From cutting edge cuisine to firm culinary favourites, British food has made a dramatic comeback in the past decade. Whether you're looking for a simple pub lunch or a new twist on an old classic, there's an abundance of great British restaurants in London. We've rounded up a few of our favourites below. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Venue says: “Weekend brunch, Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm. Roasts every Sunday. Bottomless brunch cocktails, £18pp, every Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm.”
Veniphobia. It’s not an official phobia, like arachnophobia, agoraphobia or my personal favourite, omphalophobia (the fear of belly buttons). But it should be. We all know someone who suffers from it: an irrational fear of venison. Mac & Wild is the cure. A cosy Fitzrovia newcomer with a Scottish heart, it specialises in wild deer that has none of the off-putting ‘gaminess’ people associate with venison -- it also happens to be mind-bogglingly tender. Most of the meat comes from co-owner Andy Waugh’s father’s estate, the rest from other trusted highland hunters, all of whom use state-of-the-art refrigeration techniques. On our visit we watched a waiter convince a table of fashionistas to go for venison, rather than beef chateaubriand: ‘if you don’t like it, I’ll take it off the bill.’ They devoured every morsel. Mac & Wild’s origins date back to 2010, when Waugh drove down to Borough Market with a van-load of raw deer meat. This led to him selling venison-based street food (as ‘The Wild Game Co’) at markets and pub residencies, before finally opening a 2014 pop-up. It was so popular that within weeks Waugh and his team were looking for a permanent site. The result: Mac & Wild, a stylish place filled with rough-hewn wood tables, bare bricks, and modish lighting. The Scandi-leaning Scottish food it serves (the chef is Danish) is mostly sensational. In addition to terrific venison ‘steak frites’ (£11) and order-by-weight chateaubriand, there are beefy alternatives
It’s not easy to open a spate of brand-new restaurants and maintain high standards, but chef-patron Jason Atherton has clearly moved on from being the sorcerer’s apprentice (under Gordon Ramsay) to being the sorcerer himself. His Little Social deluxe bistro only opened in March 2013, right opposite his fine dining Pollen Street Social in Mayfair. He followed this up, weeks later, with an even more ambitious restaurant in Soho, by delegating the chef role to his buddy and long-time head chef at Pollen Street Social, Paul Hood. The ground-floor dining room has a mirrored ceiling to create the sensation of space in a low room; upstairs is a smart cocktail bar, called the Blind Pig, which also has a separate entrance. Most of the action is in the dining room, though, with a kitchen brigade who are clearly at the top of their game. Smoked duck ‘ham’, egg and chips is a dish that’s typical of Pollen Street Social’s playfulness. ‘Ham’ is cured and smoked from duck breast on the premises, served with a breadcrumbed duck egg that’s molten in the middle, but with an aroma of truffle oil. Umami – savouriness, the taste that enhances other flavours – was also plentiful in a roast cod main course that uses powdered Japanese kombu seaweed in a glaze, served with a creamy sauce of roasted cockles and just-in-season St George’s mushrooms. Presentation is a strong point of Hood’s dishes, just as they are for his mentor Atherton. A starter of ‘CLT’ – crab meat, a fan of blonde castelfranco
If ever proof were needed that all caffs are not equal, this Grade-II listed greasy spoon on Bethnal Green Road is it. The food may not be much more than reasonably above-average caff grub, but the atmosphere and decor are second to none. Opened in 1900, and still in the hands of the same family, Pellicci’s is an east London landmark. It has an almost opulent feel, harking back to a time when caff culture was king. Chrome-lined Vitrolite panels line the outside, and the wood-panelled interior is filled with Formica tables and art deco touches. Food is still prepared with pride every day by Mama Maria – queen of the kitchen since 1961. The kids, Anna and Nevio Junior, serve it up with a wink, a smile and as much banter as you can handle. Fry-ups are first rate, and the fish and chips, daily grills and Italian specials aren’t half bad either. Desserts, from bread pudding to Portuguese pasteis de nata, are worth a punt too. But it’s the vibrant welcome, served with a healthy helping of mickey-taking, that makes the place so special. Check out more of London's best breakfasts and brunches
Restaurateur Jason Atherton has had a great year. Berners Tavern is the third restaurant he’s opened in the West End this year; the other two, Little Social and Social Eating House, were very well received for their playful and appealing dishes. This new venture is more of the same, but in a much grander setting. It’s housed in the new Edition hotel in Fitzrovia, which looks like the older, more sophisticated sister of the Sanderson hotel just down the road. Both places were given makeovers by hotelier Ian Schrager, but Edition is an exercise in slick metropolitan taste, with opulent chandeliers, framed art-by-the-yard covering entire walls, and improbably elegant staff. The huge lobby bar looks fabulous; but the vast dining room, with its ornate plasterwork ceiling, very low lighting and lively bar area, looks even better. The menu’s prices are alarmingly high – but most of the dishes we tried were very good. Head chef Phil Carmichael turns out tender pork belly with a sauce of sharp capers, golden raisins and apple coleslaw to cut through the fat. The flavours of this and a pan-braised halibut (perfectly cooked) with a little saucepan of savoury squid ink risotto were sublime. A starter of ‘egg, ham and peas’ updates a signature Atherton recipe; a breadcrumbed duck egg is held upright by a purée of fresh peas, the crisp Cumbrian ham almost a garnish. The only culinary disappointment was a chocolate éclair dessert, as the pastry – which should be very slightly stale – was
Venue says: “Its finally arrived on our menu...Frosé! Try it or head to our £5 cocktail menu for frivolous fun!”
