Best restaurants in Covent Garden

Find the top restaurants in Covent Garden in the very heart of London’s West End with SquareMeal’s list of the best restaurants in Covent Garden. Covent Garden is the beating heart of London’s West End, packed with great shops, a variety of theatres and a

Updated on 12 December 2018

Find the top restaurants in Covent Garden in the very heart of London’s West End with SquareMeal’s list of the best restaurants in Covent Garden. Covent Garden is the beating heart of London’s West End, packed with great shops, a variety of theatres and an abundance of bars and restaurants. A lively and bustling London area, Covent Garden is also home to the Royal Opera House and the London Transport Museum as well as the famous Covent Garden Piazza. With The Strand, Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square on its borders, Covent Garden is one of London’s premier dining destinations.

With hundreds of restaurants to choose from, finding your perfect restaurant in Covent Garden is no easy task. SquareMeal’s excellent guide to the best restaurants in Covent Garden offers a handpicked selection of the very top restaurants found in Covent Garden. You might also want to take a look at nearby restaurants in Soho and restaurants in Bloomsbury + Fitzrovia.

Every one of the Covent Garden restaurants featured in SquareMeal’s list of London’s top Covent Garden restaurants have been tried and tested by food critics and our own customers so check out the reviews and book a table online with SquareMeal today. Each SquareMeal listing features an independent review, as well as reviews from diners, together with unique special offers such as free drinks and discounts.


Balthazar

Balthazar

£50 - £79
French

4-6 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HZ

According to one reader, Balthazar could be “the best brasserie in London for atmosphere and service". Elsewhere, abundant praise for the lively buzz and "happy, friendly staff" is proof that this London outpost of Keith McNally's upscale bistro lives up to the reputation of his NYC original. By and large, the food wins approval too, with particular mentions for the "delicious afternoon tea" and "just the best dauphinoise potatoes". Order them alongside wickedly rich duck confit or coq au vin, preceded by chicken liver parfait, steak tartare or garlicky escargots. The all-day offer also includes delectable pastries from Balthazar’s boulangerie next door, omelette Arnold Bennett for brunch, plateaux de fruits de mer from the seafood bar or eggs mimosa followed by roast hake with bouillabaisse soup on the prix fixe. "It's a great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner and business meetings" concludes one ardent admirer; another simply says “sit back, enjoy the buzz and don’t worry about your wallet”.

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Christopher

Christopher's

£50 - £79
North American
Steak
£30 - £49

18 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7DD

Christopher's may have celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016, but the handsome Grade II-listed Victorian building has a longer history than that and was once home to London's first licensed casino. There's no need to take a gamble on the menu, which is a selection of reliably good stateside staples: juicy Maine lobsters and prime steaks hailing from the US, Scotland and Australia are the winning bets, but you'll also strike lucky with moist Maryland crab cakes or slow-cooked pork belly and Ibérico chop served with Boston baked beans and creamed corn. Lighter choices include fresh salmon carpaccio with a zingy tequila and key lime dressing, but you're likely to lose all will-power when you see the line-up of decadent desserts such as New York cheesecake or chocolate, peanut butter and caramel tart with espresso ice cream. Brunch is always a big deal here too, with readers rating the 'build-your-own pancake' menu, "delicious options" and "really lovely atmosphere".

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Tandoor Chop House

Tandoor Chop House

£30 - £49
Indian

8 Adelaide Street, London, WC2N 4HZ

This small, curious restaurant plants its flag firmly in comfort-food territory, with a short menu of Anglo-Indian combinations designed for mass appeal. The work of Ennismore (the group behind the Hoxton Hotel brand), Tandoor Chop House strikes a casual tone with bare, closely packed tables and an easy-going crowd of young professionals and families – its proximity to Theatreland and Trafalgar Square explains its please-all ethos. The decent-value menu is populated by quirky ideas including fried onion (bhaji) rings and coal-roasted pineapple for dessert, but it's inadequately supported by hit-and-miss cooking: moreish, minced Dexter beef keema naan bread arrives alongside limp, tame ‘gunpowder’ chips; must-order, Amritsari-marinated and charcoal-blackened lamb chops are followed by a badly executed, chai-flavoured crème brûlée. With its brief, Spanish-favouring wine list, range of G&Ts and polite service, this chop house could be a winningly unique option if cooking improves.

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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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Din Tai Fung Covent Garden

Din Tai Fung Covent Garden

£50 - £79
Taiwanese
Dim Sum

5 Henrietta St, Covent Garden, WC2E 8PT

Din Tai Fung was the most-searched restaurant on SquareMeal in 2018 – not bad for somewhere that didn’t open until December. The Taiwanese dumpling specialist is famous for making what many say are the world’s best xiao long bao, for its Michelin-approved Hong Kong outpost and for having 150 outlets spanning Asia, Australia, North America – and now London, where it has become famous primarily for the size of the queues. It’s worth noting, though, that if you arrive off peak (4pm on a Monday in our case) you'll be able to walk straight in, with only Asian students and curious tourists for company.    

