Our pick of the season’s best new restaurants for group dining and private events
Walkie Talkie fine diner welcomes new exec chef Daniel Fletcher from The Square
It’s the service, really. That’s how you know these guys are chasing a star. Confident, charming (in an Italian way), fluid; there when you need them, invisible when you don’t – the choreography is impressive. And that’s not even meant to be the USP. Besides some rather good 39th-floor views of the river and the city, Fenchurch has Daniel Fletcher to shout about. Once of the venerable Square, he’s taken over the 17-strong Rhubarb team at Fenchurch. Well-presented best of British is the thread here, with inflections that reveal a man who’s worked in kitchens abroad. The frozen horseradish that accompanied his Orkney scallop ceviche, with turnip, cucumber and dill was clever and just right for a spring tasting menu. Slick business lunches are best served in the Viñoly Room, which is separated from the main space by glass. There are, of course, more than a few view-busting, business-first restaurant options in the City nowadays, but the combination of plus points here makes Fenchurch stand out.
Exclusive use: 40
Private dining: 16
1 Sky Garden Walk, EC3M 8AF | 0333 772 0020
THE NATIONAL CAFÉ
The refurbed restaurant enhances group experiences of the National Gallery, while standing tall in its own right
Even after a redesign, this Peyton & Byrne-run restaurant raises no competition to the world-class art collection that engulfs it. Instead, defined by modern, muted pastels, it’s a becalmed antechamber in which groups can prepare for – or absorb – a private viewing. Pass through its own entrance on St Martin’s Place and, to one side of a central thoroughfare, there’s a bar turning out high-level, contemporary cocktails. On the other, the main dining space is shrouded in blown-up prints of impressionistic skies that accentuate its high ceiling, while the towering Lord Nelson looms through large windows. The old admiral also lends his sense of place to the next-door Trafalgar Room, where empty, ghost-white picture frames can build anticipation or prompt contemplation. Throughout, Breton-striped staff lighten the formality to pitch-perfect, business-modern levels, and the Mediterranean menus are skillfully executed.
Exclusive use: 120
Private dining: 28
The National Gallery, WC2N 4DN | 020 7747 5942
Francesco Mazzei’s second D&D London opening opts for a more casual approach
We enjoyed one of our favourite meals of 2016 at Sartoria when it relaunched with former L’Anima head chef Francesco Mazzei as chef-patron. Here, the Calabrian chef introduced modern dishes with a focus on southern Italy, but retained the Savile Row restaurant’s formal edge. Now Mazzei has reopened the former Almeida restaurant just off Upper Street. Newly decked out in simple, rustic surroundings, this modern trattoria provides a more casual, relaxed offering to Sartoria: case in point – there’s (excellent) pizza on offer. Alas, his signature dish of lasagne pastachina isn’t on this menu, but we did enjoy a light burrata with salty anchovy and platefuls of well-made pasta. Groups can enjoy all of this the 35-capacity, Barolo-laden Wine Room. We’ve just heard that Mazzei will launch a third D&D-backed venture at Battersea Power Station this summer. We’re intrigued to see what he’ll do next.
Private dining: 15, 35
Semi-private dining: 30
30 Almeida Street, N1 1AD | 020 7354 4777
High-end, pan-Indian cuisine in rather regal surroundings
It’s not every day you see a dining room painted royal blue – it takes a minute to get used to. We’re told as we sit down in The Lalit hotel’s Great Hall (once the assembly space of the students of St Olave’s Grammar) that every element of the space has been carefully considered: from a hue inspired by Indian palaces to the half-ton cut-glass chandeliers that hang from its vaulted ceiling. Said Indian theme runs through into the kitchen, with exec chef Arup Dasupta serving up the likes of a rich tandoori salmon served under a smoky cloche with pea purée and pickled cucumber horseradish cream. The subcontinental immersion can be taken a step further by pairing things with Indian wine – our sauvignon blanc was notably good. And don’t get us started on the naan bread: a cast-iron tandoor turns out unleavened bliss in full view of diners. This space is screaming out for glamorous banquets and gala dinners but if something more intimate is in order, take over the Headmaster’s room next door.
Exclusive use: 88
Private dining: 30
181 Tooley Street, SE1 2JR | 020 7628 5005
Big name French chef Stéphane Reynaud opens his first restaurant outside Paris
Taking over the basement space in the Boundary Hotel, Tratra is a new sophisticated spot for French classics. Its name comes from the colloquial French term for ‘traditional with a modern twist,’ and the restaurant does just that with its interiors and food. High ceilings, plush red chairs and dim lighting is met with an open kitchen and exposed brick columns. The oval tables with banquette seating tucked into the corners feel slightly more secluded and would make a lovely spot for a small client dinner. Having grown up in a family of butchers in the south-central region of Ardèche, it comes as little surprise that Reynaud’s menu celebrates meat and charcuterie. Sharing platters of the likes of jambon noir de Bigorre and saucisson de Lyon work well for standing receptions, while hearty cassoulets of black-leg chicken in a rich morel sauce suit sit-down dinners.
