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RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Italian tapas bar opens in Soho, punters rave, critics drool - sound rather familiar? Well, after the run-away success of Bocca di Lupo earlier this year, it's now the turn of the Venetian wine bar-themed Polpo to mop up the plaudits. If you can face the queues (there’s a no bookings policy so our tip is get there early) you’ll be rewarded with a stunning and cosy interior, small plates of northern Italian cuisine and fast, friendly service.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Sibling to the popular Mayfair Lebanese of the same name, this second Massis has sprung up in Paddington’s Sheldon Square sporting all the Middle Eastern swagger of the original, although at about twice the size. Start off with a well-made cocktail, move on to authentic mezze such as hoummos, moutabal and spicy lamb sausages, alongside freshly baked flatbreads, and wash it down with a bottle of Lebanese red.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... If it’s a heavy dose of soul you’re after, you could do a lot worse than head to the Blues Kitchen, the new Camden restaurant and bar from the brains behind Paradise by Way of Kensal Green and The Westbury. Offering up a trendy, accessible take on southern American blues bars, knock back some bourbon or cocktails, order a bowl of buffalo wings with blue cheese dip and tap your feet to the live bands.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Earls Court residents can rejoice – finally the area has a late-night bar that offers something different from the Bohemian goings-on of The Troubadour. Surrounded by retro kitsch American décor – think pinball machines, vintage wallpaper and a light-up dancefloor – chomp down a steak sandwich, knock back a few cocktails, jive to some live rock’n’roll, and get washed away in bygone Americana.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... When adventurous modern Japanese cuisine is replaced with crowd-pleasing classic Cantonese, you sense that a restaurant is courting the masses. Which is exactly what’s happened at Atami, the Westminster restaurant that’s owners have relaunched as Made in China. Nothing is done terribly, but the culinary ambition on display before is gone, while the decor is spruced up but remains largely unchanged.
FOOD AND DRINK EVENT (December 2009)... Who’s cooking dinner? It should read more like who isn’t cooking dinner? The annual fundraiser in aid of the Hammersmith Hospital's specialist leukaemia centre is like a Who's Who of chefs. In a stellar evening on 8 March, 20 top chefs, from Phil Howard to Richard Corrigan, will each prepare a four-course meal for a table of 10, before being auctioned off to cook at the winner’s house. For more information click here.
FOOD AND DRINK EVENT (December 2009)... It’s Christmas, so join the five chefs pictured and spare a thought for the hungry. The philanthropic quintet stepped in to help feed the homeless at one of the central London soup kitchens supported by Street Smart, the annual charity drive that takes place in November and December. But you don’t have to up ladle and pour soup yourself, the charity just asks that diners donate £1 on top of their bill at any one of the 600 participating restaurants across the UK to go towards helping the homeless.
FOOD AND DRINK EVENT (December 2009)... With just a fortnight until Christmas, it’s time to start cramming in those festive events while we’ve all got some mid-Advent cheer. So get along to Rotunda on 15 December where £37.50 will buy you a private viewing at Kings Place Art Gallery, a three-course dinner, mince pies, carols and mulled wine. What's more, the restaurant has two tickets to give away to one lucky Square Meal reader. For more info click here.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... As things get chilly this time of year, when better to revel in a bit of Nordic hospitality? At The Pipeline in Aldgate, the Swedish owner has mixed a bright and airy Scandinavian-themed bar with an apparent love of rock ‘n’ roll to good effect. Knock back £6 cocktails or go native with a Lonkero or a Lapin Kulta beer, munch on meatballs, pickled herrings and cheese platters and jive to some slightly incongruous surf classics.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... A neighbourhood Italian tweaked to the high gloss of Mayfair, Babbo – which translates as ‘daddy’ – does a good job of juggling a homely rustic vibe with the sense of occasion W1 residents expect. Bare brick and cream walls, crystal chandeliers and white tablecloths make for an elegant setting to tuck into veal milanese or a lasagne made to grandma’s secret recipe, then apple with pine nuts pie and caramel sauce.
FOOD AND DRINK EVENT (December 2009)... If the first few months of the year are just too bleak a period to bear without an event to look forward to, why not escape abroad for a few days? Top end travel company Cox & Kings has given Square Meal readers the perfect excuse to do just that, by offering a free night’s stay at restored baroque gem the Boscolo Hotel Astoria when you book a long weekend in Florence in the New Year. For more information read on.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Life is a cabaret, old chum – and nowhere more so than at this showy new burlesque bar and restaurant in Tower Hill. Plush velvets and hidden booths are the backdrop to glammed up waiting staff dishing out solid British grub, but it’s the on-stage performances that are the real selling point here. Afternoon and early evening jazz gives way to something a tad more risqué as night falls, before an altogether clubbier vibe sees the site through the early hours.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Chris and Jeff Galvin certainly have an eye for the spectacular. You might have thought that trumping the setting of their last opening – the 29th floor restaurant at the Hilton Park Lane – was impossible, but at Galvin La Chapelle the brothers have come close. Housed in a former girls' school done up to the highest spec, the pair’s eye for quality is on show throughout, from top-notch table settings through to the high-end brasserie dishes.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Restaurateur and Masterchef presenter John Torode plays to the strengths of his flagship London restaurant Smiths of Smithfield with his second site The Luxe. Housed in Spitalfields’ former flower market, the broad all-day offering finds something for everyone, from bacon sarnie-hungry workers on their way to the office, through to lunching ladies, cocktail-thirsty evening crowds and fine-dining fans. But does it all work?
Dear readers, it's time to bid you farewell until 4 January 2010. As you're a savvy lot, you know that no end of year message would be complete without a roundup of the best bits of the past 12 months. So without further ado, here's a selection of our favourite new restaurants from 2009. Why not try them out for yourself and post your views on the website, using the 'My Square Meal' facility (register here)?
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... The restaurant entrance may not be particularly ostentatious, tucked away on the side of its parent hotel, but walk through the curtained porch and into Dean Street Townhouse & Dining Room and a buzzy, large room decked out in reclaimed oak flooring and period Georgian touches unfolds before you. Feast on the hearty British menu, take a pick from an excellent wine list and lose yourself in the chatter of the trendy media types around you.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Those familiar with the nearby Thomas Cubitt and Pantechnicon gastropubs will know what to expect from this latest addition to the group, housed on the site of Pimlico’s old Orange Brewery. Stripped wood, refectory tables and a charming boho-Georgian vibe carries on the group's dedication to stylish interiors, and a menu of Brit dishes relies on a wood-fired oven for its reasonable and generally well-executed grub.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Thinking of popping to Barrafina but can’t face the queue? Well, with the launch of new restaurant Barrica a five-minute walk away, punters who find themselves in the West End and hankering after some authentic tapas now have another handy alternative. Sip fino and munch on salted almonds at the bar or take a table and opt for something more substantial – perhaps bone marrow with parsley and Pedro Ximénez or sweetbreads with artichoke.
RECENTLY OPENED (December 2009)... Just when you think London has enough Italian restaurants, one comes along to prove the theory wrong. Rising above the generic menus of some of the capital’s more uninspiring osterias, Mennula wins brownie points for its dedication to Sicilian cuisine. The restaurant – which means almond in the island’s dialect – features traditional Sicilian dishes such as cannoli filled with sweetened ricotta.