London’s restaurant scene is booming and many of its newest arrivals come with private dining rooms. Book your Christmas dinner in one of 2016’s best
Words: Heather Steele
Let’s kick off with one for the traditionalists among you. Opened in June this year, Strut & Cluck (020 7078 0770) is a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant in Shoreditch that only serves turkey (don’t worry, veggies – the charred whole cauliflower is one of the best dishes on the menu). But you can forget the cranberry sauce here – there’s not a dry leg in sight. Instead, the bird comes as sticky, spicy ribs and as schnitzel and koftas, all marinated in punchy spices. In the basement, a Bauhaus-inspired space they call The Music Room seats eight for private dinners among vintage vinyl and radios.
With its optically illusive architecture, the new M by Montcalm hotel in Tech City is hard to miss. Take the ear-popping lift up to its 17th floor and you’ll find Searcys-run Urban Coterie (020 3837 3108) – part members club, part restaurant. Michelin star-holding chef-patron Anthony Demetre has created an enjoyable menu that includes the likes of pig’s head croquettes, scallops in a mellow XO sauce and a hunk of monkfish with cocoa beans, all matched with unusual wines and some of the best views east London has to offer. The private dining room comes with a glass wall – looking onto the restaurant – that can be frosted on command.
Having founded The Richmond pub in Hackney and Elliot’s Café in Borough Market, Brett Redman set his sights on Dalston for Jidori (020 7686 5634). Centring on Tokyo street-food yakitori (chicken skewers, served in different ways) and taking its name from a breed of fowl, the restaurant combines a traditional imported Japanese grill in an open kitchen with minimalist Scandinavian design. It’s not all poultry, though. Small plates include a fresh and spicy chilled onsen egg with udon noodles, and its katsu curry scotch egg has become an Instagram hit. After the tasty morsels of meat, there’s just a single dessert: ginger ice cream with miso caramel, sweet potato chips and sesame praline. It’s as delicious as it sounds. Within the restaurant, there’s a 12-seat table that allows groups to watch the chefs in action. Exclusive hire is also an option; there’s space for 100 standing guests and 40 for dinner.
On a side road off Worship Street, where the City blurs into Shoreditch, Indian restaurant Darbaar (020 7422 4100) is more bowler hat than man bun. There’s an emphasis on sharing dishes, but it’s not about informal feasting – this is a place where a well-heeled host can demonstrate old-school Indian largesse. Working in an open kitchen with a traditional clay oven, ex-Cinnamon Kitchen head chef Abdul Yaseen turns out modern Indian cuisine. After we tried the tasting menu, Abdul’s salmon tikka with kokum berries and saag paneer shot to the top of our long list of dishes to return for. Around the regal, midnight-blue main room, there’s a bar, a 12-seat chef’s table and a larger private room offering sleek seclusion for up to 20.
Strong on atmosphere, Leman Street Tavern (020 3437 0001) strikes a fine balance between traditional English pub and smart City restaurant. The menu features flavourful dishes, with the likes of grilled sea bass, slow-roasted shoulder of lamb and roasted corn-fed chicken as staples. For private affairs, groups of up to 22 can book the bright and spacious Chambers PDR, which sits to one side of the main restaurant.
Hackney haunt Il Cudega (07557 913119) was made for supper clubs. Channelling the feel of an antiquated Italian eatery, this deli, restaurant and wine bar now caters for events. In a railway arch near Broadway Market, Il Cudega celebrates Milanese delicacies via its popular supper clubs, which can be taken over by groups. Goat prosciutto and melt-in-the-mouth beef featherblade both lingered warmly in the memory – as did the team’s hospitality. Exclusive daytime use is also available, while a new catering service can supply external festive events.
Polished service and plentiful event space combine to make 155 Bar & Kitchen (020 3544 3895) a Clerkenwell gem. Here, a modern British menu rules, with interiors by local studio Barber & Osgerby that feature Scandinavian-style decor and furniture. The overall result is pretty stylish – and backed by some attractive event options. The Coterie is the plum private-dining area, or there are the Vinyl Lounge and Piano Lounge, which suit tastings, workshops, meetings and parties.
Across town, walk into the ground-floor bar of Hatchetts (020 7409 0567) and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve arrived at a shabby-chic Parisian bar à vin – quaint, but no place for quality food. Head downstairs to the sepia-toned dining room, however, and things begin to look promising. This new Shepherd Market eatery is keen to shout about its chef Andrew Evans (ex-Murano, among others) and, tasting the exquisite Devonshire crab starter, we could see why. The full menu includes elegant modern British dishes and an enticing selection of wines. Three further underground spaces host private lunches (autumn/winter is best) and dinners (year round).
