Best restaurants for counter dining in London

Dining alone in a restaurant can feel pretty awkward when you have a whole table to yourself. Luckily, London is now full of solo dining options thanks to restaurants with dining counters. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the best

Posted on 20 November 2018

Best restaurants for counter dining in London


Bocca di Lupo

Bocca di Lupo

£50 - £79
Italian

12 Archer Street, London, W1D 7BB

Sit at the “lovely marble bar” at Bocca di Lupo for a quick refuel or book one of the wooden tables at the back if you have more time: the vibe is the same – busy, buzzy, noisy and fun, with a menu offering some of the very best Italian regional food in London. Although the idea is to share, there are full-size versions of nearly all dishes for diners who don’t like another person’s fork near their plate. The seasons dictate proceedings at Bocca di Lupo, but some items are all-year keepers: delicate sea bream carpaccio, anointed with orange zest and rosemary; unctuous arancini filled with soft cheese and pistachio; wonderfully rich and comforting tagliolini gratinati with prawns and treviso. Also expect simply grilled fresh fish (perfect) and soft slow-cooked specialities such as white polenta with suckling pig ragù. Gelati come from Gelupo (Bocca’s own ice-cream parlour across the road), and we’d recommend them over the restaurant’s more adventurous desserts. There are also some terrific Italian regional wines by the glass or carafe for refreshment.

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Bar Douro

Bar Douro

£30 - £49
Portuguese

Arch 35B, Union Street, Flat Iron Square, London, SE1 1TD

Tucked into one of Flat Iron Square’s railway arches, this modern Portuguese restaurant hums with heritage. Founder Max Graham's family have been producing Churchill’s Port in the Douro Valley for 200 years, so it's no surprise that the drinks list takes port seriously, as well as flying the flag for Portugal's native grape varieties. Clad in traditional blue-and-white tiles and featuring marble-topped counters, the rustic space recalls the traditional tascas (taverns) of Lisbon and Porto, where Graham and chef Tiago Santos honed their menu with a pop-up residency. The result is a one-page menu celebrating Portugal’s regional dishes and national classics, with an individual twist. So bacalao is served from the open kitchen with scrambled eggs and fried potato in a rich, salty hash, while roast suckling pig arrives with homemade crisps in perfect crunchy slivers. Other stand-outs include creamy croquettes made with alheira (Portuguese spicy sausage) and crunchy rolls stuffed with tender, milk-fed lamb. Finish with native cheeses, sweet pastel de nata and port, of course.

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Berenjak

Berenjak

Middle Eastern

27 Romilly Street, London, W1D 5AL

This new Iranian restaurant is spearheaded by founder and former Gymkhana chef Kian Samyani and is inspired by the kebab joints of Tehran, Iran’s capital. The real influence, though, comes from backers JKS Restaurants (the owners of Gymkhana), who have created a Middle Eastern equivalent of their Sri Lankan smash-hit Hoppers.

Berenjak is a tiny corridor-like space, with seating for couples at stools at a counter overlooking the open kitchen, and tables for four in leatherette booths along a wall decorated with artfully distressed plaster; a small dining room behind has – what else? – a Persian rug on the floor. It’s atmospherically snug, with light and heat coming from a flaming tandoor and the coals of a mangal barbecue.

The idea is for two people to share half a dozen small plates, prettily served on silver saucers, before a couple of kebabs each. A dish of aubergine combined with onions cooked for so long they were almost caramelised was the real flavour revelation, scooped up with excellent bread from the clay tandoor; elsewhere grilled calf’s liver with onion salad added punch and a feta salad creamy freshness.

To follow, a kebab made with minced goat shoulder was terrifically succulent and beautifully seasoned, though the dish destined for must-order status is the kabab torki, the post-pub guilty pleasure of chips and kebab meat re-invented as a mixed meat shawarma atop a bed of fries drizzled with homemade chilli and garlic sauce that actually taste of the ingredients they’re made from. Order a side of authentically hot pickled chillis to cut through the richness.

Without drinks, you could eat very well at Berenjak for £30 a head, though that would be to miss out on the charms of the house-special fruit cordials (lemon and parsley, saffron and apple) that can be spiked with vodka, gin and Tequila. Two wines at £28 and two at £35 will bump up the bill considerably, but beer at £4 a bottle is more in the spirit of the cheap and very cheerful spirit of the place.  

As at no-bookings Hoppers, staff take your mobile number and text you when your table is available; waiting over a Martini at Kettners next door is no hardship when a meal at this Aladdin’s cave of a restaurant is the reward.

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Gotto

Gotto

£30 - £49
Italian

27 East Bay Lane, Here East, London, E15 2GW

A great location for a summery meal, this low-lit, casual Italian restaurant near the Olympic Park boasts canal-side alfresco tables and outstanding Negronis. Inside, an open kitchen with counter seating (plus table service) makes for a buzzing atmosphere. The short daily changing menu is divided into sharing plates, pastas and risottos, alla brace (barbecue) and dolci. Expect hearty seasonal pasta dishes such as courgette-flower ravioli, alongside many Italian tapas including silky burrata and Venetian-style soppressata (dry salami) – order five or six of these small plates as a starter for two, with pillow-soft homemade focaccia. Gotto’s must-order dish is its rosemary risotto with wild mushrooms: thoroughly delicious and full of unusual flavour. Another highlight is the simple-sounding goats’ milk ice cream, the mousse-like dessert matched with sweet blackberries and counterbalanced by sharp balsamic vinegar. Drink cocktails or allow the friendly staff to guide you through the all-Italian wine list. 

In a city brimming with casual Italian eateries, Gotto takes the biscotti.

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Plot

Plot

£30 - £49
British

70-72 Broadway Market, Tooting High Street, London, SW17 0RL

Tooting locals Mark Kimber and Harry Smith celebrate the best of British at super-casual Plot, where the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible (Chadwicks butcher on Tooting High Street and Clapham fishmonger Moxon’s, for example). Sit on wooden benches, or pull up a stool at the marble-topped counter for a prime view of Giles Elstob. The chef has created a deceptively simple, seasonally changing menu of small plates that put individual ingredients in the spotlight. White flakes of roast cod are served with a clashing, curried tartare sauce, while sweet cubes of confit pork belly are pointed up by an intense shallot purée and pickled mushrooms. Vegetables are a particular highlight: hispi cabbage is roasted with hazelnuts, packed with flavour and texture; rich slivers of sherry-pickled onion add extra depth to creamy, charred cauliflower cheese. The local theme continues with the drinks list, so look out for craft beers such as Wolfie Smith Amber IPA from Wandsworth microbrewery By The Horns, while English sparkler Nyetimber Classic Cuvée takes the place of Champagne. There's also a short, eclectic wine list, all available by the glass or bottle. Plot’s all-day offering adds considerable kudos to Broadway Market's burgeoning food-and-drink offering.

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The Barbary

The Barbary

£30 - £49
North African

16 Neal's Yard, London, WC2H 9DP

The Barbary Coast evokes images of an exotic land of traders and pirates – and it provides inspiration for the second London restaurant from the team behind The Palomar. Like its big brother, The Barbary offers an enticing blend of Israeli cooking with Mediterranean ingredients, but also adds North African spices and cooking techniques. You’ll find a warm welcome and lively vibe in the cosy interior, which echoes a Middle Eastern courtyard with an open kitchen at its heart. No bookings are taken and there are just 24 counter seats. Breads are freshly baked: warm Jerusalem bagel comes with a traditional paper twist of za’atar spice for dipping. The short menu is divided into land (meat), sea (fish) and earth (vegetarian) dishes – all deftly spiced and seasoned, making flavours sing. We were transported to the Middle East with rich, tender Persian goat stew, slow-cooked for eight hours with turmeric, root veg and pomegranate juice. Perfectly grilled swordfish was simply served with capers, roast garlic and vine tomatoes. Desserts are sweet and fragrant – Beirut nights (semolina pudding with rose syrup) lives up to its name with enticing flavours – and another boon is the drinks list, encompassing trendy orange wines, vermouth and arak. 