As one door closes, so they say, another opens. As we process the sad news that Neal Street’s Food for Thought, a veggie institution with rock-bottom prices, is closing after more than 40 years, only a couple of streets over, newcomer Jar Kitchen shows how far good café food has come in that time – but also how some things never change. Most of us still need friendly places serving good, imaginative food at fair prices – especially in Covent Garden. Run by Lucy Brown and Jenny Quintero, this smart café sits at the northern end of Drury Lane. The kitchen is open to the ground-floor dining room where Brown, a former model agent, was busy greeting and waiting tables on our visit. So far, so ordinary. What makes Jar Kitchen super is the brief menu, prices midway between caff and restaurant, and delightful dishes. An Ottolenghi-ish mixed-grain salad looked great, with its pomegranate arils and fresh mint leaves, toasted almonds, roasted heirloom carrots and drizzle of coconut yoghurt. A sizeable bowl costs £8; for an extra £3, the kitchen adds shreds of braised lamb shoulder. Another simple but brilliant dish was a green chopped salad, costing a mere £3.50, featuring pert mixed leaves and an attractively tangy dressing. Jar Kitchen does vegetarian dishes well, but it’s not a vegetarian restaurant. Scraps of ‘ceviche style’ sea bass (£6.50) came with creamed avocado, chopped fennel, and a multi-seed dressing. Orther dishes might include roast pork belly, or lemon sole with brown
Heirloom makes a more convincing case for a United Kingdom than most politicians. It hoists the flag for modern British cooking by plating up heritage vegetables, succulent rare-breed meats and Cornish fish, serving them with British craft beers and Old World wines. It’s a smart-looking upmarket spot that’s softened by a pubby-style bar, chunky wooden tables and friendly service. On our Sunday lunch visit, classic roasts were the order of the day, and included the likes of Old Spot pork, Belted Galloway beef and braised Blackface lamb. These were all cooked just-so and served with meaty gravy, splinter-crisp spuds, mile-high Yorkshires and the sauciest own-made accompaniments such tart apple and zingy mint sauces or peppery horseradish cream. It’s Brit-tastic cooking all the way. A la carte choices might include roast monkfish partnered with sea-salty samphire and Jersey cream-enriched mash, or smoked gammon hock with duck egg and sucrine lettuce. The rollcall of heritage produce includes novelties such as prickly cucumber or stubby atlas carrots. Puddings read like something from Enid Blyton – treacle loaf with raspberries and Jersey cream, or plum trifle steeped in port-like Maury – though the Famous Five would have had adventures of a different order after a dalliance with Maury.
Aqua Shard is in two parts: a smart, fine-dining, expense-account venue with magnificent views, and an attached cocktail bar with equally fabulous views, reviewed here. Aqua Shard is itself only one part of the Aqua Group's premises set halfway up the Shard. Hutong, a fine-dining Chinese restaurant, is on the floor above (and, of course, also has terrific views). The Aqua Group is a Hong Kong-based company, best known for its well-regarded and very stylish restaurants in Hong Kong, including the original branch of Hutong. In London they also run two attached restaurants just off Oxford Circus, Aqua Kyoto (Japanese) and Aqua Nueva (Spanish).