We enountered a pleasantly dated experience not unlike the upmarket Chinese restaurants of old, with a neutral wood decor and echoey acoustics spread over two floors where the only natural illumination comes from a skylight. Suited and waistcoated staff deliver notably cheerful service, though the dumplings themselves are brought to the table by chefs wearing white coats and hygiene masks and who can be seen crafting dumplings in the glass-walled kitchen (each dumpling reputedly takes 40 minutes to make).  

 

The classic pork xiao long bao are a marvel of engineering, their contents held in place with a pliable dough case, pleated 18 times, that trembles like an unexploded water bomb and doesn't burst at the first jab of a chopstick. The contents are less mesmerising: a pleasant pork stock designed to mingle with the vinegar and ginger the dumplings should be eaten with.  

Prawn and pork shumai, opened out at one end like a flower unfurling around a pink filling, were equally well constructed but just as underwhelming on the flavour front; the only dumpling we ate that lived up to its savoury-sounding billing was steamed chilli crab and pork buns. Our favourite dish was a non-dumpling one involving rolled-up slivers of cold pork which acted as a conduit for a pungent filling of crushed garlic. The tough meat in a braised beef noodle soup impressed far less.  

We enjoyed our meal here, but to be blunt, we couldn't see what the big deal about Din Tai Fung is. The preparation of the dumplings is technically accomplished, but the results taste no better than those served at London's other dim-sum specialists and, given the spartan surrounds (cheap-feeling glassware, tea served in bags rather than loose leaves), we were surprised by the size of the bill; figure on around £50 a head without booze. If you hate queues but love Chinese food, we'd suggest you wait for the second London branch of Din Tai Fung to open at Centre Point, by which point you hopefully won't have to take the afternoon off work to eat here.    

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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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Spring

Spring

£50 - £79
Modern European

Somerset House, Lancaster Place, London, WC2R 1LA

A charming addition to historic Somerset House, Spring showcases the considerable culinary talents of Skye Gyngell, who rose to foodie fame with a Michelin star at Petersham Nurseries Café. Her cooking puts impeccably sourced native ingredients centre stage in a seasonal menu that never fails to delight, and readers are full of praise for her “fabulous” but disarmingly simple dishes – perhaps delicate queen scallops coated in velvety lemon butter, grilled lamb with farro, cavolo nero and braised radicchio or perfectly moist guinea fowl accompanied by hearty seasonal greens and an indulgent corn and truffle sauce. Italian influences are evident alongside wider Mediterranean touches – think ricotta dumplings with spaghetti squash and spigarello or a zesty sorbet made with mandarins grown on Mount Etna. Spring’s elegant setting elevates dinner to a special occasion, with the Grade II-listed space transformed into an airy oasis of calm, where staff in pale uniforms deliver “knowledgeable, cosy and personal service”. Other plus points include the carefully assembled wine list, bespoke seasonal drinks and a little leafy atrium. “A real cut above the norm”, declares one fan.  

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Joe Allen

Joe Allen

£30 - £49
North American
Burgers

2 Burleigh Street, London, WC2E 7PX

It was a dark day in Theatreland when it was announced that the unofficial actors’ canteen, Joe Allen, was going to close – not least because it was to make way for a boutique hotel owned by one of their own, Robert de Niro. But the move around the corner has re-energised this luvvies’ classic that first opened its doors on Exeter Street in 1977. 

A tighter, less labyrinthine layout concentrates the hubbub of the room, while fittings that have been moved lock, stock and piano from Exeter Street look as if they have been here for years. And the American comfort food is the same as ever – adequate rather than amazing, but more than cutting the mustard if you’ve come to soak up the pre- and post-theatre atmosphere or for a boozy weekend brunch with friends; it’s also as well suited to feeding an eight- or eighty-year-old. 

‘Eggs Joe Allen’ is a nicely poached Burford atop a thick slice of potato cake, spooned with hollandaise sauce; well-timed calf’s liver comes with mash that is stodgy not smooth; apple strudel is a as sweet as something you’d want to end Sunday lunch. To drink, a well-priced wine list has bags of choice for under £40, while an evening spent at the bar with classic American cocktails would be a hoot. Remember your waiter’s face: like former staffer Graham Norton, he may well be a star of tomorrow.

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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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Sushisamba Covent Garden

Sushisamba Covent Garden

£50 - £79
Peruvian
Japanese

Opera Terrace, The Piazza, WC2E 8RF

The second London location for glamorous international brand Sushisamba has landed on top of Covent Garden’s Opera Terrace, and there’s one major difference to the Liverpool Street debut – it’s missing the City site’s spectacular view. Overlooking the tourist-heavy crowds of Covent Garden’s piazza instead of glimmering skyscrapers and famous landmarks, the restaurant may have lost some of its ‘occasion dining’ flair, but it is still a thrilling ride.