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Hedone

Hedone

Over £80
Modern European
Scandinavian
One michelin star

301-303 Chiswick High Road, London, W4 4HH

Although it’s named after the Greek goddess of pleasure, first impressions of Hedone’s striking interior are of post-modern Nordic severity, with lots of bare wood, angular surfaces, a weird triptych set against exposed brickwork and a ceiling splattered with surreal sketches. The dining room has its own genteel buzz, but we’re with readers who prefer to bag a stool at the counter overlooking the open kitchen. Swedish lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-chef Mikael Jonsson has cemented his position in London’s Michelin-starred hierarchy by virtue of his boundless creativity and almost manic commitment to sourcing. He buys in limited quantities and varies Hedone’s menus incessantly (often from table to table), but the results are never less than startling. Extraordinary umami-rich creations come thick and fast, from a pairing of confit and semi-dried tomatoes with Amontillado sherry ice cream and milky-sweet almond sauce to a meaty scallop brushed with soy butter and sprinkled with nori dust or unbelievably succulent crab claws served with dollops of hazelnut mayo, crab consommé, diced Granny Smith apple and horseradish. Sweet courses such as fresh figs partnered by sharp elderflower jelly, thyme-yoghurt ice cream and crème fraîche break the mould, and matched wine pairings are spot-on too. Ambitious pricing reflects the kitchen’s ambitions, but an “amazing experience” awaits – especially if you’re served by Mikael Jonsson himself.    

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Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs

Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs

Over £80
Modern European
One michelin star

70 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4QG

“Mind-blowing food, exceptional wines and perfect service” – that’s what punters can expect if they venture into this semi-secret dining space behind a leather curtain at the back of funky Bubbledogs. True to its name, Kitchen Table’s U-shaped counter fits snugly around the kitchen, where up to 20 diners can perch on stools, elbow-to-elbow with their neighbours, watching and listening to chef James Knappett’s team as they prepare (and often serve) the day’s Michelin-starred menu. Nibbles of chicken skin, bacon jam and rosemary mascarpone generally open the show, while each of the subsequent 12 courses is described by a single word on the blackboard (‘oyster’, ‘shrimp’, ‘potato’). That said, the results are bold, ultra-modern and revelatory: a dish simply entitled ‘scallop’ might see a fleshy raw bivalve in harmonious company with lightly pickled cucumber, elderflowers and a frothy elderflower kombucha (a fermented beverage). James’ partner/sommelier Sandia Chang takes care of Kitchen Table’s 100-bin wine list, which plunders the exclusive ‘grower’ Champagnes on offer at Bubbledogs next door. “A little pricey, but you really pay for what you get – namely quality”, concludes one reader.  

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Le Caprice

Le Caprice

£50 - £79
Modern European
£30 - £49

20 Arlington Street, London, SW1A 1RJ

“A classic, but still one the best” says a fan of Le Caprice, the vintage St James’s hangout that gave Caprice Holdings its name. Star-seekers, celebs and grown-up hedonists are easily seduced by its David Bailey photographs, riffing piano player and “fantastic customer service” (directed by legendary maître d' Jesus Adorno), while the food is “easy on the palate” – but irresistible in its own way. Whether you’re in the market for rigatoni with rabbit ragù, crispy duck salad, miso-marinated salmon with stir-fried shiitake mushrooms or a classic brasserie plateful such as slow-roast pork belly with black pudding mash, caramelised apples and Calvados sauce, this kitchen is a failsafe option – and decent value to boot. There’s also fun to be had when it comes to desserts such as rhubarb and custard pavlova or the Cru Virunga chocolate crunch bar with cherries. Flutes and bottles of premium fizz match the mood, or you can get your boozy kicks from the zingy cocktails and classy international wines. With weekend brunch and Sunday night jazz added to the mix, Le Caprice is “always perfect” – even after all these years.

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Ceviche Old St

Ceviche Old St

£30 - £49
Peruvian

2 Baldwin Street, EC1V 9NU

The Frith Street branch of this Peruvian kitchen was a real trailblazer and Martin Morales’ (much larger) eastern outpost does not disappoint. Airy with an open kitchen, the wooden tables and white-tiled walls are spruced up with eclectic artwork which is for sale. Nibble on crunchy cancha (salty, peppery corn) as you digest the menu, packed with citrus-y ceviche but with some meaty offerings. Share a collection of small plates; don’t pass on signature Don Ceviche – a chilli-marinated seabass dish with sweet potato and red onions – tangy and light but with real juicy substance. Similarly, tiradito chifa is a plate of finely-sliced tuna which is so vividly fresh it melts in the mouth with pleasing piquancy, while making a satisfying contrast to the crispy vermicelli. The huevo criollo (their take on a Scotch egg, encased in quinoa) is a welcome addition to the menu; soft and runny inside, crispy on the outside. Other newbies include delightfully tender panca-marinated beef heart skewers with a spicy rocoto chilli sauce, and perfectly pink flame-cooked beef fillet; lovely, although a little weird that it came with chunky chips. It’s definitely worth ordering the ceviche del dia and, of course, wash it down with a Pisco Sour (or three).

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Kiln

Kiln

£30 - £49
Thai

58 Brewer Street, W1F 9TL

The name of Ben (Smoking Goat) Chapman’s second restaurant tells you everything you need to know: it’s cramped, full of fire and spins out baked clay pots filled with outstandingly appetising noodle dishes from the northern Thai borderlands. Kiln’s focus is on casual dining, with a long, metal counter running parallel to the open kitchen: various Thai-style barbecues deal with the clay-pot dishes, while modern grills turn out the meat skewers, smoked sausages and chickens that complete the menu. Our must-order is a sticky, dense assemblage of glass noodles with pork belly and brown crab, but there’s also grilled Tamworth pork loin paired with a sweet, dark fish-sauce dip and super-spicy Laos-style salad with roasted rice and a heavy dose of chilli. Order stir-fried greens or brown jasmine rice to counteract these intense, salty flavours, and drink quality beers or something from the ever-evolving wine list. Uncomfortable stools don’t encourage lingering and mark-ups sometimes seem high, but this high-voltage newcomer is an undoubted hit.

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Zuma

Zuma

£50 - £79
Sushi
Japanese

5 Raphael St, Knightsbridge, London, SW7 1DL

Fifteen years on and London is still deeply in love with world-class Zuma: “fabulous” says one fan, “can’t beat it” exclaims another avid supporter. And the waves of adoration stretch far beyond the capital itself: this high-gloss, big-money rendezvous draws in a global cast of A-listers and jetsetters, all attracted by the age-defying industrial-Zen interiors and the sleek designer mix of rough-hewn wood, polished granite and shiny steel. Tables are predictably hard to come by, but we prefer chancing our arm with the no-bookings ringside seats by the kitchen. Kick off with a trend-setting cocktail (perhaps Wild Yasei, a macho yet graceful blend of rye bourbon and wild-cherry tea syrup), and expect to pay top dollar for the food. In return you’ll be offered some of the finest Japanese cuisine in the capital: sliced seared tuna with chilli, daikon and ponzu; warm aubergine in sweet miso (an umami-laden masterpiece); robata-grilled jumbo tiger prawns with yuzu pepper; marinated baby chicken roasted on cedar wood, and – of course – the much-imitated, but never-bettered black cod. Service is flawless, and for the final flourish, we suggest asking the dedicated saké sommelier for a tour of his exquisite list. In a word, awesome.

 

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Bancone

Bancone

£30 - £49
Italian

39 William IV Street, London, WC2N 4DD

The brainchild of ex-Locanda Locatelli chef Louis Korovilas, Bancone is a pasta specialist – as becomes apparent even before you enter, thanks to the kitchen team hand-rolling dough in the front window. The theatrical element then continues inside, courtesy of an open kitchen and a dining counter (bag a place here for the best seats in the house).

Furnishings are fashionably neutral, featuring a grey colour scheme and tables topped with white marble. Cool, mostly Italian staff zip between these serving up plates of house-made pasta that fill the room with Mediterranean aromas. From the regularly changing menu, we’d recommend ordering three small plates to share plus a pasta dish each. Our helping of doughy, garlicky focaccia arrived drizzled with sweet-as-can-be honey; next, strips of smoky duck breast were paired with charred artichokes while three perfectly formed balls of deep-fried arancini concealed respectively fiery ’nduja, earthy mushroom, and sweet, melting Dolcelatte cheese.

