Twenty-five years ago, the idea of eating out in the Square Mile conjured up images of Victorian-style wine bars where portly men in pinstripe suits would swill down claret in-between mouthfuls of steak and chops. Then Sir Terence Conran opened Coq d'Argent in 1998 and slowly but surely restaurateurs realised that the personal and expense accounts of Europe’s financial centre offered rich pickings from a food- and wine-savvy clientele. SquareMeal was founded in 1989 to guide the diners of the Square Mile to the best places to eat on their doorstep, so you can trust us when we say that these are the best restaurants in the City of London.
Best alfresco: Coq d’Argent (pictured above)
What: A landmark City restaurant in every sense, with a roof garden that continues to beguile
Why: Coq d’Argent goes for the gold standard with a considerable clutch of attractions including a diverting wine list, the good looks of a cruise liner – and gorgeous roof gardens. Different menus offer differing levels of complexity: spiced braised lamb shank with white coco beans and wild mushrooms from the Grill menu, or black truffle and ricotta tortellini with Parmentier espuma from the restaurant menu. Make sure you leave some time for a wander across the manicured lawns with a glass of fizz in hand.
Where: 1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ
What: All-day eating from the Square Mile offshoot of The Ivy, at its nicest in the namesake garden
Why: This City branch of The Ivy incorporates a restaurant, bar, private dining room and garden, all decked out in the brand’s well-groomed, colourful interiors. Breakfast is served on weekdays from a bracing 7.30am until a very civilised 11.30am and includes everything from a full English (meat or veggie) to eggy classics like a ham and cheese omelette, fresh fruit and granola for lighter appetites and lobster scrambled eggs if you like to start the day with a touch of luxury. Wash it all down with juices and smoothies as you contemplate whether you can get away with staying for lunch too.
Where: Dashwood House, 69 Old Broad Street, EC2M 1NA
What: Some of London’s best dim sum plus beautiful, colourful macarons to take back to the office
Why: One of the standouts on Broadgate Circle’s foodie hub, this deceptively large offshoot of Soho star Yauatcha makes an immediate impact with its stunning interiors and white marble bathrooms, although the biggest gasps are reserved for the sweeping curved glass wall that follows the contours of the building. Dim sum highlights include spicy Szechuan pork wontons and warm, crunchy venison puffs, while bigger plates range from truffle pork belly ribs to steamed halibut with chilli and salted radish.
Where: Broadgate Circle, London, EC2M 2QS
What: Great seafood in a calming atmosphere on the light-filled seventh floor of South Place Hotel
Why: From the moment you arrive for drinks on the gorgeous roof terrace, it’s clear that Michelin-starred Angler knows how to host its diners. The kitchen matches the sophisticated vibe with a menu of precision-tuned contemporary dishes ranging from roast octopus with taramasalata, chipirones and spicy salsa verde to light-textured John Dory accompanied by coco beans, bacon and sardines, while meat eaters might go for a tasting of Iberian pork. Pricey, but highly recommended, and service is impeccable.
Where: South Place Hotel, 3 South Place, EC2M 2AF
What: Michelin-starred gastro thrills overseen by French superchef Anne-Sophie Pic
Why: This highly ambitious French is a mighty proposition, combining inventive cooking from Anne-Sophie Pic with a location in the grand former London Port Authority building. It could be intimidating, but the high-ceilinged setting is softened by white surfaces and delicate paper art pieces. British produce is combined with supreme ingredients and techniques from across the world to conjure arresting, inventive flavours. Mackerel delicately seared teppanyaki-style then combined with matcha dashi and sherry vinegar is typical.
Where: Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, EC3N 4AJ
What: Style-conscious Cinnamon Collection outpost, aptly located in an old spice warehouse
Why: Industrial-chic design features, subtle clubland beats and an open kitchen serve as the cool backdrop to a menu that delivers modern food of impressive quality and flavour. Spicing is restrained compared to some places but the freshness and class shine through in the likes of tandoori cod with carom and nigella seeds and chargrilled duck breast with spiced confit roll. The six-course tasting menu comes highly recommended, while impressive service and an Asian-infused cocktail list cement the restaurant’s excellent reputation.