Stylish interiors and a buzzing atmosphere compensate for the initial lack of spectacle. Make your way to the restaurant via a spiral staircase which is (naturally) decked out in the brand’s signature bright orange hue. Once inside, you’re greeted by the sexy bar, which looks like a grown-up Rainforest Café and features a high-maintenance ‘living’ ceiling of foliage. Elsewhere, there are plush red velvet booths for groups, and a sushi bar-cum-dining counter for those looking to get close to the cheffing action.

All the Sushisamba hits are present on the menu: moreish green bean tempura served with a slick of black truffle aioli makes for a decadent snack, while springy gyoza are stuffed with intensely meaty Wagyu beef and served on a neon yellow pool of sweet-tasting kabocha.

From the selection of vibrantly coloured sushi rolls, the El Topo was our favourite: a tightly-packed roll layered with strips of salmon, a splodge of melted mozzarella, jalapeños and a dusting of crispy shallots. More sizeable dishes include fleshy, wobbly pork belly skewers from a robata grill which are glazed with a sticky-sweet butterscotch miso sauce, and flaky black cod which melts on the tongue.

Cocktails are fun, flirty and expensive, while there’s more opportunity to splash the cash via upmarket wines and Champagnes. We followed our switched-on waiter’s recommendation for dessert and were not disappointed by the arrival of a gooey chocolate and banana cake, finished off with a scoop of rum-spiked ice cream and a sugar-dusted plantain chip. A place to see and be seen, this latest Sushisamba won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s bang on the money for its target audience: and boy, do they have a lot of money. 

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Little Kolkata

Little Kolkata

£30 - £49
Indian

51-53 Shelton Street, London, WC2H 9JU

Little Kolkata began life as a supper club and it has retained the intimate and cosy feel of its origins now that it has found a permanent site in the backstreets of Covent Garden. The basic interior might be worn-looking in places, but this adds to the homely ambience created by clay plates and tactile brass tables. Even the higgledy-piggledy steps down to the loos add character.

But while the decor might be plain, the food is vibrant and colorful. Most Indian restaurants in Britain are Bangladeshi-owned, but Little Kolkata is one of the few to put the food of Bangladesh centre stage.  

To start, doi papri chaat, an aromatic and creamy mix of potato, wafer and yoghurt, cooled our tongues after the Calcutta-style chilli chicken, which was just inside our comfort zone for spice. To follow, baby chicken in a cashew, rose water and saffron sauce had been slow-cooked for so long that even the bone was tender enough to cut with a spoon.

Truffle paratha, a sweet twist on the usually savoury dish, stood out from the sides we tried; a brownie with subtle hints of coffee and cardamom was a very rich treat to finish with, but the small portion made it the only dish we tried that seemed poor value for money.

Otherwise, though, Little Kolkata’s Bangladeshi food, varied choice of sharing dishes and reasonable prices are more than enough reason to visit.   

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The Delaunay

The Delaunay

£50 - £79
Modern European

55 Aldwych, WC2B 4BB

Like its sibling The Wolseley, this "lovely buzzy restaurant" bears all the hallmarks of a Corbin & King success story, from "spot-on" service to please-all cooking for a big-city crowd. No wonder The Delaunay has become a perennial favourite on all counts: the welcome is "always friendly" and the David Collins interior "impresses straightaway" with its glossy dark wood, gleaming brass and polished stone floors. There's an "old-school Viennese" vibe here, so expect to find wiener schnitzel, choucroute and rich borscht, as well as traditional dishes from elsewhere in Europe such as chicken Kiev and the ever-popular kedgeree. Tempting patisserie and viennoiserie – including an exemplary sachertorte – are worth a visit alone: luckily the adjoining Counter at The Delaunay sells many of these goodies to go. We urge you to book ahead for the phenomenally popular pre-theatre slot, or start your day in splendid fashion with a gut-busting breakfast. In short, "a great London institution".

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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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Terroirs

Terroirs

£30 - £49
French

5 William IV Street, London, WC2N 4DW

Offering an authentic slice of Gallic charm just off Trafalgar Square, Terroirs is a regular hit with readers who rate the "buzzy and lively" atmosphere, hearty charcuterie platters and garlicky snails. The seasonal menu changes daily, but always focuses on the freshest ingredients, with confident flavour combinations allowing them to shine through: we’d single out a starter of simply grilled mackerel paired with a punchy celeriac rémoulade, as well as melt-in-the-mouth Ibérica pluma (a neck cut) accompanied by earthy cavolo nero and rich pepper sauce. Exemplary steak tartare, the signature pork terrine and duck rillettes slathered on crusty baguettes are also good calls, ahead of cheeses and desserts such as poached pear with bergamot custard and pecan brittle. Like its siblings Soif and Toasted, Terroirs is big on ‘natural’ wine, with a joyous list featuring sustainable, organic and biodynamic bottles from artisan producers. Ask the clued-up staff for recommendations and buy your favourites to take home.

