24 July 2014

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Restaurant Roundup: autumn 2013


Our pick of the top new destinations for group dining.

Casa Negra - Tacos, tequilas and a subterranean playroom

How considerate of the La Bodega Negra team to bring its Mexican fiesta un poco closer to the City with Casa Negra. This Shoreditch newcomer, on the site of the Great Eastern Dining Rooms, might not have quite the same seductive, clandestine glamour as the West End original, but the food is every bit as good, the tequila flows freely and there’s a subterranean Playroom for 250 (available to hire from Sunday to Wednesday and some Thursdays).

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Party crowds can match margarita flights to tacos from the finger food menu, while those in search of dinner will be pleased to know that the restaurant is equally group-friendly. Tables of 12 or 14 can be booked in the main dining room, while the separate Kitchen Table seats 18.

Berners Tavern - Cool dining in Schrager’s latest hotel

Golden boy Jason Atherton’s latest opening sits within Ian Schrager’s über-cool London Edition hotel, which launched during London Fashion Week in September (according to Tatler, ‘EVERYONE’ – yes, they used ALL CAPS – was there).

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Groups wishing to follow in the footsteps of Kate Moss, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne should check out the 14-seater private dining room and make guestlist enquiries for the hotel’s ‘secret’ basement nightclub. Long-time Atherton lieutenant Phil Carmichael mans the pans, dishing up seasonal dishes such as chargrilled quail with Alsace bacon, smoked tomato jam, shallots and parsley. We also love the sound of fish Fridays and Sunday roasts.

Dining in the Shard

The restaurant count in London’s tallest skyscraper is about to double. Once the five-star Shangri-La hotel is up and running (there’s still no official opening date but we’re told to expect a launch by the end of the year), there’ll be a further three places to eat and drink in the Shard – among them London’s highest bar, Gong, on the 52nd floor.

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Until then, you’ll have to make do with views from slightly lower but equally vertigo-inducing floors, where there are already three excellent dining options for groups. At level 32 is Rainer Becker’s Oblix (tel: 020 7268 6700), where dinner can be served on a semi-private granite table for 12. Modern Brit Aqua Shard (tel: 020 3102 1655) on the 31st floor has a private dining room for 22, while its new Chinese sibling Hutong (tel: 020 3102 1655) on level 33 has two swish PDRs, seating 16 and 24

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Chotto Matte - Nikkei food fit for an emperor

Japan meets Peru across three elaborately decorated floors in this Soho bar and restaurant masterminded by Ping Pong founder Kurt Zdesar, who was also instrumental in bringing the Nobu brand to London. We’re told the master sushi chef at Chotto Matte used to slice sashimi for the Emperor of Japan, so expect top-notch nigiri ahead of treats from the robata grill. 

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There’s no dedicated PDR but, with two dining rooms (55 and 100 seats apiece), separate sushi, robata grill and raw bar counters, as well as a cocktail lounge with live music, there are plenty of part-hire options for groups. Check out the cool Japanese street art, too.

Coal Vaults - Soho underground private dining and cocktails

Originally a 19th-century coal store, this Soho cocktail bar and restaurant still has a good bit of grit about it. The basement space, all bare bricks and exposed metal, will age well and we love the concept of roll-your-sleeves-up ‘feasting dinners’ – five-hour shoulder of lamb, anyone? – for groups.

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The 100-capacity restaurant has five private dining vaults (one seating 12, another 10 and the rest six apiece) and there’s also an intimate bar. Every dish on the menu is listed with a matching cocktail selection, so expect the place to have a lively atmosphere.  

Marianne - Small and beautiful dining

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London’s smallest fine-dining restaurant has room for just 14 guests, so groups are naturally looking at exclusive use rather than private dining options here. With a bit of notice, and a £2,000 minimum spend, chef/patron Marianne Lumb (who you may recognise from Masterchef: The Professionals) will not only give you the run of her gaff, she’ll also design bespoke menus for your dinner party. Peer through the kitchen hatch and you can even watch her prepare your poached turbot with cèpes or cannon of organic Cotswold lamb.

Union Street Café - Southwark dining from Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay’s latest venture (not a partnership with David Beckham, as mooted pre-opening) spreads across two floors of a vast warehouse space in Southwark, with room for a large casual restaurant as well as a slick downstairs cocktail bar.

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It offers private dining for up to 18 in the aptly named Media Room, which comes with a 60in HD screen, surround sound, Apple TV and Blu-ray – lunchtime film screening, anyone? – as well as fast Wi-Fi. Cooking leans towards Italy with the likes of veal carpaccio, linguine vongole and home-made gelato. 

Village East - Bermondsey refurb

Back in business after a summer of refurbishments, the Riding House Café’s older sister in Bermondsey has been completely transformed. It now has two new cocktail bars (well, why the hell not?), a new raised dining area with views of the open kitchen and a ‘Little Room’ (seating 20) for private dining and meetings.

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The menu’s a mix of sharing plates and hearty mains like milk-braised pork shoulder with kale and parsley, perhaps served with a side order of smashed potatoes with crispy chicken skin and gravy. That’ll do us.

