Few London districts have remained as on-trend as Chelsea for so long. For more than 50 years, since the heady days of swinging London, SW3 has been cool – an unparalleled achievement in the fickle world of fashion. Vivienne Westwood and punk kept the area vital in the 1970s and designer boutiques still pepper the neighbourhood. Sloane Rangers and more latterly the Made in Chelsea set have also made the place their home – along with a stupendous set of restaurants and bars. Here’s our guide to the best of them.
Words: Phil Harriss
Aubaine Brompton Cross 260-262 Brompton Road, SW3 2AS (above)
The urbane Aubaine mini-chain of all-dayer cafés originated here, and its ethos suits Chelsea well. All Gallic bases are covered for breakfast, from a simple pain au chocolate (patisserie is baked in-house) to a whopping ‘full French’ involving Toulouse sausage and Alsace bacon. Soothing Bloody Marys are on hand too, especially popular during weekend brunch when Aubaine’s daily menu of Med-influenced fare comes into play. Decor of distressed wooden furniture and soft, flattering lighting helps ease you into the day.
Tom’s Kitchen 27 Cale Street, SW3 3QP
Michelin-starred Tom Aikens’ boisterous, stripped-back brasserie line is now a mini-chain, but this original branch still caters for local brekkie hunters. The wide-ranging choice includes healthy superfood granola, though you can also go the indulgent route with Rhug Estate sausage sandwich or Belgian waffles. You want classy? Head for the truffle eggs Benedict. Robust British-inspired grub is added to the weekend brunch menu and is the mainstay at lunch and dinner.
Daphne’s 112 Draycott Avenue, SW3 3AE (above)
A neighbourhood Italian bolthole and gastronomic destination rolled into one, Daphne’s is handsome, refined and utterly assured. The space resembles a tasteful and expensively clad Italian townhouse and comes into its own for lunch. Bold regional flavours characterise the menu: octopus carpaccio with crispy soft-shell crab, followed by roast rump of lamb with caponata and salsa verde, perhaps. And for dessert, strawberry gelato is guaranteed to clear any rain-clouds away. As expected from Caprice Holdings, flawless service is a given.
Rabbit 172 King’s Road, SW3 4UP
A unique, characterful and youthful offshoot of The Shed, Rabbit offers a pleasing country-meets-city setting to enjoy a Chelsea lunch. The family behind the enterprise owns a Sussex farm, and the kitchen gets the best from the ample produce it provides. Start with confit rabbit and chervil on crispbread, then continue with sharing plates of seasonal ingredients imbued with cheffy creativity: pork chop with fennel salsa, nasturtium leaves and crackling dust, say, followed by honeycomb on mascarpone with tarragon sugar.
La Famiglia 7 Langton Street, SW10 0JL (above)
For nearly 40 years, this friendly, family-run Italian has been providing locals with Tuscan-based food ‘cooked the way mama taught us’. Blue-and-white tiled interiors channel the spirit of provincial Italy whatever the weather, while the sun-trap terrace is much sought after on summer evenings. First-rate ingredients and Italian know-how combine in regional classics such as pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup), or roasted veal with Swiss chard. Service gets praise and the Italian wine list is fun to explore.
Le Colombier 145 Dovehouse Street, SW3 6LB
Didier Garnier’s stately French stalwart takes huge pride in the trappings of classic Gallic hospitality – from dicky-bowed waiters to artfully turned vegetables. It’s no wonder the old-school Chelsea brigade flock to this handsome cream-and-blue dining room and its sought-after terrace. The cooking is timeless and executed to perfection, including peerless, precisely spiced beef tartare, and expertly cooked slabs of turbot with earthy mushrooms and buttered mangetout. Pick from one of London’s best French wine lists and unwind at your leisure.
Worth paying a bit more for
Elystan Street 43 Elystan Street, SW3 3NT
After leaving The Square, stellar chef Philip Howard aimed to create a world of loosened-up luxury at Elystan Street. Lunchtimes in the light-filled space can be subdued, but evenings buzz to full houses of appreciative diners. From the lunch menu, we loved the smoked mackerel velouté with Porthilly oysters, leek hearts and smoked-eel toast. But if you’re after unapologetic richness, come for dinner and order breast of duck for its sweetly-sticky side order of caramelised onion and endive tart.