 

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Temper Covent Garden

Temper Covent Garden

£30 - £49
Steak
South American
Barbecue

5 Mercer Walk, Mercers Yard, London, WC2H 9FA

Chef Neil Rankin has decided on Covent Garden as the location for his third Temper site, following branches in Soho and the City. It’s one of a growing number of decent restaurants opening in an area that’s keen to shake off its tourist-trap reputation. Although the decor here follows brand guidelines (note the central counter kitchen), the focus is on small starting plates of pasta followed by giant sharing pizzas for mains.

The pasta, especially, impresses: we enjoyed golden, nugget-like fried tortellini filled with melted St-Marcellin cheese and a stream of honey; and were also taken by the stringy lardo carbonara, a creamy delight that dissolves on the tongue. Next, Temper’s pizzas are all in good fun – even if they occasionally seem to favour appearance over flavour. We tried the Detroit, a rectangular sharing pizza with puffed-up dough, and opted for half-and-half toppings: the sinfully dirty ‘cheeseburger’ option mixes tender aged-beef ragu with a mouth-puckering combination of sharp pickles, tangy burger sauce and fiery yellow mustard, while the goat ragu choice is like posh spag Bol on a pizza: as homey and comforting as it sounds.

The calorific theme continues for afters, via desserts such as the indulgent, gooey deep-dish Nutella cookie. Keenly priced and plenty of fun – and with a well-stocked bar to boot (tuck into Vermouth, Negronis or Aperol Spritz) – Covent Garden’s Temper is a solid option for a night of ‘screw the diet’ feasting and drinking.

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Cora Pearl

Cora Pearl

£50 - £79
British
French

30 Henrietta Street, London, WC2F 8NA

Covent Garden might not carry the same illicit cachet as Shepherd Market but the streets that would still be familiar to Nell Gwyn make an apt setting for this follow-up to Kitty Fisher’s, the most fashionable restaurant of 2015. Like Kitty’s, Cora Pearl is named after another of history’s good-time-girls, although the roles are reversed here: while Kitty’s has a bar above and a dining room below, here the bar is hidden away in the basement while the high-ceilinged, ground-floor restaurant is illuminated at both ends by big windows. Raffish without being scruffy and as suitable for romance as bromance, it’s the sort of room that is cosy in winter and sun-drenched in summer.

The menu might not have a must-order showstopper like the Galician beef that made Kitty Fisher’s the talk of the town, but there are several contenders. Starters of shrimp Ranhöfer – basically prawn cocktail on toast – and elegant-looking, naughty-tasting cheese and ham toasties are high-class canapés, begging you to lick your fingers.

To follow, ‘pork with onions’ turns out to be floppy slices of presa Ibérica draped with spring onions atop a deeply-flavoured onion purée, while veal fillet comes with an even better celeriac purée and a jug of Bordelaise sauce bobbing with bone marrow. Save this for dunking best-in-class chips made with layers of pressed potato: surely the most labour-intensive fries in London.

Cora Pearl is the sort of place where pre-theatre diners might consider missing the curtain-up for a creamy bowl of ‘milk and cookies’ and where tourists won’t believe their luck at having chanced upon that rarest of all pearls: somewhere in Covent Garden where both Londoners and anyone from out of town will feel right at home. 

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RedFarm London

RedFarm London

Chinese
Dim Sum

9 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HZ

With Redfarm joining Balthazar a couple of doors up, Russell Street is turning into a mini Manhattan. This first international branch of Redfarm is just one of owner Ed Schoenfeld’s 56 restaurants and, with its gingham tablecloths and whitewashed brickwork, is a Xerox of the West Village original. Most of the seats on the ground floor are at a long, shared table, although there are banquettes for four; more civilised tables for two will be available when the first floor opens.

Redfarm’s schtick is to graft a frenetic fast-food ethos onto Cantonese cooking. It might not be the place for Chinese food purists, but it sure is a lot of fun; were it not for the rowdy, adults-orientated atmosphere (10 cocktails, 20 wines), it would be the perfect place to keep kids entertained.

The signature Pac-Man dumplings are already all over Instagram and involve four well-crafted har gau ‘ghosts’, tinted with natural food colouring and dotted with sesame-seed eyes, chased across the plate by a sweet potato Pac-Man, jaws agape. Xiao long bao soup dumplings cleverly come pierced with a straw to suck up the pork and prawn broth to avoid any chin burns. Daily specials, meanwhile, might include cheeseburger spring rolls: minced beef and stringy cheese encased in golden flaky pastry accompanied by a gherkin-flecked dipping sauce that’s a dead ringer for a Big Mac’s secret ingredient.

Other small plates include a pitch-perfect version of crispy chilli beef, and bao concealing strips of pork belly, as lusciously fatty as Wagyu. Don’t fill up on the dim sum, though. The best thing we ate was the banquet classic of shrimp-stuffed chicken, a yin and yang of a dish in which the perky blandness of the surf and turf is offset by the most divinely crisp seasoned skin.