Those chasing an oriental menu for the office do should consider House of Ho (020 7323 9130) on Percy Street: bookers can expect a smart townhouse feel paired with interesting food. Our favourite of the six private spaces is the six-seat Wine Room, with green leather seating and a wall lined with fine wines. Chef-director Ian Pengelley has devised an intriguing Vietnamese menu. The star of the show? An entire soft-shell crab, brought to the table in a cloud of liquid nitrogen. Dramatic.
One of 2015’s most popular pop-ups bagged a permanent site in Soho late last year. From the team behind ramen joint Bone Daddies, Shackfuyu (020 7734 7492) served up one of 2015’s most Instagrammed desserts, and has been the talk of the town for foodies ever since. This year, it opened up a 16-seat private room with a downstairs bar. We recommend ordering the tasting menu: guests can sample seven of the best dishes with a paired flight of sake.
Climbing plants, rattan chairs and candles in lanterns make the latest addition to The Bloomsbury Hotel a really inviting inside-outside destination. Taking its name from Virginia Woolf’s famous novel, Dalloway Terrace (020 7347 1221) offers alfresco fine dining beneath a retractable roof, while heaters are on hand over the festive season. Under a striped black-and-white canopy, the team serves British artisanal cuisine, backed by a 50-strong wine list, to groups of up to 40. We enjoyed a delicious Balmoral Estate venison carpaccio, while our mains of seared scallops and lemon sole were simple dishes executed with aplomb.
Over in Marylebone, Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse The Harcourt (020 3771 8660) has been transformed from fine boozer into fine-dining restaurant. Enter through the oak-panelled bar and – past the smart eight-seat Whisky Room – you’ll find the ornate, glass-roofed Summer Room. Upstairs, two striking private spaces – one painted white, the other dark charcoal – showcase the Regency architecture, with smatterings of contemporary art. The modern European menu shows a pronounced Nordic influence: highlights include reindeer with pearl barley, faggot and lingonberry; and cod served with cuttlefish, mussels, samphire and cucumber. The bar has a cocktail menu built around interesting flavours, such as violet and cloudberry.
We love ceviche, so we were keen to give the poke a try at Black Roe (020 3794 8448) in Mayfair. Pronounced ‘poe-kay’, this Hawaiian dish traditionally consists of marinated, chopped ahi tuna, served with seasoned short-grain rice. The dimly lit space has black walls, with on-trend blue banquette seating, neon signs and filament lights. A 20-seat private dining room in the basement keeps the vibe slick with an open kitchen and tanks full of lobsters. Groups can order small plates, including eight poke dishes (our favourite is the scallop with Sriracha citrus salsa, topped with roe), as well as spiced meats and fish cooked over a kiawe wood grill in the main restaurant.
Simplicity is all at Hanger (020 7386 9739) in Fulham Broadway. The surrounds are bare and utilitarian, while a concise menu focuses on – that’s right – hanger steaks: large, small or in a sandwich. Once your carnivorous desires have been sated, you could do worse than head downstairs to the 45-seat subterranean cocktail bar to enjoy an old fashioned or some other well-made contemporary classic.
From the outside, Westbourne Grove’s Farmacy (020 7221 0705) looks like the sort of place you’d go to pick up a prescription. Inside, it’s more like the orangery of an English manor house. At its centre is the verdant Alchemy Bar, adorned with plant life and surrounded by tables for 40 diners. There’s lots of choice on the veggie menu: nachos or avocado toast as starters; sourdough pizza, clean curry and veggie Earth Bowls (for each bowl sold, £1 is donated to water charity Drop4drop) are among the main courses. The restaurant is open from breakfast and has a private dining space that doubles up nicely as a meeting room.
Overlooking Trafalgar Square, (020 7930 8855) derives its name from the area’s most famous resident, Horatio Nelson – one of whose titles was Duke of Bronte. Anyone familiar with the restaurant’s former incarnation – Strand Dining Rooms – will be immediately struck by the vast venue’s new identity, masterminded by designer Tom Dixon. The dark-wood panels and low lighting have been replaced with bright interiors combining pastel-pink bucket chairs, turquoise booths and gold finishes. The multilevel space has been cleverly designed to create different dining experiences. It’s upstairs on the semi-private mezzanine level – where a wrap-around dining bar works well for canapé receptions – that groups can be catered for without losing the buzz of the statement bar below.