Where: 9 Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YL
What: The best place to eat in The Ned brings Mayfair glamour to the Square Mile
Why: Soho House knows that when most people want to eat Italian, they don’t want Italy’s answer to nouvelle cuisine. No, they want light bites of cicchetti and salads, tartares and carpaccios as well as indulgent staples of veal milanese and lobster spaghetti – just as you’d fine at Cecconi’s siblings not only in Mayfair and Shoreditch but Berlin, Barcelona and Miami. While Cecconi’s City might not have the intimacy of the Mayfair original it definitely has all of the buzz.
Where: The Ned, 27 Poultry, EC2R 8AJ
What: Low-key glamour and incredible views mark out Jason Atherton’s Tower 42 dining room
Why: With the air of a 1920s boardroom, City Social is custom-built for business entertaining – although it has a surprising intimacy given the scale of the setting. Pretty plates of Michelin-starred food might include saddle of Lincolnshire rabbit with Parma ham, trompette mushrooms, spelt, lovage emulsion and black garlic, or line-caught halibut with fondant potato, turnips, crispy prawns and tenderstem broccoli. Cocktails are classy, and the wine list is designed to accommodate high rollers.
Where: 24th Floor, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, EC2N 1HQ
What: Founded in 1889, this fish specialist offers a flavour of how the City used to taste
Why: The world turns on, but Sweetings refuses to turn with it. One of the City’s clutch of fabulous old-timers, this veteran has been around for more than a century, offering shellfish, seafood and savouries in two basic but likeable dining rooms. To start, West Mersea oysters or dressed crab are the safe options, ahead of simple but generous plates of fish (either grilled, poached or fried). Puddings are straight out of the nursery, while cheese or savouries beg to be ordered from a menu headed ‘bill of fare’. The wine list is suitably traditional and French.
Where: 39 Queen Victoria Street, EC4N 4SA
What: Cracking breakfasts, lunches to go and an all-weather terrace continue to impress
Why: Dark brown chairs, clean metallic lines and slate-grey walls give José Pizarro’s City tapas bar a warm and relaxed vibe, while the menu mixes pitch-perfect renditions of the classics with more contemporary ideas: we recommend the spicy chicken skewers, the house croquetas and the sugar-cured salmon with PX, lime mayo and capers. If something bigger is required, go for the hake with green beans and dry sherry sauce, before rounding off with fluffy cinnamon fritters.
Where: 36 Broadgate Circle, EC2M 1QS
What: Owners Huw Gott and Will Beckett play knowingly to the City crowd at this branch of their beefy chain
Why: The original outpost of everyone’s favourite steak chain is just over the border in Spitalfields but this City branch of Hawksmoor is tailor-made for Square Mile tastes. Dark panelling, acres of parquet and a distinct lack of embellishment conjure up an old-fashioned chophouse vibe. Fantastic breakfasts are done with a level of commitment that makes booking advisable; at lunch and dinner, flawless British steaks are further enhanced by the likes of anchovy hollandaise, buttered sprout tops or beef-dripping chips.
Where: 10 Basinghall Street, EC2V 5BQ
What: Western Europe’s highest outdoor eating area promises fabulous views if you have a head for heights
Why: It’s all about the experience at Sushisamba, from the moment the lightning-quick glass elevator whisks you up to the 38th floor of the Heron Tower. Once inside, you can’t miss the incredible floor-to-ceiling views or the covens of noisy young City types splashing serious amounts of cash at the bar. The fabulous atmosphere spills over into the restaurant, where the menu promises a thrilling fusion of Japanese and Latino cuisine, from multi-coloured sushi rolls to sweet potato noodles served with egg yolk and gold shavings.
Where: Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate (38-39th floor), EC2N 4AY