Kurobuta 312 King’s Road, SW3 5UH
Scott Hallsworth’s buzzy King’s Road hotspot gets rave reviews from readers. It’s the second Kurobuta after the Marble Arch site, and stays true to the spirit of the original – from the stripped-back walls and blaring indie rock soundtrack to the cheerful Aussie staff. The fun menu has sections such as ‘junk food Japan’ (fried hot chicken wings, perhaps) and ‘something crunchy’ (shrimp tempura with kimchi mayo). Other highlights include raw salads, superb sushi and a great bar. Fair prices too.
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay 68 Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HP (above)
Some 18 years down the line, Gordon Ramsay’s three-Michelin-starred flagship still thrills. Grand interiors, supremely polished service and a breathtaking wine list ensure this is top-end dining at its best. The kitchen, led by Matt Abé, exhibits brilliant craftsmanship to keep the menu firmly in London’s vanguard – witness pitch-perfect renditions of Ramsay’s signature dishes (the legendary ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon, say), along with newer ideas such as meaty halibut on crab and cauliflower couscous. A peerless London aristocrat.
Vineet Bhatia London 10 Lincoln Street, SW3 2TS
Renowned Indian chef Vineet Bhatia has relaunched his refined townhouse restaurant, offering a no-choice tasting menu for £105 – served with no music, no lunch service and almost no carbs. Instead, you get startlingly inventive cooking, from Bhatia classics (tandoori smoked salmon) to fresh creations such as tandoori lamb chop in a coffee and jaggery marinade. The presentation can be pretentious (tuna tartare borne aloft a cloud of dry ice), but flavours and textures are vividly precise – and endlessly enjoyable.
Big Easy 332-334 King’s Road, SW3 5UR (above)
American-sized portions of dude food are promised by this New Orleans-inspired crabshack, which also has sites in Canary Wharf and Covent Garden. Now in its 25th year, Big Easy is as popular as ever, cramming hordes of bibbed customers into its borderline-twee interpretation of a good-time soul-food eatery. Best deal at weekend brunch (including unlimited Prosecco, coffee, Mojito or house wine) is a choice between the limitless pork and chicken barbecue, and the ‘lobster fest’. Plucky, friendly service gets the tempo swinging.
Bluebird 350 King’s Road, SW3 5UU
With a plum location and plenty of space on the street-level terrace and first-floor restaurant, Bluebird woos the King’s Road set with a please-all menu of globe-spanning flavours, lighter bites at the adjacent Bluebird Café and a large horseshoe bar. Its weekend set brunch provides ample options for vegetarians, pescatarians and meat-eaters: starting with the likes of crushed avocado with sprouts and poached egg on sourdough, and continuing, perhaps, with beef ragu, or seared sea trout with piperade and olives.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 6RD
Claude Bosi’s cooking is slightly more relaxed here than during his time at now-closed Hibiscus, although the style is certainly haute – likewise the prices. Hence Sunday lunch might begin with duck jelly with oscietra caviar and smoked sturgeon. To follow, roasts are kept below £30, though alternatives such as sea bream with morels, coffee and tarragon hold even more allure. As ever, the appeal of this special-occasion destination is amplified by the gloriously light first-floor dining room at Michelin House.
Maze Grill Royal Hospital Road 79 Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HN
Located on the site of Foxtrot Oscar, Gordon Ramsay’s third Maze Grill (after Mayfair and Park Walk) follows the successful formula established by the original, serving up rare-breed steaks (from exemplary sources) alongside fish and poultry hot off the grill. Beef also stars at Sunday lunch, perhaps a 35-day dry-aged sirloin, served rare with slow-braised shin, Yorkshire puds and bone-marrow gravy. Exposed brick walls, parquet floors and olive-green banquettes create a chic, casual setting; it’s worth bagging a basement booth if you’re with friends.
The Ivy Chelsea Garden 197 King’s Road, SW3 5ED (above)
Perfect for “lazing on a sunny afternoon” is one verdict on the resplendent manicured garden outside Chelsea’s manifestation of The Ivy. Inside isn’t so bad either, mind: a stately panelled front room and verdant Orangery within a vast Edwardian building. The kitchen delivers first-rate renditions of The Ivy’s “cosy but sophisticated classics”: crispy duck salad with five-spice dressing, the staple shepherd’s pie loaded with slow-cooked lamb shoulder, plus desserts such as blackberry sundae. Juices and salads please Chelsea’s fashionistas.