No one pulls off an ivory tuxedo quite like Sir Roger Moore. Except, perhaps, the waiting staff at Blades (020 7659 1511). The new 60s-inspired dining room at Hush Mayfair is co-owned by Roger’s son, Geoffrey. Blades takes its name from the private members club frequented by James Bond’s boss M. Fiery steak tartare precedes the likes of lobster thermidor, USDA beef covered in club stilton butter, and stargazy pie with flaky pastry covering lobster and rabbit. Photographs from Geoffrey’s personal collection adorn the walls.
How many multi-area restaurants do you know of where the private dining room is serviced by the less formal menu? The Fir Room at Piquet (020 3463 2599), just off Oxford Street, is one such rarity. Decked out in dark wood and pewter tables, this all-dayer has a small, enclosed, dimly lit dining snug, which is the only bookable table. There’s no door, so getting naked and dancing on the table will be tricky. The food, designed by chef Allan Pickett, is French and British and modern, and comes on little sharing plates. The real highlight is the bar’s unusual cocktails (try the Gypsy Lady) and the affable American who makes them.
Considering Paris stalwart Le Taillevent’s two-Michelin-starred reputation, we were expecting brilliant things from the group’s first UK outpost. We weren’t disappointed. The dark-wood furnishings and grand back bar at Les 110 de Taillevent (020 3141 6016) give the whole place a Mad Men feel that works well for business. The food is an exercise in understated haute cuisine: seared duck foie gras, beautifully dressed whole sea bass and one of the best desserts we’ve had this year – a quartet of dainty French classics called Remembering Our Childhood.
The bar serves 110 well-chosen wines by the glass – hence the restaurant’s name. Velvet drapes separate the private Lamennais Room from the main restaurant. This high-ceilinged, 28-seat space is where the well-versed team will have their food and wine matching knowledge tested, creating bespoke menus for events.
Seymour Place is undergoing something of a gastronomic revival. Among a slew of elegant restaurants that have opened on this Marylebone street is Bernardi’s (020 3826 7940), a vast, elegant Italian at the Marble Arch end. Service is slick and the menu a delightful selection of perfect homemade pasta and tasty cicchetti. While the ground-floor restaurant has fetching leather booths, downstairs is a cocktail bar called The Dog House, where feasting menus can be enjoyed by up to 40 guests. We’d recommend ordering the pappardelle with veal and fennel sausage, and sprout tops. It’s unbelievably good. For smaller events, there’s a hidden snug, seating up to eight people.
On the other side of the Thames, the new casual dining space at Adam Byatt’s Trinity (020 3745 7227) works a treat for lively private dinners. Guests walk through a formal dining room – all linen and abstract art – before being ushered up to a small, noisy space with an open kitchen. It’s odd, but fun – like being privy to a secret eating den – and cool enough to hire for a relaxed Christmas party. The Clapham Old Town restaurant recently turned this previously unused area into a space for communal tables and small-plates dining. It’s named Upstairs at Trinity, and the menu couldn’t be more straightforward: 12 beautifully turned dishes that are ambitious and full of Mediterranean flavours.
On floor 35 of Europe’s tallest building, Ting by Shangri La at the Shard (020 7234 8108) mixes oriental touches with European ingredients. And, marking the arrival of exec chef Gareth Bowen, it now has the Chef’s Market Table. Groups of eight dine at a curved counter, one side with skyline views and the other looking towards the open kitchen. Four-course menus use ingredients bought at Borough Market on the day. We enjoyed Dorset crab with a refreshing cucumber consommé; then red mullet with fregola sarda, fennel purée and a punchy chicken sauce. Each course is expertly matched with wines from around the globe and the views, naturally, are outstanding.
Just across the river from the City, Ropewalk (020 3793 0202) feels a world away from the all-over corporatism on the other side of the Thames. In a lively part of Bermondsey, amid the eclectic 20th-century paraphernalia of architectural salvage company Lassco, the ambience is more free-spirited dinner party than board meeting – and all the better for it. The Barge Bar serves à la mode cocktails, but – wait for it – there’s no on-site kitchen. Instead, groups can call on the Disappearing Dining Club, experienced hands at delivering flavoursome fare in unusual locations. Food such as pork belly with chorizo and anchovy boulangère can be taken in the Textiles Room or the larger Eisenhower Room: both are fine options for memorable lunches and dinners.