Two big downers: peak-time queues are likely to be long and prices are twice what you would pay in Chinatown, although the novelty value of the presentation is backed up by serious skill in the kitchen. But refreshingly unpretentious Redfarm undeniably brings a bright flash of colour to the London restaurant scene and is right at home in the theatrics of Covent Garden.

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J Sheekey

J Sheekey

£50 - £79
Fish

28-32 St Martin's Court, London, WC2N 4AL

“Old school dining at its best” says a devoted admirer of J Sheekey – a fondly admired veteran of the theatreland scene that is not only chic and fashionable but also democratic. With its cheerful buzz, fish “of the highest quality” and “some of the best service ever”, it invites diners to enjoy all the pleasures in a cosseting setting of leather banquettes and antique mirrors, with surrealist paintings and photos of legendary actors on the wood-panelled walls. Trawl through the menu for classics ranging from dressed crab and potted shrimps to magnificent fruits de mer and an inimitable fish pie, plus grilled halibut on the bone, fine Dover sole and lobster thermidor, but also be prepared for some daring detours – perhaps sardines marinated with harissa and pistachio dukkah or charred octopus with exotic green peppers. Fabulous puddings include crème brûlée and banoffee cheesecake, but we head straight for the Bramley apple pie and interesting tarts such as black fig with mascarpone and honey ice cream. To drink, fish-friendly wines include many Coravin selections – in short, J Sheekey is “an absolute must”. 

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The Oystermen Seafood Bar & Kitchen

The Oystermen Seafood Bar & Kitchen

£30 - £49
Fish

32 Henrietta Street, London, WC2E 8NA

This 26-cover seafood restaurant has grown out of owners Rob Hampton and Matt Lovell hosting oyster stands at markets and festivals, and the tiny dining room still has something of the pop-up to it. But the small dimensions don’t mean any reduction in quality, flavour or creativity. Oysters come straight up or with sympathetic accompaniments: a richly rounded sauce of caramelised lardo with parsley, garlic and black pepper, say, or, even better, in a tempura batter with Champagne aioli and caviar. Seafoody snacks are just as good – very smoky cod’s roe with crisp sesame lavash bread or fabulous anchovies on toast with confit garlic balancing out the salt – while starters proper include a substantial plate of octopus carpaccio in a colourful jumble of blood orange, hazelnut, chilli and basil.

Fish takes over for mains in the likes of a gentle curry full of monkfish tail, or a sensitively cooked lemon sole with samphire-like monk’s beard and an umami-rich dulse butter. Crème brûlée and a trio of British cheeses make up the pair of sweet and savoury puddings, the French-leaning, white-leading wine list has been put together with an eye for the unusual, while afternoon oyster happy hours give half a dozen rocks and a glass of crémant de Bourgogne for £10. Hampton and Lovell are charming hosts and we wouldn’t be surprised to see The Oystermen expand – snatch this Covent Garden pearl as it’s starting out.

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Frenchie Covent Garden

Frenchie Covent Garden

£50 - £79
French

16 Henrietta Street, London, WC2E 8QH

‘Frenchie’ was the nickname Jamie Oliver affectionately pinned on Nantes-born Gregory Marchand when he was head chef at Fifteen – although it’s hard to spot many Gallic references amid the bare brick walls, low-hanging light bulbs, swish green leather and marble counters of this “cool but chic” spot run by a staff brimming with effusive charm. Marchand’s truly modern, eclectic menu is also more Blighty than Brittany: clotted cream with irresistible bacon and maple syrup scones; Keen’s Cheddar accompanying ‘cauliflower’ mushrooms and ceps in vin jaune; plump Cornish cod partnered by wild rice and bean ragoût – even a roasted Brussels sprout canapé. Sharing plates have been wisely jettisoned, although the cooking retains its irresistibly inventive flair – witness sea bream tartare buried in pear, yuzu and quinoa, just-cooked trout with courgettes and smoky merguez sausage or blushing honey-roast duck breast partnered by miso aubergine, hazelnuts and plum sauce. For afters, try chocolate and malt with coffee sauce and meringue. Frenchie’s plush bar serves up sophisticated but inventive cocktails, while sommelier Bastien Ferreri curates a list of quirky, affordable wines. Finally, the open kitchen downstairs is all fire and energy – we love it for private dining.

