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29 July 2014

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Welcome to secret London: hidden restaurants and bars

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The Seagrass 2012 - IMG_5753_2_The_Seagrass_2012.jpgVisitors and tourists visiting London can be overwhelmed with choice when it comes to eating and drinking out in the capital’s restaurants and bars. Choose badly and you can find yourself in some miserable tourist-trap dining room surrounded only by other tourists. To give visitors to London during the Olympics some insider tips, Square Meal has tracked down a selection of London restaurants that are off the beaten track. Welcome to the capital’s hidden restaurants and secret bars – some of which even born-and-bred Londoners might not know about.

Top hidden restaurants in central London:

Tangerine Dream Café, Chelsea

Tucked among the flowerbeds of Chelsea Physic Garden, this canteen-style kitchen (run with panache by an ex-River Café chef) punches far above its weight in terms of the food it serves – artistically presented seasonal dishes and lush homemade cakes. The bucolic setting is perfect on a summer’s day – and ideal for a post-prandial stroll.

India Club, The Strand

Hidden up a flight of stairs in the Hotel Strand Continental, India Club comprises a curry house and bar that are like a time machine to the 1970s – in a good way. Choose from south-Indian dishes and Anglo-influenced curries, washed down with lassis or masala tea, and all available at prices that wouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary 40 years ago. A real find.

Meatmarket_2012_-_1.jpgMeatMarket, Covent Garden (pictured, left)

The ground-floor entrance of this burger sensation advertises itself with warts-and-all food shots typical of restaurants in downmarket seasort resorts. Don’t be fooled: it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, and once upstairs, you’ll be treated to juicy, southern-style burgers, huge hot dogs, and other American fast-food gems such as corn dogs and stuffed jalapeños. Prices are fair, the queue moves swiftly, and, refreshingly for this area, customers are mostly Londoners.

The Seagrass, Islington (pictured, top right)

A ‘part-time’ restaurant operating out of a Victorian pie-and-mash shop from Thursday to Saturday evenings, The Seagrass has been causing quite a stir in north London, for both its swanky food and charming atmosphere. Run by four foodie friends with a passion for quality seafood and game, it offers a three-course menu for £30, plus a BYO policy with a zero corkage charge.

Upstairs at The Ten Bells, Shoreditch

Originally a pop-up run by friends from two ambitious ‘chefs’ collectives’, Upstairs at The Ten Bells was such a barnstorming success first time around that it has now been established as a permanent fixture above Shoreditch’s Ten Bells pub. Expect playful yet sensational dishes perfectly offset by a relaxed, fun-loving atmosphere. Booking essential.

Secret cocktail bars in hidden London:

Cellar Door, Covent Garden

Loitering in a public convenience could land a chap in hot water, but louche behaviour is almost expected at these risqué converted toilets just off Aldwych. Part 1930s’ Berlin burlesque joint, part cabaret lounge, this diminutive subterranean hangout offers musical swingers, rat-pack crooners, drag divas and more.

Experimental Cocktail Club - Experimental_Cocktail_Club_2011_-_Experimental_Cocktail_Clib.jpgExperimental Cocktail Club, Soho (pictured, right)

The London outpost of a trio of in-demand Parisian joints is ranged over two intimate floors of a subtly reworked Georgian townhouse hidden in Chinatown. The door policy is notoriously picky, so dress the part, visit in small groups, and don’t even think about popping out for a cigarette in case you’re not as lucky crossing the threshold second time round.

Frank’s Café and Campari Bar, Peckham

Not a deliberately kept secret, more an out-of-the-way haunt for in-the-know Londoners, this summer-only pop-up is a rooftop bar-cum-restaurant-cum-art-space pitched in a Peckham car park. Order wine or classic Campari-based cocktails and simple dishes from antipasti to lamb kofte or braised cuttlefish with garlic tomatoes. The surroundings are less than swanky but the views of the City make up for it.

Gordon’s Wine Bar, Covent Garden

Another well-kept subterranean secret, this remarkable bar – reportedly London’s oldest – is still going strong after more than 120 years. The crepuscular, candlelit cellars drip with wax and character, and are crammed nightly with Londoners unwinding after a day at work. Tables are scarce, the ceilings are low, but the wine list is great value and the atmosphere is terrific.

mayor of scaredy cat town_2011 - IMG_0562_resized.jpgThe Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, Bishopsgate

This hush-hush bar (pictured, left) on the City's fringes has a secret entrance: thrill-seekers who book ahead and are deemed suitably cool will be met at the appointed time and place by a greeter and shown the ingeniously-disguised door to a hidden netherworld of cocktails and carousing. Despite the secrecy, staff are friendly, cocktails are tasty, and punningly named bar snacks include ‘Lord of the Onion Rings’ and ‘Meatballs of fire’.

This feature was published in July 2012.

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