Exclusive use: 150
2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD | 020 7729 1051
LEICESTER SQUARE KITCHEN
Edwardians Hotel London group adds its most central ‘kitchen’ yet to its portfolio
We wouldn’t normally think of tourist trap Leicester Square as the spot for private dining. However, after enjoying the Mexican/Peruvian fusion fare at Monmouth Kitchen when it opened last year, we had high hopes for its new WC2 sister at The Hampshire Hotel. Design is in-line with the brand – a vast open space, with floor-to-ceiling windows and bold partitions. It’s within this space that semi-private dinners can be held, while guests can still enjoy the views of the famous, sometimes celeb-filled square. The Mexican side of the menu is fine: Josper-grilled chorizo tacos work well with a Mayan spiced chicken ensalada. However, we think the Peruvian half is more versatile for groups. Don’t miss the tiger prawn tacos, prettily dressed sea bass ceviche, or any of the heavier dishes from the robata. The cherry wood-smoked Aztec negronis slipped down well on our visit too. Bookers will be pleased to hear that service is impeccable – with Nobu’s former head of private dining Amir Jati at the group’s helm, that’s no surprise.
Semi-private dining: 24
31-36 Leicester Square, WC2H 7LH | 020 7666 0902
This Marylebone wine bar’s former life as a pub makes for a private dining spot with bags of atmosphere
Don’t let the olde worlde stained-glass windows and mock-Tudor exterior fool you; Clarette is a restaurant that manages to match comfortable surrounds with clean, on-trend dishes. With Chateau Margaux heiress Alexandra Petit at the restaurant’s helm, the main draw of Clarette is the wine. Of course you’ll mainly want to quaff on the French stuff, but those who feel so inclined can also enjoy a stop off at Madeira, Italy or Greece along the way. Food is more restrained in choice but not in flavour. Charcuterie is the obvious choice, but we’d recommend trying the charred cauliflower and tahini sauce, followed by braised octopus or the signature Frenchy mac ‘n’ cheese. If you want the full atmosphere of the restaurant, head to the second floor where a curtained-off area acts as a semi-private space, while up one more floor is the larger PDR, which comes, naturally, with an impressive wine display.
Private dining: 14
Semi private dining: 8
44 Blandford Street, W1U 7HS | 020 3019 7750
A new terrace in Shoreditch for summer entertaining
When we heard that barbecue street-food favourite Smokestak was opening a permanent site last year, we were pleased. When we heard that it would open an outdoor terrace available for exclusive hire this spring, we really started to get excited. Found on a graffiti-clad side street in Shoreditch, the space carries the same cool industrial vibe as indoors. Expect dark wooden tables with benches, metal accents like glass-panelled iron doors and funky hanging heat lamps for when the weather doesn’t want to play ball. It’s especially suited for laid-back summer parties for creative companies and barbecue-style events where you want to take the food offering up a notch. The signature wood-burned beef brisket on brioche buns are a real crowd pleaser, but opt for a few salads to share too. Lighter than the mains, they still carry strong meaty flavours like crispy bacon with English asparagus and parmesan hollandaise.
35 Sclater Street, E1 6LB | 020 3873 1733
BOKAN AT NOVOTEL CANARY WHARF
Three sky-high floors of stylish drinking and dining, with some of the best views in town
Context is important. Maximum dining enjoyment is achieved when the style of the room is sympathetic to its surroundings. As such, the de rigueur rusted-metal, reclaimed-timber look can be a touch contrived. But looking out over Docklands, from the top of Canary Wharf’s latest high-rise, it somehow works. At the very least, this fashionable, dimly-lit space exceeds the expectations of its Novotel wrapper. Even better than the view of the Thames’s famous oxbow, are head chef Aurelie Altemaire’s beautifully presented dishes. The artful beef tartare – dotted with colourful and lively sauces and textures of sesame brittle – is a case in point, and stood out from a memorable tasting menu. There’s no private dining room, so events are done floor by floor. The restaurant on 37 can only be hired from either 6pm-8pm or 9pm-11pm, but the group can then go up two floors to hire another area (which includes a rooftop and terrace) for post-dinner drinks.
Exclusive use: 200
Private dining: 75
40 Marsh Wall, E14 9TP | 020 3530 0500
Looking for a PDR in a specific area? Check out some of our favourites in these popular neighborhoods: