Listings and reviews (29)
Back in 2020, when office workers abandoned the City to work in their pyjamas in the countryside, the restaurant scene seemed to be on its last legs. It was certainly in no position to be introducing newcomers to the block. Or so we thought. In came Piazza Italiana, in the very midst of the pandemic, to set up shop in the heart of the Square Mile. The Italian(ish) establishment is set in an impressive venue with a strong private members’ club feel. It’s grandiose, looks great in photographs and is filled with diners perhaps more interested in the deals they can broker in its hallowed halls than in the food itself. The sumptuously decorated room is olde worldly to boot. Once home to the British Linen Bank and now tastefully restored, it’s all gilded cornices, wood panelling, imposing columns and marble finishes. The menu offers a wide variety of dishes hailing from across Italy and is extensive enough to please even the pickiest eater from your office. Think: pastas, focaccias and carpaccio. The drinks list boasts hundreds of different wines, with many of them available by the glass. There were some hits and misses, but really everything was good Note that servings are fairly small, so go ahead and eat the tidily arranged pile of complimentary nibbles they provide at the start – a selection of grissini, focaccia and carasau paired with dips and oils presented in finicky glass vials. There were some hits and misses, but really everything was good. The hits: its spaghetti carbo
The classic London café Richoux has re-emerged in Piccadilly after the original in St John’s Wood became a Covid casualty. Chefs Jamie Butler and Lewis Spencer, both of whom hail from Michelin-starred restaurants, are at the helm and charged with breathing new life into the institution of yore, elevating its appeal to today’s diners. Similar to version 1.0, the revamped Richoux pays homage to the grand brasserie, so you’ll start by passing through a chic little Parisian patisserie counter area (updated now with the obligatory Instagrammable flower display to placate any potential millennial clientele). The main dining room is dreamily staged with genteel correctness but unstuffy enough to be your everyday lunch spot if you so pleased. Even though it’s located in the buzzy but Walmartian centre of London, this is no Hard Rock Café. Richoux has a classically simple, assured menu that spans staple dishes, like french onion soup, welsh rarebit and croque monsieur, that I’m sure bankers and tourists will nip in for. But if you’re looking for slightly more ambitious fare, you can find it here too. We opted for three courses, kicking off with very good salmon sashimi in a sweet onion dressing that will replete your omegas with more succulence than expected. The kale salad with beetroot houmous and roasted almonds was not hugely memorable but stuffed with stellar produce, nonetheless. Of all the starters, though, don’t miss out on the breadbasket which boasted a few spears of piping
Unassuming and easy to miss, Plu sits on a quiet street in St John’s Wood. Owned by chef Elliot Moss (who trained at Le Gavroche), this intimate 22-seat spot has the potential to become an institution in time, if it can iron out some notable kinks. Its seasonal menu is of the tasting variety – and can set you back a cool £45 per person for a three-course Sunday lunch outing right up to £125 for a more lavish dinner. Suffice to say, Plu is not for run-of-the-mill dining, but a worthy choice when you want to impress. While the exterior might be understated, the interior is far from it: the walls are clad in bright turquoise velvet, chairs are upholstered in blue velour. It’s a setting akin to your posh great aunt’s formal dining area. But unlike a stern senior relative, when we pulled through on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the beaming manageress made us feel warm and welcomed, in what could otherwise have been a stuffy environment. One highlight from the ever-changing multi-course menu (including a few surprise extra mini courses) was Plu’s veggie spin on a classic beef tartare – juicy beef tomato chunks mixed with herbs and 25-year-old Spanish wine. Another classic reimagined was the house Snickers bar: peanut and butterscotch bits enrobed in a thick dark chocolate bar with mousse-textured nougat balls on the side. The cheese plate, although not particularly cheesy, was a pleasing array of pine-nut baklava, with a flourish of vodka pear purée and a dollop of whipped cheese tr
Formula One ex-boss Flavio Briatore’s latest ‘crazy’ venture is a heaving pizzeria in Marylebone. While the name seems more suited to a pizza chain (just me?), this swanky spot is far from it. The decor is elegant and simple with a few lush accents: bottle-green booths and grandiose chandeliers. Frothy photos of celebrities devouring pizza line the walls, adding some tongue-in-cheek humour to the space. An open kitchen dedicated to the making of fior di latte (cow’s milk mozarella) sits next to the entrance, so you can watch the chef soak and serve your perfectly creamy, perfectly stretchy mozza ball, then team it with a few sweet Sicilian tomatoes for a simple but dreamy starter. The team at Crazy Pizza run on a seemingly constant high. The all-Italian waiters were dynamic and attentive, world champion dough-spinning pizzaiolos performed dances to infectious music pumping all night long, while live musicians entertained the crowds. A single-sheet menu includes classic or ‘crazy’ pizzas, a few salads, that mozzarella, and not much else. Starters, like baby spinach salad with pine nuts and a zingy honey-mustard dressing, are not to be missed, as the simple flavours and fresh ingredients prep the palate for the carbs to follow. The yeast-free, skinny-base pizzas are the main draw. If you’re feeling flush, you could check out the ‘Crazy’ part of the menu: some of the loftier options, like the black truffle tartufo, top out at a mighty £45. We stuck to classics on our visit – th
A simple sandwich board outside Miel Bakery draws in visitors, calling out the day’s specials. An aroma of baked goods that wafts down busy Warren Street. Inside, it’s not a place to linger (there’s no puffy couch, no wi-fi), though the small space does boast some lovely touches: French boulangerie-style tiles, millennial-pink tables and the fact that you are served straight from the on-site kitchen. Close to the station and many an office block, Miel attracts lunchtime crowds with its focaccias and freshly-made sandwiches. Most of Miel’s ingredients are sourced with care from France (Normandy flour, Charentes butter, Valrhona chocolate). All the pastries and breads are baked small-batch throughout the day, so it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll sink your teeth into something melty, warm and doughy, straight from the oven. This is perhaps why the price tag is on the steep side, with a humble croissant ringing in at £3.50. But we think it’s money well spent: pastries are so flaky and delicate, they rank among the best the capital. The rest of the menu is a mix of London faves (chunky chocolate sea salt biscuits, spicy-sweet cinnamon buns) and Parisian sweet eats. Don’t miss the ‘shiny AF’ (their words) chocolate tart, filled with molten dark chocolate that oozes over the edges of the crust as you bite into it. There’s also an excellent shortcrust biscuit, topped with caramelised pecan nuts and drizzled in sticky caramel sauce. Drinks, like the decor, are simple, with a choice
Perched on one of the busiest corners of the always-heaving Portobello road, Negozio Classica is a good place to see and be seen. Pull in during cocktail hour, and you might very well feel like you’ve stepped into an enoteca in Italy – the place will be packed with a lively assortment of suited businessmen, homely locals and, of course, tourists – clutching glasses of Aperols while nibbling on a selection of antipasti. Come at any other time of day, and you will probably be as hard-pressed to find a seat. The wine bar, part-owned by Tuscany’s revered Avignonesi winery, is well-known for its wide selection of quality Italian wines but should be as talked about for its equally delicious food menu. The inside is casual, dark and cosy – a simple space where folks can hang out, devoid of any obvious decor. Service is friendly, though you might find the waiters hard to pin down, but, as in Italy, that’s part of the charm. If you’re just dropping by for glass and a bite, the bruschetta fontina is a good place to start: crisp cuts of sourdough covered in a mound of creamy fontina cheese and a generous drizzle of truffle oil. Also satisfying was the fresh bread with olive oil and aged balsamic, combined with a bowl of parmesan chunks for added texture. If you’re sticking around for a main, order the beef fillet tagliata: it was perfectly charred on the outside, while wonderfully pink and soft on the inside. The shaved courgette and rocket salad that came with this dish – sprinkled wi