Slow-cooked oxtail ragu is just one of the many sauces that can accompany your pasta (gluten-free options also available), but we were especially taken with the potato gnocchi: pillowy dumplings that were comforting, hearty and slathered in sage butter. Our other choice, pork ragu with pecorino and tagliatelle, wasn’t as spicy as promised, but still had a thrilling kick to it. Reasonably priced drinks include Prosecco and European wines by the glass, alongside Italian cocktails such as Negronis and Aperol Spritz. For dessert (most of which are also classically Italian), try the sticky, indulgent chocolate nemesis glazed with white balsamic.

The past year has seen an influx of pasta restaurants in the capital, but Bancone’s delicious food, buzzy atmosphere and fair pricing makes this Covent Garden newcomer somewhere worth parting with your dough.

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Engawa

Engawa

£50 - £79
Sushi
Japanese

2 Ham Yard, London, W1D 7DT

Cloaked in the shadow of the Ham Yard Hotel, you could easily miss this Soho Japanese, although those in the know are handsomely rewarded – especially fans of Kobe beef. With just 29 covers and an abundance of clean lines and pine, there isn’t too much to distract from the open kitchen’s theatre. You can watch as the chefs prepare morsels of sashimi, sushi and snacks such as chawanmushi (steamed egg custard with sautéed foie gras) as a warm-up to the beefy headline act – served perhaps in cheese-oozing croquettes or simply seared with an extravagantly presented salad. Whatever the cut, this is extremely exclusive stuff and it comes with an understandably lofty price tag that we think is justified. Bento boxes offer a more accessible way in, while the comprehensive drinks list is well worth exploring – note the cloudy sakés and Matcha Sours. As gastronomic experiences go, this under-the-radar option is a Japanophile’s dream.

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Berber & Q

Berber & Q

£30 - £49
North African
Middle Eastern

Arch 338, Acton Mews, London, E8 4EA

Nailing two huge food trends in one fell swoop, ex-Ottolenghi chef Josh Katz’s Haggerston railway arch hangout Berber & Q brings together smoky BBQ and culinary influences from North Africa and the Middle East. It hasn’t missed a beat since its 2015 opening, and we’ve been floored by its barrage of explosive flavours: blackened aubergine and egg ‘sabich’ are given a thrilling extra dimension with homemade mango pickle; cauliflower shawarma from the charcoal-fired mangal is dressed with tahini and rose petals, while a tray of sticky harissa chicken wings calls for several sides of serviettes (don’t even think about ordering this on a date). The atmosphere is energetic, the lighting low, the volume high; reservations aren’t taken (naturally), but there’s space at the bar, where you can sup their own Crate beer or amuse yourself with funky cocktails with names like Haggerstoned or Scammed in Marrakech.

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Ceviche Soho

Ceviche Soho

£30 - £49
Peruvian

17 Frith Street, London, W1D 4RG

Even on the greyest London day, it’ll feel like summer in this perky Peruvian, which helped to trigger the cuisine’s invasion of the capital. Ceviche’s winningly cheerful service, razor-sharp flavours and punchy Pisco Sours attract a “mixed Soho crowd”, with “very cool” staff adding to the vibe. From the decorative photographs of Lima locals to the jaunty soundtrack, it’s a relentlessly patriotic offer – although everything hinges on the menu: intricate nibbles such as flame-licked eel with avocado and wasabi cream precede a “seriously delicious” selection of ceviches, salads, grilled meats and fish. Tiradito de conchas is a clash of succulent scallops, sea fennel, caviar and puckering lemon juice, while costillas chifa sees pork ribs doused in soy sauce and chilli, then sweetened with pineapple. Vegetarians and gluten-intolerant types will have a field day here, while the helpfully annotated wine list is exclusively South American. A deftly packaged “vibrant” prospect that’s certainly worth the money.

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Evelyn

Evelyn's Table at The Blue Posts

£50 - £79
Modern European

28 Rupert Street, London, W1D 6DJ

Roman Polanski might not be the most savoury inspiration in the current cultural climate so it’s a punchy move by The Palomar owners to name their new chef’s counter after Faye Dunaway’s femme fatale in the director’s 1974 film Chinatown. But that’s the only questionable note in the sort of accomplished offering that we’ve come to expect from siblings Zoe and Layo Paskin, who followed up The Palomar with The Barbary and Jacob the Angel, and who readers whose memories weren’t frazzled by the 90s club scene may remember from AKA restaurant at The End nightclub.

Evelyn’s Table sits in the cellar of the Paskins’ reinvention of Chinatown boozer The Blue Posts, beneath the ground-floor pub and first-floor Mulwray’s cocktail bar; it’s an intimate, romantically-lit space, with a ‘private’ sign on the door and 15 diners around the horseshoe counter.

Small plates with a southern European accent feature some top-notch suppliers: Hedone sourdough, La Fromagerie cheeses and fish from the dayboats at Looe, which delivered the biggest hit of the night: beautifully cooked hake with capers and olive oil-soaked croutons. Overall, fish dishes impressed the most: our croquette-like salt-cod beignets with punchy taramasalata, and subtly smoked eel on excellent blinis, had the edge over good (but just not as good) duck tortellini and presa iberica, which lacked the same clearly defined flavours – although there were no such complaints with a chewy tarte Tatin, sweet as a toffee apple.     

Food aside, how much you enjoy this experience will depend on how open you are to chatting to the friendly chefs and front of house rather than giving your companion your undevoted attention – this is not somewhere to come for diners who wish to be left undisturbed. “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown”, Jack Nicholson’s character is told at the end of Polanski’s film – but this is a location to remember.

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Barrafina Adelaide Street

Barrafina Adelaide Street

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish

10 Adelaide Street, London, WC2N 4HZ

London’s three branches of “buzzing” Barrafina can hold their own against Spain’s finest, and Barrafina Adelaide Street, on a corner site in theatreland, is no exception. Each has its own personality and style, although the no-bookings policy, marble and glass interiors, long bar and attentive, enthusiastic staff are common to all three. As ever, dishes range from the dainty (little shells of zingy, sweet scallop ceviche) to the gutsy (gorgeous, creamy milk-fed-lamb’s brains breadcrumbed and served with a punchy olive and tomato sauce) – not forgetting the Harts’ lauded tortilla laced with spicy morcilla and piquillo pepper. “There’s always something new and wonderful to try”, and two of our favourites are hits from the daily specials board – grilled John Dory lathered in a silky olive oil, garlic and parsley sauce, and Josper-grilled baby vegetables atop romesco sauce. To drink, sniff out the owners’ hand-picked sherries, or pick something suitable from the carefully sourced Spanish wine list. If you’re used to Spanish pinxtos prices, you’re in for a shock – but then again, a trip to Barrafina Adelaide Street is cheaper than a flight to Valencia. 

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J Sheekey Atlantic Bar

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar

£30 - £49
Fish

33-35 St Martin's Court, London, WC2N 4AL

A rebranding of what could be considered as London’s most famous fish restaurant has moved the focus from slippery bivalves to lots of other fish in the sea – the summer menu (enhanced by whimsical illustrations by the irrepressible Quentin Blake) has a special lobster section which includes an unmissable lobster and shrimp burger with tomato and horseradish sauce, but our order will include the lobster and shiso tempura served with chilli jam. Sit in the bar of the iconic actor’s restaurant or nab a table outside if they’ll let you – the all weather terrace allows for protection against the elements. Kick off with a Pimms or an Aperol spritz before a carafe of rose – but if you’ve something to celebrate, make yourself comfortable around their champagnes.

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Cubé

Cubé

£50 - £79
Japanese

4 Blenheim Street, London, W1S 1LB

Along with nearby Neo Bistro, Cubé is making the shop-worn corner of Mayfair close to Oxford Street an unlikely destination for reasonably priced top-end cuisine served with personality and warmth. Not that Cubé is cheap (good Japanese food never is), but the menu of inventive Asian tapas married with beautifully crafted sushi is a snip compared to some bigger names nearby. Get up close and personal at the counter as chef Osamu Mizuno (ex-Sake No Hana) delivers an “exquisite performance” in the narrow open kitchen or sit at one of the proper tables in the sparsely decorated (and slightly muted) dining room. We loved everything we ate, from the traditional (silky agedashi tofu in a limpid broth and meltingly soft tuna o-toro atop beautifully defined nigiri rice) to the innovative – who knew that eel with mango and foie gras would make such a successful sushi topping? There are also some downright bonkers ideas – our cheese, cod roe and lotus root ‘sandwich’ was a delirious umami wallop of deep savouriness. Downstairs, a 12-seat hideaway bar serves rare wines with low marks-ups alongside premium Japanese whiskies.

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Chiltern Firehouse

Chiltern Firehouse

£50 - £79
International

1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, W1U 7PA

The fervour that surrounded André Balazs’ Marylebone hotspot has died down and you no longer need to be famous to secure a table, but Chiltern Firehouse still delivers in spades. Readers praise the outdoor-themed interiors as well as the high-decibel “party vibe”, and we’ve also been impressed by the all-inclusive attitude of the staff, who happily laugh and chat with diners. Meanwhile, in the open kitchen, chef Nuno Mendes and his team send out plenty of likeable big-time successes. Snacks such as bacon cornbread and the famous coral-dusted crab doughnut kick things off nicely, but there are other highlights too: char-grilled Ibérico pork comes with the unexpected additions of grilled peaches and red pepper kimchi, while a side of mac ‘n’ cheese is given a fiery kick with jalapeño peppers. Early risers pack in for breakfast (potted eggs with caramelised onions and curried potatoes), freelancers take advantage of the indulgent lunchtime offers (crab and lobster omelette, say), and we’d also recommend Chiltern Firehouse for a pre/post-meal trip to the botanically themed bar for cheekily named cocktails. Be warned – the bill (with impressive wines included) may have you reaching for the fire alarm.

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Padella

Padella

£30 - £49
Italian

6 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TQ

Sometimes all you want in London is a concise, straightforward menu, superb food and good value. The team behind much-loved Highbury Italian Trullo have well and truly cracked it here. Split over two floors, this cramped, no-reservations pasta bar features a marble-topped counter overlooking the kitchen (watch the pasta being hand-rolled on site) and a black and gold, low-lit basement dining room and bar. We were treated to a classic 80s soundtrack and a full restaurant, creating an effortlessly congenial vibe. Antipasti include unembellished plates of beef fillet carpaccio and burrata, leaving a list of six pasta dishes to steal the show. We ordered a second plate of the unassuming pici cacio e pepe: fat, al dente spaghetti with butter, Parmesan and black pepper, astonishingly delicious and tangy, only £6. Pappardelle with Dexter beef shin ragu was similarly bursting with flavour, the beef cooked with due respect. Almond and rhubarb tart was a crunchy, sublime steal at £4. Some portions could be larger (although none of the dishes are more than £10) and there are just three cocktails and four wine choices – don’t miss the peachy, smooth Sussex Bacchus – being succinct is Padella’s core characteristic. In a city of endless choices, Padella is a supreme antidote.

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Kitty Fisher

Kitty Fisher's

£50 - £79
Modern European

10 Shepherd Market, W1J 7QF

Received with enthusiasm and garlanded with awards, Kitty Fisher’s is nothing if not popular – though limited table availability may have stemmed the flow of feedback from readers. If you can get in (keep an eye on social media for last-minute opportunities), you’ll find two intimate floors of close-packed tables, with mildly 18th-century stylings and a whisper of blush-pink velvet inspired by the eponymous courtesan. By contrast, the cooking is distinctly 21st century, ticking off whipped cod’s roe with bread and fennel butter, burrata with peas and mint, grilled langoustines draped in lardo or lamb rump with courgette, grelot onions, goats’ curd and smoked almonds. Quality is unfailingly high throughout, finishing on a top note with lemon tart or grilled strawberries, crumble and clotted-cream ice cream. The house cocktail is the gin-based Bad Kitty, while a short, fairly priced wine list runs alongside the artfully mixed drinks.

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Social Wine & Tapas

Social Wine & Tapas

£30 - £49
Tapas
Wine Bars

39 James Street, London, W1U 1DL

It might feel like London is full of Jason Atherton’s Socials, but James Street was sorely in need of a restaurant that prizes quality as well as conviviality, and this is it. Customers enter through a wine shop and tasting area dedicated to executive sommelier Laure Patry’s eagle-eyed finds, then head down to the cellar bar where wine is everywhere – even, via a recorded soundtrack, in the toilets. It’s dark and masculine, but service is warm, and the food is a mixture of trad tapas and elevated ideas. Creamy piquillo croquetas and sweet, oily pan con tomate are difficult to beat, though crispy duck egg with artichoke and grated truffle comes close. Readers also recommend the “awesome” lamb fillet with char-grilled celeriac, cucumber and yoghurt, “genuinely mouth-watering” char-grilled broccolini with chilli, pear and air-dried tuna shavings, and the crisp-crunchy Szechuan-fried chipirones with togarashi and squid ink aïoli. Puddings run from elegant to nostalgic – a cornet of soft-serve salted caramel ice cream with butterscotch sauce, for example. Fans (ourselves included) “can’t wait to go back”.

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Andina

Andina

£30 - £49
Peruvian

1 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DJ

Readers love everything about this vibrant slice of Peru from the guys behind Soho's Ceviche. Above all, it's a "riot of fun and colour", with ethnic artefacts brightening up the canteen-style dining room and a line-up of "fresh, clean and delicious" food. Whether you're in for breakfast, a light lunch or dinner, you can expect "zingy" flavours galore: the tangy scallop tiradito and sea bass ceviche are a must, whetting your appetite for a host of street-food small plates, juicy grilled meats and hearty peasant classics. We'd single out the slow-cooked ox tongue stew with beer, panca chilli and confit oca, while the grilled octopus with butterbeans and honey sauce is a lesson in how good the cephalopod can really taste. Andina's two bars (one in the "stripped-down exotic" basement) are destinations in their own right, serving "great juices", brilliant Pisco Sours and more besides.

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Umu

Umu

Over £80
Sushi
Japanese
Two michelin stars

14-16 Bruton Place, London, W1J 6LX

The feel-good factor kicks in the moment guests touch the discreet door button, revealing this Kyoto-style kaiseki enclave in all its Zen-like purity – although you may be distracted by the smiley keen-as-mustard staff shouting their words of greeting. Two-Michelin-starred Umu is strictly old-school and chef Yoshinori Ishii’s attention to detail is legendary – whether he’s teaching his Cornish fishermen the Japanese ways, organising supplies of organic wasabi or fashioning handcrafted tableware for the restaurant. He’s responsible for every aspect of the food and leaves himself no room for error. Not surprisingly, the results are extraordinary: featherlight kombu-cured mullet with chrysanthemum and sudachi; gloriously limpid ‘nimonowan’ soup delicately garnished with autumn ‘leaves’ made from chanterelles and carrots; omakase fish platters with an astonishing variety of textures and flavours. Make it through to dessert for a construct of fig, sesame, chocolate and sesame that appears to defy the laws of physics, before coffee with hybrid Euro-Japanese petits fours. Wines are worthy of the food, but adventurous cocktails and saké seem more appropriate. Dining at Umu is an unforgettable experience, and (for those picking up the tab) so is the bill.

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Cafe Murano Covent Garden

Cafe Murano Covent Garden

£50 - £79
Italian

36 Tavistock Street, London, WC2E 7PB

Like its St James’s sibling, this second branch of Café Murano showcases Angela Hartnett's modern Italian cooking in a more casual setting than her Michelin-starred Murano. Spread over two floors, it's a convivial spot for business or dates, though we prefer dining with a group of friends and sharing a selection of characterful regional dishes. The daily menu is fiercely seasonal and allows good ingredients to prove their worth, often in simple, yet effective combinations: a salad of octopus, borlotti beans, olives and preserved lemon, for example, might be followed by rich pork cheeks with creamy white bean purée and chicory. Pasta is a particular delight, either sampled in dishes such as spicy bucatini amatriciana or bought from the ‘pastificio’ next door to take home – along with a bottle of hearty Italian red, of course. "It's hard not to stop for lunch each day I walk past", confides one local. Decent Italian-themed cocktails are another plus, and service is “always with a smile”.

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Kouzu

Kouzu

£50 - £79
Japanese

21 Grosvenor Gardens, London, SW1W 0BD

Being shoehorned into a corner of one of Victoria’s elegant old buildings seems slightly incongruous for a smart, modern Japanese restaurant, but Kouzu’s sympathetic, elegant design transforms the space entirely. Despite the shouted greeting at the door, there’s a “gentle romantic buzz” about the place that makes it perfect for date nights – although the business crowd also take full advantage of its “special energy”. “Wonderful” sushi is the headline act here, from old-school nigiri to ‘new-style’ rolls such as negi hamachi (yellowtail, kizami wasabi, aonoriko seaweed, bubu arare seasoning and cucumber). If you prefer your food cooked, the kitchen also delivers excellent tempura, Wagyu beef from the robata grill and specials, such as roasted duck breast with pickled kumquat and miso orange sauce. Desserts are “very well presented” too. Friendly staff “take time to listen”, and the drinks list will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go – and that includes some sexy cocktails.

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Wright Brothers Spitalfields

Wright Brothers Spitalfields

£30 - £49
Fish

8a Lamb Street, London, E1 6EA

With a striking marble oyster bar as its centrepiece, this branch of Wright Brothers sets expectations swimmingly high from the start. Readers praise the “ideal” location amid vivacious Spitalfields market – best experienced from the sizeable Market Terrace. Otherwise, pull up a pew at the bar and watch as experts shuck oysters or load up mammoth seafood platters: often containing delicacies from WB’s wholesalers in Borough. The “tasty oysters and scallops” are singled out for special attention, but larger plates such as cod with salsify, celeriac and carpet-shell clams shouldn’t be ignored. If you’ve got the bucks, order lobster (they’re huge and served with due pomp); if you haven’t, the set lunch menu featuring sea bass fillet followed by lemon curd cheesecake is a welcome alternative. A diverse cocktail list and a happy-hour offer of £1 oysters (12N-6pm) also make this a sought-after pearl among the City’s seafood eateries.

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Yashin Sushi

Yashin Sushi

£50 - £79
Sushi
Japanese

1a Argyll Road, London, W8 7DB

From its bijou space off High Street Ken, this little gem of a restaurant foregoes the culinary pyrotechnics of its nearby sibling, Ocean House, to concentrate on simple, masterfully crafted sushi. Take a seat at the handsome, green-tiled bar or head downstairs to the sleeker monochrome dining room, and indulge in a menu crafted by two Nobu-trained chefs. From the stunning, melt-in-the-mouth Hida Wagyu carpaccio to a beautiful salad of dressed baby octopus, seaweed and cherry tomato, flavours are pin-sharp and ingredients second to none. Also, we urge trusting the chefs when it comes to soy sauce: items such as yellowtail nigiri and yasai maki rolls with asparagus tempura come judiciously brushed with the condiment to avoid drowning out other flavours. Saké is a big deal here, with regular masterclasses on offer, while the pithy wine list has some interesting options – although, like everything here, prices are on the high side.

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Roka Aldwych

Roka Aldwych

Over £80
Sushi
Japanese

71 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4HN

Roka’s brand of high-gloss contemporary Japanese dining is showcased beautifully at its largest branch on Aldwych, where a stylish mix of natural stone, grey timbers and dried green oak creates a subtly sophisticated setting. Like its siblings across the capital, this outlet puts the robata grill centre stage, and many favourite items from Roka’s back catalogue are on display – from tender Korean-spiced lamb cutlets to black cod marinated in yuzu miso. There are also dazzling platters of sushi and sashimi showcasing impeccable sourcing – witness translucent slivers of yellowtail and morsels of sweet-fleshed shrimp with caviar. Elsewhere, top calls range from juicy grilled scallops with a textured wasabi topping to velvety Wagyu beef offset by pickled mushrooms. The high-end list of sakés, global wines and sexy shochu-based cocktails can also be sampled at the elegant bar, while smooth service is a hallmark throughout.

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Blixen

Blixen

£30 - £49
Modern European
Brasserie

65a Brushfield Street, London, E1 6AA

Proudly independent, this all-day brasserie is a dependable alternative to Spitalfields’ pervasive chains – not surprising since it’s co-owned by bright spark Clive Watson (of The Garrison and Village East fame). Fans praise Blixen’s “well-done and good-value” food, as well as its spot-on service and buzzy vibe – whether you’re in the light, airy dining room or the rustic wood-toned basement bar. One regular also likes the ‘secret garden’ for a quick lunch. The cooking is broadly European, moving from pea and wild garlic soup or scallop crudo with radish and poppy seeds to robust mains of corn-fed chicken with roasted Jerusalem artichoke and chicken jus or pork belly with spätzle, kale and quince. To round things off, we like the sound of the banana and caramel pudding with coconut sorbet.  Brunch, daytime snacks and Sunday roasts lure the crowds, while drinks encompass house sodas, smoothies, locally brewed beers and some “OK” wines.

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Counter Culture

Counter Culture

£30 - £49
Modern European

15 The Pavement, London, SW4 0HY

This totally on-trend tapas bar comes from chef-of-the-moment Robin Gill, who has transformed the old deli attached to his big-hitting Dairy into a 15-seat temple to inventive cooking, with just one chef behind the counter and one person out front. Counter Culture takes bookings, it’s BYO and it’s great value too. Standouts from the eight-dish menu are many and varied: earthy salsify ketchup, scooped up on a Quaver-like curl of pork crackling; a jumble of beef tartare, caviar and radishes, all gleefully rubbed around the plate to mop up bone-marrow salad cream; charred mackerel with spiced cabbage and capers. Virtually nothing goes to waste and nearly everything is made on site using labour-intensive methods – check out the curing room and smokehouse, shelves of fermenting bottles and beehives on the roof. The restaurant’s website calls Counter Culture ‘The Dairy’s naughty little brother’; we’d add that it’s also very nice.

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Craft London

Craft London

£50 - £79
Modern European
Cafes

Peninsula Square, London, SE10 0SQ

Chef Stevie Parle’s follow-up to Dock Kitchen and Rotorino takes him even further east to Greenwich Peninsula, where his new three-storey operation comprises a café, cocktail bar and concept-led restaurant. Craft’s team makes a point of sourcing produce meticulously, with many ingredients smoked, cured or otherwise ‘crafted’ in house. The restaurant’s signature starter is artistically presented – finely chopped raw beef dotted with pear and umami-rich cod’s roe, served on sweet and crunchy root-vegetable crisps. Stand-out seasonal mains include a meaty hunk of wood-grilled monkfish accompanied by asparagus and just-wilted wild garlic. Prices match the lofty ambitions. The curved first-floor dining room offers panoramic views of the City skyline; its sophisticated design combines intimate booths, padded teal chairs, bulbous copper lighting and an open kitchen. Although Craft isn’t yet a bona fide destination, it’s certainly an asset to this area. Don’t miss the spot-on cocktails.

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Kricket Soho

Kricket Soho

£30 - £49
Indian

12 Denman Street, London, W1D 7HH

Cooked up by Rik Campbell and Will Bowlby, casual Kricket is a “modern memoir to time spent living and working in Mumbai”. The duo’s original shipping-container eatery at Pop Brixton has been making waves since 2015, but this is a proper restaurant with snazzy London embellishments including an open kitchen and dining counter, plus tables in the darker, atmospheric basement. The succinct small-plates menu changes daily, and Kricket’s game is a gentle one – the heavy pepper dusting on the signature Keralan-fried chicken is as fiery as it gets. Bhel puris come with a swirl of tamarind stickiness, crunchy puffed rice and dollops of yoghurt, while bright yellow kichri combines rice and lentils with morsels of haddock and lightly pickled cauliflower – all beautifully presented. Barbecue-blackened sweet potatoes and crunchy samphire pakoras make a convincing case for vegetarianism, while spice-infused cocktails and cheeky rum masala chai pep up the drinks list. With its fair pricing, cool vibe and bright, eager-to-please staff, Kricket is settling in very comfortably.

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Wiltons

Wiltons

British
Fish

55 Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6LX

Archaic, determinedly old school and one of the few restaurants where that outmoded jacket-and-tie policy still seems wholly appropriate, this impeccably groomed restaurant looks right at home among the streets of St James’s. Wiltons is a handsome fellow indeed, “a restaurant with purpose and life” – so switch off your electronic devices and tap into the velvety richness of it all. As fish sellers of yore, with a family tradition dating back to Georgian times, Wiltons still majors on the finest British seafood – some of the best oysters in town, dressed crab, Dover sole meunière, lobster Newburg et al. Meanwhile, those with other palates and preferences might prefer a bowl of beef consommé or a twice-baked Stilton soufflé ahead of a trencherman mixed grill or fallow deer with roast shallots, fennel and cherries. Lunchtime trolleys are weighed down with gargantuan roasts and other pleasurable repasts, while desserts mine a rich vein of nostalgic comfort – apple crumble with custard, bread-and-butter pudding, etc. Service is deferential to a fault, and the upper-crust wine list is generously endowed with vintage clarets and Burgundies from the great years – although its “astronomical” prices are unlikely to trouble the old brigade in their Savile Row suits. 

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Kyseri

Kyseri

£30 - £49
Middle Eastern

64 Grafton Way, London, W1T 5DN

Modern Turkish Oklava won legions of fans when it opened in Shoreditch back in 2015 and now restaurateurs Laura Christie and Selin Kiazim hope to repeat their success with this stylish and intimate follow up, right by Warren Street tube. The menu is inspired by dishes from the city of Kayseri; the ‘a’ has supposedly been dropped in order to show that Kyseri offers up Turkish dishes with a twist, although we suspect it’s also because it makes the restaurant easier to Google.

Innovative small plates to share include the likes of a canapé-sized lamb and loquat skewer: dainty, yet punchy, the sweet and juicy loquat providing a perfect contrast to the intense, spice-laden lamb. We were also impressed by veal sweetbreads, which saw meltingly soft meat massaged with creamy hazelnut yoghurt and brown butter. The Turkish pasta is another highlight: manti (dumpling-style pasta parcels) are stuffed with sour cherry-flecked beef and served with a blend of yoghurt and a peppery red sauce, which you’ll have to resist licking clean off the plate.

An intriguing wine list champions small producers from Turkey and the Middle East, while desserts also excite: we were particularly taken by the sweet-as-can-be honey ice cream, sandwiched between two crumbly crackers. Cool, calm and seriously delicious, Kyseri is a little slice of Turkish heaven.

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Scott

Scott's

£50 - £79
Fish

20 Mount Street, London, W1K 2HE

Under the awning or amid polished oak panels, glamorous Scott’s is a top choice if you want to take clients out for some “sublime” seafood and a thorough spoiling, backed by service that’s “second to none”. Staff “really care”, so rest assured that the “best fish in town” will be delivered with seamless care and attention. The sight of glistening crustacea displayed at an ice-heaped bar serves as a reminder that it’s sometimes best to leave well alone. In that spirit, purists also enjoy potted shrimps, lobster mayonnaise and dressed crab, while more elaborate starters might bring tempura langoustine tails, char-grilled squid with ‘nduja or “delicious” sautéed monkfish cheeks with snails and bordelaise sauce. ‘Turf’ is always an option (try the chicken, mustard, bacon and quails’ egg pie), but many customers return to the sea for halibut with dashi broth and shrimp gyoza, battered haddock or fish for two on the bone. Despite the obvious luxury, Scott’s is widely judged to be “great value for money” – something to bear in mind when leafing through the wine list. In short, a “unique experience”.

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Merchants Tavern

Merchants Tavern

£30 - £49
Modern European

36 Charlotte Road, London, EC2A 3PG

The converted Victorian warehouse that houses Angela Hartnett’s Merchants Tavern used to be trailblazing Cantaloupe back in the 1990s. Some of the diners occupying its curvy leather booths might well recall those days, though they’re grown-ups now, schmoozing clients and drinking better wine. The kitchen's “solid combos” appeal to the assembled company: credible rather than cool, their classical foundations are leavened with contemporary touches and true seasonal flavours.

Some dishes, such as the “dynamite” deep-fried oysters with chilli and ginger or quail with hazelnut pesto and foie gras live up to their promise, while others verge on the “polite”: our sea bream with heritage carrots and preserved lemon was one such creation, although a brown-bread parfait with kirsch-laced cherries was impeccable. For an even more relaxed vibe, eat at the kitchen counter or hit the bar for sausage rolls and cool cocktails. “These guys are good”, affirms one reader.

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The Araki

The Araki

Over £80
Sushi
Three michelin stars

12 New Burlington Street, London, W1S 3BH

The Araki in numbers reads like this: three Michelin stars, nine seats, £300 set menu, zero ability to accommodate dietary requirements. But the proportions work nicely both for sushi master Mitsuhiro Araki and his customers – he couldn’t cater for more diners, and they wouldn’t want him to try. Exclusivity is a necessary part of the omakase experience, played out along a cypress wood counter with Araki-san moving swiftly and elegantly on the other side. Each day’s menu is built around Edo-style sushi, starting with a deeply flavoured but delicate clear soup, ravishing sashimi and a little cooked seafood – perhaps saké-steamed abalone with scallop ‘strings’ or grilled salmon with yuzu. Araki’s ability to bring out the flavours of tuna is much-admired and demonstrated beautifully in a trio of sushi using progressively fattier cuts. As you’d hope, every immaculate detail – including the gorgeous bespoke tableware and covetable saké glasses – is given proper attention. Talking numbers again, The Araki is simply a one-off.

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Spuntino Soho

Spuntino Soho

£30 - £49
North American

61 Rupert Street, W1D 7PW

Russell Norman’s ode to Manhattan cool revels in its scruffy nonchalance, with a non-descript facade that’s easy to miss. Beyond, laid-back staff and equally laid-back customers (tattoos and facial hair are de rigueur) congregate on either side of a long bar. The snack-fuelled US/Italian menu is designed to soak up some heavy drinks, including a regularly changing cocktail list which makes use of more than 10 bourbon varieties. Alternatively, grab a beer with a shot for a fiver, and get your ballast from buttermilk-fried chicken, crackling aubergine chips with a sprightly fennel yoghurt dip or crab cake and eggs Benedict, squelching out from an English muffin. The tiny room (‘27 stools and a popcorn machine’ as the restaurant puts it) has been stripped back to reveal cracked white tiles and battered walls, in what has fast become the Soho norm. Naturally, you can’t make a reservation, but the peanut butter and jam dessert is worth the wait.

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Koya City

Koya City

Under £30
Japanese

10-12 Bloomberg Arcade, London, EC4N 8AR

This sequel to acclaimed udon bar Koya has landed in the slick Bloomberg Arcade three years after the much-missed original closed in Soho. The relaxed space is a lesson in Japanese minimalism, with bright lights, wooden interiors and a pulsing soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-end boutique. A blackboard of daily specials will suit the clientele of regular diners that is bound to build up, but there’s also lots of interest on the impressive à la carte, from small plates of melt-in-the-mouth cider-spiked pork belly and must-try puffy-battered prawn heads to the star turn of udon noodle broths. Cold udon with a hot broth is the way to go; we’d recommend tender duck in a spicy broth, perfectly paired with thick, silky udon. To drink, there is wine and beer alongside an extensive selection of saké. All-day opening, counter seating and no reservations make Koya City a great shout for a quick, affordable bite and solo dining.    

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Barrafina Dean Street

Barrafina Dean Street

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish
One michelin star

26-29 Dean Street, London, W1D 3LL

It might be modelled on Barcelona’s legendary tapas bar Cal Pep, but well-travelled readers reckon Barrafina Dean Street surpasses the original. The Barrafina chain is a homage to the traditional tapas bar, refracted through a very London vibe – a feeling enhanced by this handsome space (all steel, marble and mirrors) which takes up most of the ground floor of Quo Vadis. Classic croquetas, garlic prawns and grilled sardines are done to tapas perfection, deep-fried courgette flowers combine fragility with a hot spurt of grassy goats’ cheese, octopus is rendered meltingly soft and sticky from the hotplate, and Barrafina’s made-to-order tortillas, bound with barely set egg yolk, are the finest you’ll eat anywhere. To drink, an excellent choice of all-Spanish wines includes own-label Manzanilla and plenty by the glass. However, serving such “delicious and exciting” Michelin-starred food does have its downside: you need to turn up at Barrafina Dean Street before 6pm to guarantee a place at the counter, and even then you could face an hour’s wait – although it’s no hardship with a glass of rosé cava in one hand and a plate of ham croquetas in the other.

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The White Onion

The White Onion

£50 - £79
Mediterranean
French

67 High Street, Wimbledon Village, London, SW19 5EE

Fans of The French Table will be pleased to hear that Eric Guignard is overseeing the daily menu at this très jolie neighbourhood joint among the boutiques of Wimbledon Village. Formerly The Lawn Bistro, a bright makeover has created a warm and welcoming interior, with friendly service to match. The good looks don’t stop with the varied artworks on the wall either, as beautifully presented plates showcase an assured touch in the kitchen from head chef Frédéric Duval. To start, punchy roast Périgord goat's cheese came wrapped in thin slivers of ventrêche bacon, with sweet figs to balance the saltiness and a delicate lavender foam that managed not to overpower the dish. Tempura prawns and plaice boasted super-light batter, paired with classic sauce gribiche. Mains kept up the good work; notably sweetly caramelised pork belly with a wickedly piggy croustillant of pork belly, ham hock and smoked tomatoes. The wine list contains many well priced gems to match – we love exploring the ‘unusual suspects’ section – while oozing cheese from La Fromagerie and decadent desserts such as melting-middle chocolate moelleux give you plenty of reasons to linger. Set lunch menus at the weekend are a real steal for food of this quality; book well ahead for the tennis championship fortnight.

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The Ivy

The Ivy

£50 - £79
Modern European

1-5 West Street, London, WC2H 9NQ

Celebrating its centenary in 2017, The Ivy is a celeb-friendly fixture of the glamorous West End scene. Yet, behind the iconic harlequin stained glass, the old girl certainly isn't showing her age – thanks to a glittering 2015 makeover that gave pride of place to a beautiful vintage-styled bar. Although the hype around the refurb has died down, there's still a warm glow of approval from readers, who praise the "utterly impeccable" service, "unflappable staff" and "buzzy, not noisy" atmosphere. The eclectic menu is a winning mix of Ivy perennials such as the "truly wonderful" crispy duck salad and classic shepherd's pie, alongside on-trend raw dishes like "delicious" yellowfin tuna sashimi with avocado or salmon ceviche with tiger's milk, as well as ultra-trad confit duck or grouse with bread sauce. The kitchen’s special talent lies in the fact that it manages to cook such a varied range of dishes equally well. "The Ivy will always have a place in my heart", declares one fan, while another reckons it’s “a delight all round”.

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José

José

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish

104 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UB

José Pizarro began his London career working for Spanish food importer Brindisa before launching his Bermondsey flagship Pizarro, then this little tapas bar down the road. So it’s no surprise that London’s best-known Spanish chef also knows his produce: the hams, cheeses and everything else here are exemplary. There isn’t a great deal of space and it’s standing room only much of the time, but that doesn't stop the tiniest of preparation areas (‘kitchen’ may be too grand a word) from turning out “amazing” croquetas, grills and assemblies. Beyond the patatas bravas, tortilla and Padrón peppers, we’re very partial to the cured tuna with almonds, baby chicken with potatoes and romesco sauce, chorizo al vino and figs with sheep’s cheese and honey dressing. A few little plates and a glass of wine or sherry is sufficient to set most people off in a good mood for the rest of the evening. It’s perennially packed, but the accommodating staff are as expert at dealing with crowds in confined spaces as Spanish bus conductors.

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Sushi Tetsu

Sushi Tetsu

£50 - £79
Sushi

12 Jerusalem Passage, London, EC1V 4JP

A quick glance at the website is essential before a visit to the tiny Sushi Tetsu as the chances are it may be may be fully booked. Still, once you’ve secured a perch and made it through the door, you’ll see a handful of punters, with chef/proprietor Toru Takahashi on the other side of the counter, calmly preparing the sushi and sashimi with near forensic precision. This is a husband-and-wife outfit, with spouse Harumi completing the perfect circle that is Sushi Tetsu. Since you’ve gone to all the trouble of bagging a seat, you might consider going for the bespoke ‘omakase’ menu at 96 quid a pop: what you get depends on what the chef decides is good enough, so glistening sea urchin, turbot, snow crab, black bream, octopus and (hopefully) seared otoro fatty tuna might be on the cards, all embellished with the necessary accoutrements (wasabi, soy, mirin, seaweed and chilli). From the rice to the saké, everything is impeccable.    

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Barrafina Drury Lane

Barrafina Drury Lane

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish

43 Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5AJ

The West End is slowly becoming a Barrafina barrio with this 23-cover site joining Barrafina Soho and Adelaide Street – and as far as we’re concerned that’s no bad thing. Siblings Sam and Eddie Hart have sprinkled Michelin stardust over the former site of Osteria Dell’Opera, replacing Italian with their trademark Spanish tapas, red leather bar stools and marble-topped counters. Choose from new dishes such as piquillo croquetas alongside the Barrafina favourites, and a daily specials selection. Highlights on our last visit included pan de coca generously layered with intense slices of anchovy and sweet roast pepper, soft morcilla topped with golden-yolked pheasants egg and the crab bun – soft brioche stuffed with moist buttery crab meat in a bisque-like sauce; so good you’ll want to order another one straight away. Spanish staples such as chorizo tortilla are flawlessly executed, while a short wine list boasts the Hart brothers’ own brand of manzanilla sherry, as well as a cracking Spanish selection that’s pretty much all available by the glass. As ever, expect to queue for those first-come, first-served seats. The private dining room, with room for 28, is one option for those who hate to wait.

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L

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Over £80
French
One michelin star

13-15 West Street, London, WC2H 9NE

Like its neighbour The Ivy, this hotspot hides its interior from the gaze of casual passers-by, so there's a delicious sense of anticipation as you arrive. To begin, sip a chic aperitif in the bijou bar with its secluded rooftop terrace. Located on the first floor, the restaurant is the largest space (good for groups or business lunches), but we think the ground floor holds most appeal, with its shiny red stools and open kitchen dramatically framed by sleek black decor. Meticulously choreographed chefs can be seen preparing intricate multi-layered plates notable for their complex flavours and textures: a silky poached egg coated in crisp rice batter topped with caviar; juicy tiger prawn spun in vermicelli and laced with exotic lime and sumac; velvety hot foie gras with a ‘rolled heart’ of tangy green apple and hibiscus juice. Service never disappoints, and satisfied customers rightly deem the whole experience “excellent”.

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Roka Mayfair

Roka Mayfair

Over £80
Sushi
Japanese

30 North Audley Street, London, W1K 6ZF

Roka’s brand of high-gloss contemporary Japanese food continues to wow the crowds on Charlotte Street and Canary Wharf, and owner Arjun Waney has now launched a further outlet – in the one-time bank premises formerly occupied by short-lived Italian restaurant, Banca. Once again, the robata grill takes centre stage and many favourite items from Roka’s back catalogue are on show – from lamb cutlets with Korean spices or black cod marinated in yuzu miso to soft-shell crab with roasted chilli dressing or rice hotpot with king crab and wasabi tobiko, plus a galaxy of sushi and sashimi recast for glamorous big-city appetites. There are also a cluster of new dishes, and drinkers can enjoy the usual high-end list of sakés, global wines and sexy shochu-based cocktails.

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Chick

Chick 'n' Sours Haggerston

£30 - £49
International

390 Kingsland Road, London, E8 4AA

Flying the flag for the single ingredient trend, Chick ‘n’ Sours is street foodie Carl Clarke’s first permanent offering and serves up spicy fried chicken to hungry Haggerston hipsters. The friendly staff are quick to seat diners around small wooden tables, which jostle together for space and contribute to a lively atmosphere, much like the sharing plates which swiftly make their way out of the kitchen. To start, the sticky disco wings were messy and felt gloriously indulgent, while the chicken tenders are a lighter goujon-style offering and come with a choice of dips, including sriracha with sour cream. The charred white sprouting broccoli with seaweed mayo, grated egg and green beans was cooling and cut through the hotness of the enormous chicken thighs (smeared in chilli jam and sprinkled with crispy shallots, Thai basil, mint and spring onion), while crunchy yam bean slaw with miso mayo was similarly complementary. The soft-serve Weetabix crunch ice cream worked surprisingly well thanks to the contrast between the crispy flakes and creamy coldness; a welcome refreshment after the spiciness of the previous courses. Wash down with a frothy, lime-y sour: we particularly recommend the sweet but herby basil ‘n’ strawberries concoction, but there are some locally brewed beers and wine if cocktails aren’t your thing. Bold flavours and even bolder portion sizes mean you won’t want to go every week, but this combined with the jolly atmosphere make it a great place to pop in for a quick bite on a weeknight if you live locally, or to line your stomach with a group of friends before heading out in east London. We’re sure the hefty brunch bun (fried thigh, avocado, hot sauce, bacon, fried egg and homemade kewpie) will be just what the doctor ordered in the morning, too.

