Prices are dec
Venue says: “Visit us in the evening and enjoy our dinner menu.”