With the twin food heavens of Borough Market and Bermondsey Street at its heart, plus an abundance of hidden restaurant gems, you’ll struggle to eat badly in SE1, an area of London whose huge range offers something for every taste and budget. Here are our favourite restaurants around London Bridge – let us know in the comments box below if we’ve missed any good ‘uns.
Restaurants in London Bridge
Thirty-one floors up The Shard, this uber-swanky modern British restaurant is the perfect height for enjoying a sweeping London panorama without losing any of the detail (like office chumps still doing time at their desks, while you sip a violet-hued Aviation – #winning). Much like its Spanish and Japanese siblings, Aqua Shard is ferociously expensive – starters are priced like mains, and mains appear to be priced in rupees (alas, no) – but it’s undoubtedly fun and fabulous if your bank account can take the financial hit.
Arabica manages to capture the golden age of the Levant solely through its great food and buzzy vibe – visual short-cuts such as belly dancers and ‘Arabian Nights’ murals are kicked to the kerb in favour of a more modern cliché (London’s ever popular bare-brick-and-filament-bulb decor). Dishes hail from all corners of the Middle East and neighbouring countries. For drinks, try Lebanese, Syrian, Israeli or Turkish wines, or one of the spectacular cocktails. Table-turning is strict, but Levantine-style hospitality means you won’t feel rushed.
The only hint of this restaurant’s former life as a car park is the asphalt flooring; everything else evokes contemporary London dining. In a nutshell: artfully peeling paintwork, reclaimed furniture, open kitchen, etc etc ad infinitum. The menu feels somewhat old school, transposing hearty modern European dishes from their familiar gastropub territory to trendy Bermondsey Street – pints of prawns and pork terrines share space with pumpkin risotto and pies of the day. In summer, grab a table in the chilled alfresco space.
This dinky French bistro looks like the kind of local Juliette Binoche, in one of her more whimsical roles, might run: think tobacco-stained walls, retro black-and-white floor tiles, tables so close you can hear your neighbours chewing and a blackboard menu teeming with classic French fare, from snails to stuffed rabbit, cassoulet to crème brûlée. Drinks are also as Gallic as they come. Start with a pastis aperitif, follow with wines by the carafe, and finish with a noisette.
Venue says: “A complimentary glass of house wine at Champor Champor in London Bridge. To receive, please mention you booked through Time Out.”
If you’re temporarily ‘over’ small plates, industrial-chic interiors and ‘next-big-thing’ hype, head to this offbeat Thai-Malay restaurant with its fusiony menu, quirky decor (a mix of tribal artefacts and backpacker trinkets), zen vibe and long-standing status as a hidden gem. Dishes are sophisticated and creative without going all ‘concept’ on us – think spiced lamb neck with tamarind and sweet-potato mascarpone, or red snapper with sambal and squid-ink linguine – and there’s nary a tattoo or a barrel-aged negroni in sight.
Everything we’ve ever eaten at Elliot’s has been outstanding, from menu signatures like the juicy, pink-middled cheeseburger, to seasonal stars such as mussels spiked with ’nduja and wild garlic, or smoky grilled calçots with piquant romesco sauce. It’s hard to know where the best seats are: the honey-bricked, half-rustic, half-industrial dining room has loads of natural light and a great buzz, but in summer, the handful of pavement tables are perfect for enjoying the bustle of Borough Market.
This superlative steakhouse is one chain we’d be overjoyed to see colonising our high streets. Hawksmoor’s Borough branch is more of the same standard-bearing stuff: interiors that mix parquet flooring and wood-panelled walls with flattering lighting and inky-blue leather; staff who strike the perfect balance between BFF and butler; a menu heaving with bone marrow, belly ribs, beef-dripping fries and best-in-show steaks; and a rollicking atmosphere – due in no small part to the incredibly moreish cocktails. Pick any special occasion and go.
You’ll probably be able to see London’s Chinatown from Hutong’s lofty perch on level 33 of The Shard, but that’s where the similarities end – this glitzy venue swaps wipe-clean tables, picture menus and grouchy staff for glamorous oriental-inflected dark-wood interiors, beautifully presented Sichuan and northern Chinese dishes, and attentive service. The standard of the food almost surpasses the wow-factor of the skyline views, making a meal here one to add to the ‘expensive but worth it’ section of your restaurant hit-list.
At this diminutive tapas bar, seats are as scarce as your personal space, the atmosphere is buoyant, the drinks flow and the food steals the show – just like at all the best parties. It’s based on founder José Pizarro’s rose-tinted memories of tapas bars back home in Spain: there’s a tiny open kitchen, a blackboard menu featuring tapas classics and market specials, stools set around high tables, and more punters than the space can handle. In summer, they spill onto the pavement, sherry in hand. Perfection.
There’s a real frisson to this brooding tapas bar just outside London Bridge station, with its tunnel-like first-floor dining room, rumbling to the rhythm of trains passing overhead, and its moodily lit ground-floor bar. The all-Spanish team have filled the menu with specialities from their homeland, from moist and tender ‘secreto’ and ‘presa’ cuts of pork (both from the shoulder), to paella-style arroz con costra. All best enjoyed from one of the two-person booths, over a bottle of Spanish vino.
Find more amazing restaurants in London
In the ultimate guide to the best restaurants in London you’ll find it all: zeitgeist-defining celebrity haunts, the best new restaurants in London, glitzy destinations in London's best hotels, Michelin star restaurants with starched linen napkins and restaurants serving down-to-earth cheap eats. What they all have in common is that they serve some of the best dishes in London at fair prices, with service befitting the setting. In short, if you’re looking for a great meal, you’ve come to the right place.
Just off Regent Street is Sakagura, a smart Japanese restaurant and sake bar. It’s like somewhere you would actually find in Japan, rather than your typical clichéd translation of a ‘Japanese restaurant’. You get all the trimmings – hot towels, impeccably polite service, a sake menu so vast that it’s organised by province and, of course, really excellent food. Attention to detail abounds. The décor is modern and sleek, with rich wooden tables, curved-back chairs and touches of black leather, but be sure to ask for a booth – partially screened, they’re the best seats in the house. The traditional crockery is beautiful and the chopsticks are double-ended, which is a nice touch for when you’re serving food for sharing (the Japanese frown on using the same chopsticks for eating and serving, unless, of course, those chopsticks have two ends). There’s even a sake sommelier. Despite Sakagura’s size and swishiness, it’s not at all intimidating, with friendly staff ready to talk you through what you’re about to eat without being patronising. Order the sashimi moriwase – when it arrives your pupils will morph into love hearts. At £39, it’s no cheap eat, but with 18 pieces of incredibly fresh fish, edible pansies and flowers caved out of daikon (plus fresh wasabi), it’s well worth it. Seabass carpaccio with subtle, truffly notes was intricate and exceptional. There’s plenty for veggies too – sushi rolls with burdock and carrot maki really sang, while the sprout tempura was so deliciou
Venue says: “Enjoy the best of Sakagura with our tasting menu guaranteed to excite the senses with a harmonious balance of taste, texture and seasonality”