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Roka Charlotte Street

Roka Charlotte Street

Over £80
Sushi
Japanese

37 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 1RR

A Fitzrovia hit since launching in 2004, Roka’s trailblazing modern Japanese cuisine and “sophisticated atmosphere” are still a universal smash with readers. Some enjoy “chilling out”, others love its “romantic vibe”, but the expertly fashioned food is what really turns heads. Most diners are old hands at navigating a menu packed with modern-day classics (black cod in yuzu miso, wafer-thin truffled yellowtail sashimi, scallop and shiso lollipops, baby spinach in creamy sesame dressing) although clued-up staff still offer ever-changing seasonal tips – perhaps grilled cobia fish with mushrooms and truffle, or indulgent Wagyu tartare sushi rolls topped with caviar. The sleek glass-fronted room is all polished wood and industrial ceilings, with in-demand seats ringing the frantic action around the fierce robata grill (mercifully with an efficient extraction system). Prices merit either an expense account, or a very careful eye, so maybe grab a tasting menu to keep bills in check or skip the ostentatious dessert platters. Wine fits the top-end bill, but eye-opening saké and classy, shochu-based cocktails steal the show.

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Bao Fitzrovia

Bao Fitzrovia

Under £30
Taiwanese

31 Windmill Street, London, W1T 2JN

Hot on the heels of Bao Soho, this second restaurant sticks to the blueprint: contemporary Taiwanese small plates served in an intimate dining space. In contrast to Soho, Fitzrovia’s open kitchen, as well as a bar nestled in the middle of a giant sharing table, results in a more dynamic and inclusive dining experience. After ticking off our choices on the paper menu, we ate our way through a steady stream of served-when-ready dishes. Xiao-chi (appetisers) include crispy prawn heads dipped in mayonnaise and fried chicken chop, served alongside egg yolk and hot sauce. The famed soft-steamed buns don’t disappoint and the confit pork belly option, paired with crispy shallots and soy-pickled chilli, gets the flavour and spice balance just right. A concise list of cocktails named after Taiwanese films offers the perfect accompaniment to this affordable comfort food. If you have room for dessert (these are deceptively filling small plates), a refreshing chocolate and toasted rice milkshake ably offsets the flavour-packed mains. Servers on our visit were knowledgeable and attentive, but with bookings only taken for groups of at least four, you’ll probably be queuing to get in – Bao’s greatest drawback is its own popularity. 

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Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack Soho

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack Soho

£30 - £49
Fish

22 Bateman Street, W1D 3AN

To call this Soho seafood bolthole a shack does it a disservice. Rather than being a novelty seaside holiday restaurant, this mature and thoroughly enjoyable sister to Bonnie Gull Fitzrovia feels modern and fresh. With just 23 covers, the narrow space is dominated by a long, marble counter which overlooks an open kitchen. No reservations (excluding a small room at the back which can be hired) means Bonnie Gull works best as a casual option for quality seafood, approached with flair and originality. Starting with a range of native and rock oysters from the UK, the menu stays local for a list of dishes ranging from barbecued lemon sole with devilled shrimp butter, to squid toast with squid ink aioli. A plate of Isle of Man-sourced queen scallops is dotted with chunks of green apple and black pudding for a colourful, compelling clash of flavours and textures, while you might find the odd nod to turf, such as roasted venison peppered with prunes to give it plenty of bite. We recommend a light, crisp slice of lemon tart with sorbet to finish, or perhaps a sweet glass of Montbazillac from the brief, New-World wine list. With its fun and friendly staff and flexible approach to dining, Bonnie Gull Soho works for both a quality pit stop and a lingering, low-lit seafood supper.

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The Palomar

The Palomar

£30 - £49
Middle Eastern
International

34 Rupert Street, London, W1D 6DN

“What an experience!” shouts a fan of The Palomar – a fun-loving foodie hangout driven by funky chef Tomer Amedi’s infectious joie de vivre. The whole place feels like a house party, complete with hard drinks, kooky cocktails, loud beats, kitchen banter and “laid-back staff”. A grill-focused menu references the cuisine of modern Jerusalem, so be prepared for highly original food with a seasonal slant: we’re hooked on the ‘chicken under pressure’ with citrus, lentils and courgettes, the ‘Josperised’ octopus with chickpea msabacha, and the Persian pappardelle with artichoke, lemon and mangetout. Elsewhere, the bread is “fantastic” and the chopped liver is “sublime”, while the pick of the puds has to be ‘kiss kiss bang bang’ – a wicked confection of pomegranate ‘basbousa’ semolina cake, halva ice cream and almond palmier. You’ll need to queue for a seat at the no-bookings counter, but it’s worth it just to watch the kitchen’s livewire performances. When it’s really firing (and that’s most of the time), The Palomar is Soho at its best – and the perfect spot if you want to “impress your friends”.

 

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Lina Stores - 51 Greek Street

Lina Stores - 51 Greek Street

£30 - £49
Italian

51 Greek Street, London, W1D 4EH

Opened in 1944, Soho’s Lina Stores delicatessen has managed to survive the sky-high rents and glossy redevelopments that have claimed all too many of the area’s Italian old-timers. Now, it has produced a bambino: a debut pasta restaurant just a few minutes’ walk away on Greek Street. Here, the exterior proudly displays Lina’s signature green-and-white colour scheme, which is continued inside the tiny space. Try to bag a seat at the counter and watch the chefs at work; all pasta is made on site daily. Alternatively, if you’re hoping for a chat, head to the basement – don’t discuss anything confidential, mind, as tables are packed tuna-can tight.

 

Charming, attractive staff explain the menu of sharing antipasti and pasta dishes. We were impressed by the lusciously fatty strips of pork belly sandwiched between slices of crisp ciabatta, and also by a vegetarian take on meatballs that came stuffed with silky aubergine and tomato. The stars of the show, though, are the comforting plates of pasta. Don’t miss the gamey veal ravioli: tender chunks of veal wrapped in delicate pasta parcels, given crunch with a smattering of breadcrumbs. A plate of sticky green gnudi was also heavenly, the smooth ricotta and herb filling melting on the tongue. In comparison, dessert disappointed: an overcooked, dry slice of cherry and almond tart. Much better was a zesty cocktail of Blood Orange Bellini. Our advice? Skip dessert and order another plate of pasta – your dough will be well spent on Lina’s.

 

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Tredwells

Tredwells

£30 - £49
British

4A Upper St Martin's Lane, London, WC2H 9NY

An accessible take on Marcus Wareing’s high-end cooking, Tredwells is ”perfect for couples, clients and friends alike”. Although the original small-plates menu has been replaced by a standard three courses, it’s still easy to share: our goats’ cheese and heritage tomato salad showcased decent ingredients, while a spicy, smoky starter of harissa-glazed aubergine got its kicks from chilli and coriander. To follow, slow-cooked beef short-rib falls off the bone and briny-fresh mackerel is paired with lentils. Some visitors feel let down by a lack of wow factor (“I expect a bit more from Marcus Wareing”), but we’re with those who rate the “extremely good-value” pre-theatre menu, weekend brunch, “amazing cocktails” and commendable wines by the glass and carafe. Named after the butler in Agatha Christie’s novel The Seven Dials Mystery, Tredwells is spread over three floors with attractive vintage styling and genial service throughout.

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Donostia

Donostia

£30 - £49
Spanish

10 Seymour Place, London, W1H 7ND

This “marvellous” Basque kitchen has always served the food and drink of San Sebastián and its environs against a backdrop of purest white, with touches of grained wood and marble – although it’s now reaping the benefit of a 2016 refurb. The food doesn’t need much flattery, even if the act of pouring natural Basque cider from great heights does add a certain ceremony to the experience. Excellent charcuterie dominates the selection of cold plates, while pintxos could be foie gras with walnuts and PX vinegar, jamón croquetas or tempura prawns with ham and mango. Bigger tapas dishes give meat and fish a starring role, as in Ibérico pork shoulder with romesco sauce, crispy-fried cod cheeks with squid-ink aïoli or marinated quail with spinach, pancetta and truffle oil. There are classic extras including blistered Padrón peppers and masterfully made tortilla too. Donostia’s owners started out in the wine import trade, and there’s quality in every glass.

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