Upstairs at Amuse Bouche
The direct translation of the French term ‘amuse bouche’ is ‘mouth amuser’. Quite fitting, then, as this dining room above a pub is indeed a pleaser of the palate. Follow the racy blue lighting from the street level bar to a neighbourhood fine-dining bistro that boasts inventive tasting menus at very reasonable prices. The interior is fairly generic, with pop-art posters that line the dark walls and marble tables scattered around. It’s a strange mix of white-cloth-napkins-fancy meets chill. The lone waitress was ever so attentive and keen to talk us through the menu – very helpful, as every dish had a lovely twist in the tale. We loved the home-baked sourdough bread, complete with a creamy strawberry houmous (that didn’t taste of strawberry but was delicious nonetheless), a roasted head of garlic that you could scoop out by the spoonful and a scrappy confit duck rillette. As it was a Sunday, we could choose between crab, octopus, guinea fowl or pork for the mains (or indeed, a bit of everything), complete with sides of wonderfully crisp tenderstem broccoli, glazed artichokes and new potatoes doused in a hazelnut confit. The flavours were rich, the textures on point and the ingredients fresh. It was dessert where our by-now high expectations were not quite met. Although inventive – think a dense fig and pistachio cake with Marmite snap and an apricot choux pastry – the flavours were bland and didn’t quite come together. Still, for fine-dining foodies on a budget, AB is a stron
The first outpost of the slick coffee brand from Saudi Arabia, Jolt brings marbled iced lattes and condensed milk-infused pour-overs to Fitzrovia. The look here is cutting-edge cool, with monochrome and marble, brushed gold finishes and arched mirrors. A word of warning though: the only ‘seating’ is in the form of skinny leather benches around the side walls, so get your rose latte or charcoal lemonade to go. But though the interiors may not invite you to linger, Jolt’s friendly staff put plenty of warmth back into the mix. As well as good-looking coffee, there was a tempting selection of halal nibbles (pastries, sarnies, cookies, salads), all with Middle Eastern flavours. For proper sustenance though, order off the short menu: we loved our veggie burger, a brioche roll stuffed with roasted sweet peppers, fried halloumi and touch of rose harissa. Equally swoon-worthy was the grilled cheese sandwich, which came oozing with melty cheese wedged between crisp, buttery chunks of ciabatta. Baked goods are strong. The cookies, soft as if straight from the oven, were stuffed with white chocolate chunks and cranberries, or salted caramel with a peanut butter drizzle. The setting at Jolt may be a tad stark, but the food is surprisingly homely.
Set in the heart of Soho, Söderberg is a Swedish-inspired bakery, dishing out open sandwiches, meatballs and waffles by day – and smörrebröd platters plus cocktails at night. While the café itself might look more at home on the streets of Stockholm, this growing chain actually originated in Scotland. In the day, you can nip in for a light bite, a work session (the wi-fi is high-speed and you’re never pressured to leave), or simply to escape the crowds of shoppers on nearby Oxford Street. Once inside, make sure to order its signature kardemummabullar (cardamom buns). Baked on site, they’re sweet, sticky and thickly laced with the fragrant spice. Söderberg is also a coffee shop. And it’s one that knows its brew: not too bitter but strong and full-bodied. The beans are courtesy of master Swedish roasters Johan & Nyström: not an easy find in this city. The rest of the short menu is unpretentious and features a few simple classics, like open sandwiches and perfectly poached eggs. None of the food is especially out of the ordinary, but the fresh homemade sauces and pickled veggies help to elevate the plates here. Decorated in mid-century Scandi style, Söderberg is all wood panels, sleek lamps and Swedish glasses. But just before you think it’s too clean-lined and functional, the comfy couches and friendly servers lend it a welcome touch of homeliness. You can even bring your own vinyl and give it a spin on their decks. If you’re in the area and in need of a pitstop, Söderberg is we