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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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Frog by Adam Handling

Frog by Adam Handling

£30 - £49
British
Bars

34-38 Southampton Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7HF

Hot on the heels of The Frog E1 in Shoreditch, MasterChef: The Professionals finalist Adam Handling has opened this more formal all-day flagship in Covent Garden. It’s clear that Handling is looking to make himself a household name – his cookbook greets you at the reception desk, his name is emblazoned on staff aprons, and the moody basement bar is themed with Adam and Eve imagery. Self-indulgence aside, The Frog’s five or eight-course tasting menu impresses with high-octane combinations, including butter whipped with chicken fat, topped with crispy chicken skin and served with sourdough, and razor clams shrouded in dry ice. We opted for the five-course menu, starting out with impressive warm savoury doughnuts, oozing cheese and topped with shreds of earthy truffle. Other highlights are a tender helping of Iberico pork made sharp with kimchi and smoky roasted cauliflower, and an intriguing veggie option of a papery slice of celeriac folded over apple, date, egg yolk and thick cream. A knowledgeable and chatty sommelier explains unexpected wine options, such as the light pink, fruity number that comes with dessert. The final course is just as ambitious – a chocolate-covered marshmallow conceals bursts of raspberry with vanilla ice cream, while a mango and coconut cheesecake offers a lighter option. With its Instagram-baiting dishes and unique flavour combinations, it’s clear that Handling has big plans for The Frog (and himself), which was impressively busy on our midweek visit. Our money’s on him making the leap into chef stardom.    

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Savoy Grill at The Savoy

Savoy Grill at The Savoy

£50 - £79
Modern European

The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU

The legendary Savoy Grill has hosted a long list of famous diners since it opened in 1889, including Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra. You'll feel like an A-lister too, seated in the plush dining room beneath glittering chandeliers: "I love the experience whenever I go here," declares one devotee. Now a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, the menu pays its dues to the Savoy's culinary heritage, featuring omelette Arnold Bennett and peach Melba (both created here), as well as French staples that would be familiar to the hotel's first chef, Escoffier. But the main event is the "wonderful meat": generous grills and chops, with classic sauces such as marrowbone and shallot, feature alongside braises, roasts and pies, plus daily treats from the trolley – Wednesday is our favourite day for lunch, when beef Wellington is the star of the show. A traditional wine list lends support, while polished staff include "a helpful and knowledgeable sommelier". In short, the Savoy Grill delivers.

 

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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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50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo

50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo

Under £30
Pizza

7 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5BY

Third-generation master pizzaiolo Ciro Salvo is the man behind celebrated Neapolitan pizzeria 50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo, which has now made its way to London, debuting in a large site just off Trafalgar Square. Surrounded by chain restaurants and tourist gift shops, it feels like an odd location for a brand that is so revered.

The interiors are also a little jarring – the building’s gorgeous shell (double-height ceilings, marble columns) clashes with a Dennis the Menace-style mish-mash of red and black chairs, and cosy, cushion-covered booths.

But turn a blind eye to all of that, because the food here is knock-your-socks-off good. The menu kicks off with a concise selection of starting snacks, such as thick potato croquettes coated in crisp breadcrumbs, and a small, tightly-packed block of omelette packed with melted cheese and ham.

The pizzas, though, are the stars of the show, each with a soft and thin Neapolitan-style base, complete with crispy outer edges and charring marks. We opted for the carbonara: a creamy white base topped with smoky strips of bacon, drizzles of oil and a dusting of pepper. Elsewhere, the veggie 50 Kalò pizza saw clumps of gooey mozzarella (flown in from Campania) studded with silky roasted tomatoes and olives.

Friendly Italian staff and prices on a par with less impressive pizza chains are further pluses. There are side dishes available too, but we’ll doubt you’ll need to order any more after finishing off one of these hefty pizzas. Don’t forget to save some crusts to scoop up the pools of glorious leftover sauce – trust us, you’ll want to savour every bite.

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Maison Bab

Maison Bab

£30 - £49
Turkish

4 Mercers Walk, London, WC2H 9FA

Kebabs were once the preserve of post-lash pig-outs, only to be devoured after 2am. But, along with burgers, hot dogs and fried chicken, the humble ’bab has gone high class of late. Soho’s Le Bab was a part of this revolution when it debuted in 2016, and now the same team has opened this two-floor site in Covent Garden’s Mercer Walk development. The reasonably priced menu kicks off with sharing-style starters, including the must-order doner beignet: a canapé-sized, deep-fried dough ball stuffed with tender lamb, and served with a slick of garlic sauce, that most classic of kebab condiments. Come mains, guests can choose from various rotisserie-grilled meats piled on top of flatbread. We were impressed by the smoky and sweet pork shawarma: slow-cooked for 15 hours, then charcoal grilled and finished off with a drizzling of chermoula mayonnaise (a herby Moroccan paste). Further reasons to visit include the cheeky cocktail list (the Call Me By Your Name references the most fun you can have with a peach) and the brilliantly named Kebab Queen, a basement chef’s table serving a set menu for up to 10 guests. If we have a criticism, it’s that some of the messy, sticky-fingered fun of a kebab has been lost along the way, although the impressively swish interiors (dusty pink banquettes, a counter overlooking the open kitchen) are a welcome step up from strip lighting and formica. And if you do want to get down and dirty, you can always order a portion of chips to dunk into pots of thick-set fondue.