The Phene 9 Phene Street, SW3 5NY
This teeming Chelsea hostelry has one huge selling point: its luxuriant heated garden, which gets packed on warm days and balmy evenings. Inside, the ‘Feeney’ sports a high-ceilinged saloon bar that’s a perfect setting for revellers knocking back house Mojitos. Otherwise, the conservatory-style dining room draws lunching ladies who feed on lemon and marjoram chicken breasts, or broccoli, pumpkin and lentil salad. Pud might herald espresso sorbet and cardamom snap. Alternatively, a stripped-back ‘deli’ dispenses sharing platters.
Barts Chelsea Cloisters, SW3 3DW
Few bars have such a handle on fun as this surreptitious speakeasy, located a couple of corridor turns into Chelsea Cloisters. Negotiate the doorman and dive into a world of 1930s kitsch – complete with ruby-red wallpaper and well-thumbed dressing-up box. All the classic cocktails are present (think Whiskey Sour with Bulleit Bourbon), but we recommend the tasting selection of house cocktails served in teacups, or specials such as Mystic Note (a gramophone filled with lemongrass-infused Tanqueray gin, apple juice and gomme).
Eclipse Walton Street 111-113 Walton Street, SW3 2HP
A swish, swinging playground for Chelsea’s party crowd, Eclipse aims at creating a sense of inoffensive lavishness – courtesy of a marble bar, white leather, and oriental partitions. Its mixologists work hard to turn the merriment up to 11. Drinks such as Gold Digger (whisky, Grand Marnier, fruit juices, ginger beer) embody the playful concoctions presented in a handy map of sweet, sour, rich and light tastes. Giant bowls of sharing cocktails are a route-one approach to hitting the dance floor.
Olde worlde pubs
Anglesea Arms 15 Selwood Terrace, SW7 3QG (above)
Laudable attributes flow from this long-serving favourite. The welcoming bar boasts guest beers and wooden seating; a south-facing terrace gets packed in summer; and the food is great. A restaurant to the rear operates under a pitched glazed roof, while the open kitchen delivers a skilful, speedy and constantly changing menu of gutsy, wholesome nourishment. In winter, you might fancy veal meatballs with linguine; spring might bring wild-garlic gnocchi. Generous portions, sensibly priced wines and sweet staff are further incentives.
The Pig’s Ear 35 Old Church Street, SW3 5BS
A charming, almost rustic local boozer in the Chelsea backstreets, The Pig’s Ear comes complete with twinkling fairy lights, jumbled furniture and music memorabilia. Pints of signature Pig’s Ear Ale (brewed locally), Orchard Pig cider and Belgian lagers go down well with a gooey Scotch egg at the bar, or you can nip upstairs to the oak-panelled dining room for well-executed British comfort cooking: wild mushrooms on toast, perhaps, or lamb casserole. Roasts rule the roost on Sundays.
Made in Chelsea
Simply walking around Sloane Square can bring on feelings of hyper-reality, but if you need a real semi-reality TV fix, you might be able to spot cast members of the hit show, Made in Chelsea, at one of the venues below – all of which have been used as filming locations. ‘Is that Binky?’
A pulsating bar-restaurant that’s become the frenetic hub of Sloane Square
Cheyne Walk Brasserie
The sizzle doesn’t just come from the grill at this glittering Gallic venue – head for the upstairs salon.
A stylish modern Indian restaurant with basement cocktail bar: very Chelsea
Once a boozer, now a restaurant, a cocktail bar – and a Sloane magnet
A trendy, glammed-up gastropub in residential SW10
Jam Tree King’s Road
Jam-flavoured cocktails and a sun-trap beer garden entice the beau monde here
Made in Chelsea meets Lawrence of Arabia at this high-octane party club/bar
Late-night mayhem might ensue at this Thatcher-themed members’ bar
If you want to see all that Chelsea has to offer, check out our list of the best restaurants in Chelsea or if you’re looking to explore further afield, have a look at our guides to Marylebone and Covent Garden.
This article was published 18 May 2017