We’ve been big fans of Blanchette since it opened in Soho a few years back, so we were really pleased to hear that a second branch, Blanchette East (020 7729 7939), was opening on Brick Lane. Specialising in French small plates such as crispy frog’s legs and cheese beignets, the bistro merges decadent belle epoque design (marble tables, Parisian antiques) with east London edge (distressed walls and hanging plants aplenty). In a twist on the original, the new branch sports a menu that leans towards North African dishes: on our visit, we enjoyed merguez sausage rolls with harissa mayonnaise and baked Moroccan eggs. For events, its Côte d’Azur private dining room can seat 19 for dinner among murals by artist Aldo Gigli.
The team behind steamed bun sensation Bao has opened a second, larger space on Windmill Street in Fitzrovia. Even now, the no-bookings Soho original has queues over the road, so it was great to hear that this modern, minimalist spot has a basement space which can be booked for groups of up to 19. Expect established favourites (hello, pillowy confit pork buns) mixed in with new sharing dishes such as squid noodles in trotter sauce and lamb with sour green chilli dip.
When Jason Atherton announced his first Japanese restaurant, Sosharu, earlier this year we were a little disappointed to learn that the Clerkenwill eatery didn’t have a PDR. Happily, in August he opened Kisetsu at Sosharu (020 3757 5175), a 10-seat private counter built around the kitchen pass. Here, a daily changing menu of fine-dining dishes is served in ‘kappo’ tradition – a succession of small plates prepared in front of guests by exec head chef Alex Craciun. Close enough to diners to be able to hand them ingredients to try as he prepares each dish, Craciun can create bespoke menus of 6-10 courses using seasonal produce. When we popped along, our favourite dish was the tuna open temaki.
Kensington is a natural location for one of Caprice Holdings’s latest openings. Starting with The Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden late in 2014, five Ivy-branded restaurants have now sprung up in London. The tried-and-tested formula – which will soon be deployed once more at a new site in Tower Bridge – works well at The Ivy Brasserie Kensington (020 3301 0500). Art deco-style touches of pewter and tiles are matched with dark leather banquettes, while the menu focuses on classic British dishes done well. There’s an air of exclusivity about the place and, while there’s no PDR, there is a stylish semi-private mezzanine where guests can soak up the atmosphere against a backdrop of mirrored walls and eclectic period paintings.
When was the last time you booked in Victoria? The second branch of M Restaurant (020 3327 7776) was the first in an impressive line-up of openings earmarked for the area over the next year. As with the City original, guests choose between two dining options before sitting down: M Raw, which serves Japanese and Peruvian small plates; or M Grill, the steak lover’s choice. Vibe-wise, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the City original – roomy, design-led spaces and low-level, clubby muzak – but this branch offers even more private-dining choices than the original. For gourmands, there’s the option of a handsome tasting menu covering land and sea, while the mezzanine wine shop hosts group tasting sessions.
Casita Andina (020 3327 9464) is the fourth restaurant from Ceviche founder Martin Morales and is an effort to recreate the vibe of the small, family-run restaurants found in his homeland of Peru. In the middle of ever-busy Soho, the upstairs space – available for exclusive use – is far more peaceful than down below, with an almost country-kitchen feel about it. Perhaps the most notable thing about the food is that every dish is gluten-free, and pretty special. The avocado fritters and the rich sangrecita – a Peruvian black pudding – make a really satisfying starter, but the signature ceviche is the standout.
BACK IN THE GAME
Finally, there have been some big-name relaunches this year. Mayfair’s Sartoria (020 7716 7887) is a suitably style-conscious neighbour to the bespoke tailors of Savile Row, bringing a little slice of Italy to this most English of streets. After an extensive refurb, the D&D London restaurant reopened its doors with ex-L’Anima chef Francesco Mazzei as chef-patron. He brings with him modern food with a focus on dishes from his home region, Calabria: think home-cured cod marinated in liquorice or tortellini with burrata, ’nduja and balsamic vinegar. The revamp has also added a bar and cicchetti counter, two sleek private dining rooms, and a 250-bin wine cellar. The last of those is our favourite spot – and the place where charming sommelier Michael Simms hosts intimate dinners and wine tastings for up to six guests.
After the launch of Theo’s Simple Italian in Kensington, the eponymous pan rattler has turned his attention back to Theo Randall at the InterContinental (020 3641 1883). A decade on from its launch, the much-admired Italian restaurant’s makeover has brought in olive and grey tones, with marble touches. The updated menu features dishes such as spaghetti with brown shrimps, artichoke, chilli and butter, and baked cheese soufflé. The existing PDR has got a contemporary new look, plus an extra 40-seat space that connects via a sliding door. A kitchen table for eight has also been installed, as well as a sommelier’s table in the bar.