Most of London’s really exciting new restaurants open in the centre of town – and you’ll pay two limbs for the pleasure of eating in them. So when somewhere special opens in a residential area, word gets around. This last happened in Clapham in 2013, when The Dairy – a wine and British tapas bar –introduced an innovative, but reasonably priced small plates menu to the neighbourhood. The Manor is run by the same team, but this time has a fully fledged dining room as well as a bar. Prices are a little higher – but still reasonable – as the cooking has gone up a few notches, too. The Manor looks and feels casual, like a slightly more grown-up version of The Dairy, despite the graffiti, old desks and industrial light fittings. But the imagination and skill of the kitchen places it among the city’s most cutting-edge restaurants: The Clove Club, Story or Lyle’s, to give just a few examples. Case in point: two slivers of meat resembling pork belly were in fact crisp chicken skin. Something that resembled soft cheese turned out to be the flesh from a cod’s head mixed with sour cream. Fermentation, one of the most transformative kitchen techniques, is used to good effect on the ‘malt granola’ and fermented grains, both served with the claw-on leg and breast of partridge. The New Nordic technique of scorching and burning is used successfully on both kale and cauliflower, and a smoky aubergine purée (coloured green using mint) served with Irish-inspired potato scones was sublime. Th
Cast an eye over the menu and it’s evident that Golden Union can talk the talk – fish delivered daily from sustainable waters, grade-A potatoes, a combo of two frying oils changed at least four times a week, and freshly made beer batter. The point is, it can walk the walk too. Fish is chunky, flaky and perfectly cooked in a light, crispy, complementary casing; chips are crisp, firm and fluffy; pies and fish cakes are own-made and look it – there seems to be no weak point. Decide to eat-in and the top-of-the-range large cod and chips will set you back £12.95. Side dishes are priced at the expensive end of the scale. The decor is retro with a knowing wink: tiled walls, plastic-topped wooden tables and chairs, and plastic tomatoes filled with ketchup. The music is up to date and not too intrusive, combining well with the busy atmosphere – and the vibe is maintained by young staff who seem genuinely proud of what they’re serving. Chances are you’ll be planning your return visit before you’ve even paid the bill.
This enthusiastically outlandish spot has managed to achieve what many London restaurants earnestly desire but rarely deliver – it is out-and-out good fun. There’s a joy evident in every element of the place, from the Roaring ’20s decor to little touches like the ‘press for champagne’ buzzers at each booth. The menu skips between Russia and Europe, cherry-picking treats: starters include platinum vodka shots chilled to -18°C, and venison tartare, while mains feature ‘humble pie’, three-birds burger and chicken kiev. BBR is the sort of venue you can imagine Bertie Wooster taking his pals after a day at the Drones. At lunchtimes, it has been adopted by business types, with deals sealed over excellent food and ostentatiously shaken cocktails, as well as vintage bubbly and by-the-glass Château d’Yquem. We can recommend the classic prawn cocktail with piquant pink sauce, and the immensely gratifying borscht made with Orkney beef. The mariner’s fish pie is another favourite, crammed with salmon and haddock in a thumpingly rich cream. Desserts are as playful as the rest of the operation; try a strawberries and cream soufflé or freshly flambéed crêpes suzette. A meal here isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking to intrigue and impress, this place is hard to better.
Franco’s attracts a highlly diverse clientele: an un-trashy Euro crowd including businessmen, well-groomed young women who like the convenience of all-day dining, the odd film director, and even – ordinary Londoners who find themselves in deepest St James's and needing sustenance. Inviting pavement tables, which bring a classy continental feel to traditionally English Jermyn Street, are most popular; there is also a relaxing café-bar and a more formal Italian restaurant next door. In the café-bar, where a long maroon banquette provides seating at a series of round dark wood tables, is a huge silver Taittinger champagne bucket, a glass dome protecting morning pastries, a little nude art, and copies of the International Herald Tribune and Financial Times. Staff hit the right balance of friendliness and correctness – happy to chat about this or that, concerned how we wanted the house salad dressed, and whether the coffee should come before, with or after dessert. People don't generally come here expecting the greatest food in London, but neither are they likely to leave here feeling hard done by. The place is open from breakfast through dinner, and at all stages it has been delivering the goods with solid quality through decades of doing business. Their £18 'complete breakfast' – full English plus a pastry, juice, toast and tea or coffee – will set you up for the day. Outside breakfast it's mostly classic Italian (pasta a strong point, lasagna a best seller) with a few dishes