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Hawksmoor Seven Dials

Hawksmoor Seven Dials

£50 - £79
Steak
British

11 Langley Street, London, WC2H 9JG

“The best steak in London, by a mile”, declares one reader, and we have to agree. The beefy Hawksmoor chain somehow manages to get everything right, from its glorious 35-day-aged steaks supplied by The Ginger Pig to its creative cocktails – all presented by staff with a genuine passion for service. It's easy to understand why there are now six branches in the capital (and another in Manchester), though this atmospheric site in the old barrel-vaulted Watney Combe Brewery is one of our favourites. Start with Old Spot belly ribs or sweetly caramelised roast scallops with white port and garlic, before taking your pick of the beefy cuts chalked up by weight on blackboards. Perfectly crisp triple-cooked chips, gut-busting macaroni cheese or grilled bone marrow make happy companions, but we urge saving some space for the addictive salted caramel Rolos too. The comfortable bar deals in burgers and lobster rolls as well as brilliant drinks, though between the hours of 3pm and 5pm Monday-Friday, you can dine from the full a la carte menu when booking in advance. Sunday lunch sees roast rump of Longhorn beef with all the trimmings for Sunday lunch. “Great for big groups and for couples”, notes one fan.

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Kerridge

Kerridge's Bar & Grill

British

10 Northumberland Ave, Westminster, London, WC2N 5AE

After a false start with the Jumeriah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge, Tom Kerridge has finally opened his first London restaurant at the Corinthia hotel. It’s in a slightly no-man’s-land location between Embankment tube and Trafalgar Square – both central and off the beaten track – but Kerridge’s fame and the skill of his kitchen should ensure this London outpost becomes every bit as hard to get into as his two Michelin-starred Marlow gastropub The Hand and Flowers. 

Some of the dishes we treasure from The Hand are reproduced here. The signature glazed omelette of smoked haddock and Parmesan is pimped up with lobster and even better for it, the meat so sweet that the fabulously decadent concoction eats like a souffle. Other dishes were new to us, but demonstrated Kerridge’s trademark of lifting classic British cooking with sophisticated technique without losing any of its lip-smacking gutsiness.

So while a pig’s cheek pie was basically a pork pie, the buttery pastry lifted it into another realm entirely, with a devilled sauce (taking the place of mustard) to cut through the richness. Brown butter tart with buttermilk ice cream, meanwhile, was a straightforwardly sweet delight.

Vegetarians get three starters and mains apiece, set lunch and pre-theatre menus should appeal to theatergoers from the nearby Strand (or anyone put off by the steep pricing), while bar snacks such as venison sausage rolls and Welsh rarebit are another budget-minded way in.

To drink, draught beers, gins and 20 English sparklers keep the flag flying for Britain; elsewhere, grower Champagnes join the classic houses while there are more big names from France and highlights from the rest of the world on a wine list that shows the benefit of hotel funding; a long trek to the loos across the hotel lobby is, however, a downside.  

David Collins Studio has done its best to make the high-ceilinged space (formerly Massimo’s) feel more intimate, with diners grouped around clubby horseshoe leather banquettes, but clattery acoustics can make conversation hard to hear. But make no mistake: this really is food to shout about.

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The Petersham Covent Garden

The Petersham Covent Garden

£50 - £79
Italian

27-31 King Street, WC2E 8JB

It’s only to be expected that Petersham Nurseries has lost a little something on its journey from bucolic Richmond to Covent Garden, but it has gained plenty in the process too, namely a wine merchant’s, café-bar (La Goccia), florist’s, delicatessen and sun-dappled courtyard. The business started in 2004 as a shabby-chic garden centre but is now a ‘lifestyle brand’, with the Petersham (the complex’s more formal restaurant) at its apogee.

The venue looks gorgeous, a World of Interiors centrefold of abundant cut flowers, Murano glass, artworks and glistening chandeliers. The courtyard area is somewhat less convincing, the presence of passing shoppers compromising the idyll. However, it only takes one Rose Petal Prosecco to shake off the feeling of dining in a mall – along with a glance at a menu that transports you to Italy by way of an English country garden. The kitchen observes the seasons with gusto: in early spring serving pea, lovage and quinoa tartlets with even more peas on the side; and in midsummer, introducing broad bean hummus to heritage radishes. Italophile starters such as risotto, or sopressini pasta with beef shin ragu, lead naturally into a shared main course of salt-baked hake; seasonal side dishes always include the Petersham garden salad.

Living the dream here is an expensive business, so dip a toe in first with the £29.50 pre-theatre menu and order carefully from the all-Italian wine list.

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Bryn Williams at Somerset House

Bryn Williams at Somerset House

£30 - £49
Modern European

Somerset Hosue, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA

Bryn Williams of Odette’s fame is the latest chef (following Tom Aikens) to oversee the network of rooms that make up the restaurant occupying the south wing of Somerset House. It’s a dramatic and moody setting, featuring comfy booths and stunning food photography, but the awkward layout of the space rather takes the edge off the atmosphere. 