Long recognised as ground zero for business dining, City institution 1 Lombard Street (020 7929 6611) is back on our radar with a refurbished private dining space, The Botanical Room. Walk through the deal-brokering hubbub of the brasserie, then descend the stairs next to the elegant Dome Bar and you’ll find it. There’s now more natural light, while the colour scheme and well-chosen artwork befit the room’s new moniker. Here, daily specials supplement a lean carte, while no fewer than 12 set menus proffer cosmopolitan cooking that covers most bases. For standing receptions, take note of the substantial canapé menu – baby smoked haddock monte carlo is the winner.
Family-run Santini (020 7730 4094) has been serving up plates of hearty Italian fare for more than 30 years. Frank Sinatra, no less, made it his regular whenever he would cross the pond. Following a recent refurb, the newly opened Butterfly Bar has room for up to 40 guests for a drinks reception. Upstairs, a new private dining room accommodates 30 diners among Italian antiques. Food has been given the Venetian treatment, while the wine list covers the best of the country’s growing regions. There’s now also a 40-capacity alfresco terrace – available for exclusive hire – which is set up nicely for open-air dining in the summer, and turns into a cigar terrace complete with blankets and heaters in the heaters in the winter.
All around town, there are old favourites getting eve
The Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe has been treated to a refresh as the theatre marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Elegant design and views of St Paul’s add to the atmosphere. The Bull Room separates groups from other diners with a stylish glass and copper screen. Ten people can dine à la carte with food that promotes seasonality and Britishness.
Last time we visited Hogarth-inspired members club Blacks the talk was of an impending kitchen refurb. Owing to the quality of our salt beef sandwich that day, we vowed to return and we’re pleased to report that, along with updated facilities, there’s a fine modern European menu. Non-members are welcome for private affairs in these characterful surroundings.
The in-house restaurant at the May Fair Hotel has gone Mediterranean. The smart fixtures and clean wooden surfaces of the street-level main space still shout to the local business crowd, but Spanish and Italian small plates now dominate the menu. Smoked lamb carpaccio with crème fraîche, delivered beneath a cloche, added theatre to our meal. There’s a comfortable private dining room and bar, which come with exclusive access to an upstairs terrace with a glass canopy.
The Prince Albert in Battersea is fresh from a welcome refurb. Above the main pub – whose multilevel layout allows for some clever semi-private spaces – sits the Bridge Room. Taking 50 for dinners and 80 for receptions, it features olde worldy portraits, a grand fireplace and (our favourite) an antique book library, pleasingly decorated in Farrow & Ball tones. Posh chicken kievs, homemade corned beef, and beer soup make event menus fittingly British.
Sumosan Twiga, the big-hitting, Russian-backed Japanese restaurant, is leaving Mayfair after 14 years, setting up home in Knightsbridge from October. Now in partnership with Flavio Briatore (the former Benetton Formula I team manager), the new incarnation is designed to be even swankier than its predecessor. The site has room for 300 guests over two floors.
As we went to press, we heard that London’s only Michelin-starred Peruvian restaurant was undergoing a refurb. We’re told Lima Fitzrovia will be renaming its bar Sotano and covering its walls in murals by Australian artist Bluey Bryne. Following head chef Robert Ortiz’s recent travels in Peru, the menu is set to undergo its first-ever overhaul too. Exciting stuff.
Want to impress your guests with the very newest openings? These places will be open in time for Christmas…
Flemings Mayfair hotel and chef Shaun Rankin are almost ready to lift the curtain on their hotly anticipated Ormer Mayfair. Opening as part of the hotel’s £14m refurb, the restaurant will take inspiration from Rankin’s Michelin-starred establishment in Jersey, focusing on light dishes such as sweet Jersey lobster ravioli in a crab and lemongrass bisque.
This winter, renowned New York restaurant Aquavit will open in the new St James’s Market redevelopment on 1 Carlton Street. The eatery will showcase the best of contemporary Nordic design and cuisine, with dishes such as butter-poached cod, and seared duck breast with pickled quince and buckwheat porridge.
Sam and Eddie Hart, the brothers behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis, are set to open a 60-cover taco restaurant in Borough Market in November. El Pastór will have a mezzanine level dedicated to creating tortilla. We’re keeping our ears open for news on event space.
Eneko Atxa is set to open an informal Basque restaurant at One Aldwych in late September. Renowned for his three-Michelin-starred Azurmendi in Bilbao, the chef will bring an inventive modern menu with him: we like the sound of suckling pig brioche and pig’s trotter bocata. Expect a floating wine bar on a mezzanine level too.
This article was first published in Squaremeal, Christmas 2016