Redemption (Seven Dials)
Redemption Bar. The popular meat-free, booze-free, gluten-free and refined-sugar free café (try saying that five times fast) has set up a flagship in Seven Dials. While the menu might be free from vices, it’s certainly not lacking in flavour. Seasonal fruit and veg, salads, seeds and superfoods are all superstars, so go ahead and ‘spoil yourself without spoiling yourself’, as its tagline prompts. The interiors are suitably on trend: plush velvet chairs, marble tabletops and some token neon pink signage to win the youth vote. A zen post-yoga playlist adds to the wholesome, peace-and-love feel. Unsurprisingly, it’s a hit with yummy mummies and pilates bunnies. On to the food. The raw pad thai bowl packed a punch with its spicy dressing and chilli accents, but it was fresh, flavourful and summery – filled to the brim with courgetti and carrot swirls, and topped off with roasted cashews that accentuated the flavour of the lime and spring onions. If you’re after something a bit more hearty, the risotto is exactly that – a bright purple beetroot-infused dish dotted with garden-fresh peas and mint – a light yet wholesome combo. The flourish of crispy pecan nut ‘cheese’ crumble added an interesting texture and nutty flavour to the dish. If you tend to find dessert menus a calorie-laden minefield, take advantage of Redemption’s healthier spin on the sweet stuff. The thoroughly under-rated ‘bliss balls’ (raw cacao and date truffles covered in shredded coconut) were rich, chocolatey and
Cakes and Bubbles
With a menu by patisserie grandioso Albert Adria (considered by some to be the best pastry chef in the world), this small space at the Hotel Café Royale is a destination for pastry buffs. Surroundings are old-school swish: lots of marble, gold-leaf walls and drinks trolleys of fizz. The windows face busy Regent Street: you can gawp at passers-by. They can gawp back. The ‘cake’ concotions are radical. A twist on a pancake was airy, filled with a yogurt foam and topped with a crème brûlée shell; a miniscule stroopwafel ice-cream sandwich came served in an elaborate box and then popped in a dainty foil bag to keep cool. Sometimes it went too far: the ‘carrot cake’ was just a few grated tendrils of the vegetable wedged between paper-thin wafers. Get the signature chocolate cork instead: it’s the most decadent, rich – and weighty – thing here. But there’s no sugar-coating the prices. A single creation costs between £6 and £12, and to feel even remotely satisfied, you’ll need several. They’re so dainty that they can seem lost on the plate, but also so light (some just a few grams) that at least there’s no guilt. Oh, and everything is also low-sugar and colourant-free. In short, don’t go chasing a fat sugar rush. This is a place for patisserie pilgrims.
Wild Food Café (Islington)
A spin-off of the Covent Garden original, this Islington branch of the long-standing vegan café is bigger, brighter and actually bookable. The light, airy space is colourful and slick: think plush pink velvet chairs, marble counters, potted plants and a large open-plan kitchen. Oh, and you get quadruple-filtered tap water. The wood-fired, gluten-free, holier-than-thou pizzas are made with quinoa flour, veggie mix and other gut-friendly ingredients that make for a base that holds up well against a traditional slice. Our ‘Italian’, topped with a creamy cashew cheese sauce, herb oil and pine nuts, was ace. The pasta substitute, on the other hand, fell flat: limp courgetti noodles just didn’t quite cut it. Starters were equally mixed: the crispy vegan flatbread, covered in tangy wild-leaf pesto, was spot-on, but steer well clear of the polenta, which was murky and watery and dotted with too-soft squash and overly pungent truffle bits. But there was a happy ending: the multi-coloured Raw Rainbow Cheesecake, layered with matcha and cashew creams, was as delicious as it was pretty. Smooth and zesty, but free of refined sugars, it was a perfect example of WFC’s ethos: transforming nourishing ingredients into something moreish and indulgent.