But what the restaurant lacks in good-time vibes, it more than makes up for in feel-good food. An on-trend menu makes vegetables the star of the show and, while the cooking might not be vegetarian, there’s no doubting where the focus lies in a dish described as grilled hispi cabbage with apple and pork chop. All the dishes we tried impressed, from a fresh-tasting dome of compressed watermelon topped with avocado and a generous helping of sweet Dorset crab, to a rich main of tagliatelle entwined with kale pesto and a liberal shaving of grated parmesan, and our friendly waitress’ dessert suggestion of lavender-scented meringue shards with tart blueberry ice cream. 

To drink, there’s a European leaning wine list, cocktails involving the likes of rhubarb and beetroot, plus a draught beer bar that gives a reason to visit even if you don’t want to eat.

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Rules

Rules

£50 - £79
British

35 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LB

As patriotic as a rousing chorus of Rule, Britannia!, this splendidly antiquated institution flies the flag for British dishes and ingredients with its proudly traditional menu. As London's oldest restaurant (opened by Thomas Rule in 1798), it would no doubt still be familiar to former patrons such as Charles Dickens, who looks down over the plush, panelled dining room from walls crowded with old sketches and paintings. Quality is consistent across the board, with confident renditions of staples such as potted shrimps, steak and kidney pie or golden syrup steamed sponge with custard. Game from the restaurant’s Lartington Estate in Yorkshire is a real draw in autumn, when dishes such as braised pheasant with lentils or roast grouse with game chips, bread sauce and redcurrant jelly make a perfect match for the savoury Rhône reds on the wine list. Expect to be treated like royalty from the moment you're greeted by the top-hatted doorman.

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Kebab Queen at Maison Bab

Kebab Queen at Maison Bab

£50 - £79
Middle Eastern
Turkish

4 Mercer Walk, London, WC2H 9FA

Just when you thought you’d seen it all on London’s ever-eventful restaurant scene, along comes a high-end, kebabs-only chef’s table coming to London. Found underneath purveyors of pimped-up kebabs Maison Bab in Covent Garden, the brilliantly named Kebab Queen serves a seven-course tasting menu, with guests encouraged to eat with their hands (perhaps a homage to the humble, late-night kebabs of old?)

Diners sit front row around the kitchen, perched on one of 10 cobalt blue, leather-clad stools. Some design features echo that of a traditional kebab joint, such as the stainless steel walls, while others appear to have been designed with social media in mind – witness the pastel pink curtains and the pink tiled concrete floor.

The chef’s table is hidden behind the illuminated façade of a classic British kebab shop, with dishes cooked on a custom wood-fired grill, before being served directly onto a heated Dekton countertop (no fiddly bits like plates and cutlery here, thank you very much.) The multi-course menu kicks off with two starters, including the likes of a foie gras kebabito: a miniature, two-bite kebab of barbecued foie gras. Other dishes you’ll come across include a doner risotto (lamb jus risotto finished with classic garnishes and shavings of lamb tongue), and a fish course of chargrilled shish kebab of monkfish, served with chicken skin and ‘plated’ onto a charred cabbage leaf.

For your main course, you’ll enjoy a rum-aged Spit Roast Fesenjan Duck. Inspired by the dish of Iranian stew, it is served with a crust of crisp Persian rice, intended to be pulled apart with your fingers. Dessert meanwhile, will be presented as ‘Got Milk?’ – an ode to the head chef's childhood, this sweet treat sees freshly-baked, sticky milk buns filled with caramelised cream and topped with crème fraiche sorbet.

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Clos Maggiore

Clos Maggiore

£50 - £79
French

33 King Street, London, WC2E 8JD

Whether you want to take your mum for lunch or your lover for dinner, Clos Maggiore has that special “touch of magic” with an added soupçon of Gallic ooh-la-la. Love is always in the air at this “gloriously romantic” restaurant – especially if you’re lucky enough to get a table amid the twinkling fairy lights, blossoms and foliage in the glass-roofed conservatory (open to the stars on balmy evenings). Bookings aren’t guaranteed in this inviting space, but you can always settle for one of the less enticing dining areas: either way, expect finely tuned French-accented cooking with some noticeable Mediterranean nuances. “Simply delicious” starters such as hand-picked Dorset crab with anchovy mayonnaise and char-grilled cauliflower or pan-roasted Les Landes duck liver with roasted fig and smoked duck ham open proceedings, ahead of a thumping dish of herb-smoked rack of lamb with goats’ curd and gratinated smoked aubergine for two to share. Vegetarians also fare well, while tricksy desserts feature the signature ‘caramelised chocolate sensation’ with burnt honey ice cream and Armagnac jelly. Clos Maggiore’s huge (but accessible) wine list also warrants serious exploration.

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