Chop Shop - Haymarket hotspot for meat and meetings 

Beef, lamb or pork? It’s all about the bone-in meat at the butcher-shop inspired Chop Shop on Haymarket, where hefty grills come preceded by ‘jars’ (a duck liver mousse, say), ‘planks’ (charcutery or cheese) and ‘crocks’ (think pasta ‘pies’ or meatballs).

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There’s no private dining room as such, but the restaurant is on two floors, with the 50-seater basement level available to book exclusively. Kick off with cocktails: our Passione Arrabiata (a tequila-based marvel with passionfruit, chilli and lime) was great. 

And finally... the best of the rest

Karam Sethi (ex-Trishna) looks hellbent on drawing groups to his new Mayfair Indian. Gymkhana (tel: 020 7768 6566) offers ‘feast menus’, two sunken PDR vaults (for eight and 12) and private hire of the two main (50 seats each) dining rooms. 

There are plenty of options for small groups at Iberian newcomer Notting Hill Kitchen (tel: 020 7313 9526). Spread across three Edwardian town houses, the restaurant is made up of six inter-connecting rooms, one of which (seating eight) is dedicated to private dining. 

Playing tribute to the great French chef and cookbook writer Marcel Boulestin, St James’s newcomer Boulestin (tel: 020 7930 2030) is all about the classics: jambon persillé, tête de veau and Dover sole Meunière, plus a formal PDR for 40. Classy.

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Sophie’s Steakhouse & Bar in Covent Garden (tel: 020 7836 8836) has created a new private dining area on a raised platform at the back of the restaurant. Theatrical curtains sweep back to reveal seats for 25 guests.

It’s fresh country frolics for Chelsea, where a new branch of Bumpkin (tel: 020 7591 5445) continues the group’s rustic-chic theme across a 70-seater restaurant and PDR for 30. There is also a 65-seat ‘Secret Garden’ with views of The Chelsea Gardener. 

The ‘wine workshop-bistro’ chain 28:50 has a new branch in Maddox Street (tel: 020 7495 1505). Expect the usual French food matched to by-the-glass wines, plus a spacious basement room for private parties. There are also two terraces and a Champagne bar. 

More casual than the Mayfair original, Hush St Paul’s (tel: 020 7236 1544) has clothless tables, an open kitchen and a semi-private dining area for 20. Group menus feature classics like Caesar salad with poached egg and bacon and, of course, a great steak.

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American diner and late-night bar Honky Tonk Clapham (tel: 020 7627 6257) combines gut-busting food, cocktails and craft beers with live blues and jazz. PDRs for up to 30 are tucked away backstage, ‘behind the wardrobe door’. 

Secs in the City - Caroline Bamford, secretary at Grant Thornton UK LLP at Finsbury Square, shares the restaurants she books for business dining

It’s important to listen to what the clients like when it comes to booking restaurants.  New Street Grill (tel: 020 3641 1845) is one of their favourites and, luckily for us, it’s just around the corner. They also love Roka (tel: 020 7580 6464) as the food is incredible, and you can’t beat the views from Duck & Waffle (tel: 020 3640 7310).

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I regularly book Gaucho Broadgate (tel: 020 7256 6877) – you know it’s going to go down well and our clients do love a bit of steak during a business lunch.

For private dining rooms, I was recommended Bleeding Heart (tel: 020 7242 8238) and it’s become a favourite. Chiswell Street Dining Rooms (tel: 020 3544 1659) is great for short notice as it’s close by, and the service is top-notch.

If I’m looking for something a bit more relaxed but with high-quality food, Mark Hix’s Tramshed (tel: 020 3641 8345) is just a bit different and, of course, the food is delicious.

When it comes to booking restaurants and bars for my colleagues, I usually go for The Drift (tel: 0845 468 0103), because the cocktails are lovely and the location is perfect for after-work drinks. The English Pig (tel: 020 7600 9707) goes down well too.

Coming soon

Andina (E2) Soho’s Peruvian mega-hit Ceviche heads east, with a larger bar, PDR and live music.

HIX (EC2) Chicken and steak’s on the menu as Mark Hix takes on a 5,000sq ft site in Devonshire Square.

Steam & Rye (EC3) Nick House takes inspiration from 1940s train travel for a new restaurant and bar on the old Prism site.

One Canada Square (E14) Pub whiz kids Tom and Ed Martin do Canary Wharf with an ex-Ivy Club chef.

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Foxlow (EC1) Will and Huw from Hawksmoor move to Clerkenwell with a van-load of reclaimed school interiors.

Mirror Room & Holborn Dining Room (WC1) Duo of Van der Horst restaurants within the Rosewood London.

The Ape and Bird (WC2) Food-led craft beer pub from the team behind Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and Mishkin’s.

Barrafina (WC2) We hear the tapas powerhouse is opening a second site – with PDR – in Covent Garden next year.

Jackson & Rye (W1) The duo behind Grillshack bring East Coast America to Soho with help from Richard Caring.

Polpetto (W1) Russell Norman’s Soho Italian moves to a larger site in Berwick Street.

Kurobuta (W2) A Japanese izakaya (pub) from ex-Nobu head chef Scott Hallsworth.

The World’s End Market (SW10) ‘Market fresh’ food in a gin palace turned restaurant with cinema and bar. 

This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, autumn 2013

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