1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London, 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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15-17 Blandford Street, London, W1U 3DG
Trishna’s “modern take on Indian cuisine” is where the Sethi family’s restaurant story started. Their clutch of new openings may be markedly young ’n’ funky compared to the original, but that’s how Trishna’s fans like it – and there are plenty of them, including Michelin.
The food is beautifully presented to fit a restrained dining room with doors that open onto the street in summer. Although the prevailing breeze might not be coastal, much of the cooking has a noticeable briny tang: order pink prawns with chilli, garlic and smoked tomato chutney or quail pepper fry with Keralan spices to start, followed by the now-famous tandoori hariyali bream in a vivid green chilli-herb jacket.
Biriyanis are inventive, as in a wild mushroom and berry version with pink peppercorn raita, while venison and duck come with superior keema naans. Oenophile Sunaina Sethi has devised some “exceptional” wine pairings to match the complexity of the food: you are in safe hands.
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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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22 Harcourt Street, London, W1H 4HH
You wouldn’t come across Dinings by accident – and if you did, you might not think it was a restaurant at all. But this Japanese powerhouse isn’t defined by its postage stamp-sized premises on two floors of a backstreet townhouse as both technique and cooking are exemplary, allowing the repertoire to evolve into Japanese ‘tapas’ with inventive but complementary flourishes. Sushi and sashimi, such as open rolls of spicy tuna with sesame sauce and shichimi pepper, come from the ground-floor counter, or you could ring the changes with a crossover riff involving yellowtail topped with horseradish salsa, British caviar and wasabi jalapeño vinaigrette. Hot bites could be grilled chilli garlic black cod, while set lunches are donburi-based with toppings of freshwater eel and foie gras or Wagyu beef with garlic butter soy. Dinings’ fans are legion, so inevitably the basic basement dining room is a squeeze. If your heart is set on it, advance booking is a very good idea.
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40-42 Baker Street, London, W1U 7AJ
This flagship branch of the Royal China chain might have doubled in size thanks to a four-month renovation in the summer of 2018 but compared to its huge siblings, it still feels intimate; instead of one large dining room, the restaurant is split into two, while five new private dining rooms benefit from natural light. The new look is slick without being intimidatingly stylish: gold leaf on the ceiling, red lacquer on the wall and enough black leather seating to make the restaurant smell like a luxury stand at the Beijing Motor Show.
While rivals in this price bracket might concentrate on innovating regional Chinese cuisine, Royal China Club’s approach is to stick to the classics, but using premium ingredients: fresh abalone tossed with caviar, pan-fried scallop with foie gras, or a grilled Wagyu fillet in teriyaki sauce.
If the size of the bill isn’t a concern, you will eat very well here, although more budget-minded diners may not feel that the high prices are worth paying for dishes that are not dissimilar to the Baker Street Royal China a few doors down: £22.80 for a basket of eight seafood dim sum struck us as very steep, no matter how well made the contents.
Elsewhere, soft-shell crab with salt and peppercorn was well timed and well spiced, Szechuan king prawns had noticeably fresh seafood in a well-balanced sauce (though purists may wish for more chilli heat); while roasted crispy Iberian pork belly was a faultless version of a classic dish.
Staff are delightful, and even early in the week, there is a loyal market of regulars happy to pay Royal China Club’s prices for a comfortingly reassuring dining experience. If price is a concern, daytime dim sum offers a relatively more affordable way in.
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55 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 5RB
This D&D London-owned, Conran-era classic has celebrated its 21st birthday with a gentle refurbishment that has effectively kept the grey-toned colour scheme the same as before. It remains one of the most elegant dining rooms in London, especially pretty at lunchtime when light floods through the arched windows overlooking St Marylebone churchyard, and in summer when the rooftop terrace is one of the capital’s best-kept secrets. Chef-patron Igor Tymchyshyn has worked here since 2008 and hasn’t ever deviated from the restaurant’s modern French template. Starters of perky cured mackerel with cucumber and horseradish or a really excellent Dorset crab with mango and wasabi might be followed by a signature tournedos Rossini with almost as much foie gras as steak. A trolley whiffy with 30 well-kept cheeses has always been what the place is most famous for – as too a 22-page wine list with some big names among the two dozen by the glass, with fine wine prices slashed on Mondays. Service is as formal as the business-friendly setting of well-spaced, white-clothed tables demands, without losing sight of friendliness. A set menu (£39) with four choices per course avoids the stiff cost of the à la carte (£59), while the tiny bar is a rare for the area cocktail spot.
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34 Portman Street, London, W1H 7BY
Nordic influences now pervade London’s restaurant scene, but Agnar Sverrisson’s Michelin-starred restaurant remains one of the best places in town for a taste of the north. Butter and cream are given a wide berth, but there’s no lack of luxury in the kitchen’s focused and often ingenious approach to high-class ingredients. Seafood really sings – perhaps Norwegian king crab with coconut, ginger, lime leaf and lemongrass, followed by lightly salted Icelandic cod with avocado, brandade, tomatoes and chorizo – while land-based treats range from Lancaster beetroots with Gorgonzola, walnuts and ‘snow’ (a favourite flourish) to Limousin veal with artichokes, runner beans and cherries. Skyr may have hit the mainstream, but here it’s the real deal, served with vanilla, rye bread and blueberries, while white chocolate is ingeniously balanced with dill and cucumber. Sommelier and co-founder Xavier Rousset left in 2015 to open restaurants including Blandford Comptoir, but there’s been no obvious harm to the wine list, which remains a Riesling-fancier’s dream.
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8 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7JZ
Eating at Giorgio Locatelli’s Michelin-starred flagship brings you one step closer to la dolce vita – so writes a fan who adores this polished purveyor of “old-school glamour” and pure-bred Italian regional cooking. Beaded curtains, cream leather and dramatic domed mirrors create just the right amount of chic elegance, while neatly designed alcoves offer privacy for those who are at Locanda Locatelli for discreet assignations. Meanwhile, the kitchen delivers value, authenticity and culinary cred as it fashions an array of vivacious dishes inspired by provenance-led cucina rustica. Superlative hand-crafted pasta is the undisputed headline act (ring-shaped calamarata with monkfish, samphire, dry capers, chilli and lemon, for example), but everything at Locanda Locatelli is imbued with seasonal freshness – from a grilled vegetable salad with stuffed peppers, pine kernel and basil to roast grouse with stewed lentils and game chips. To round things off, try the Neapolitan ‘baba’ with Chantilly and orange cream or gorge on some artisan cheeses, offered lovingly with Italian honey. Service seldom falters and prices are “not ridiculous” – although you’ll need to shell out a pretty penny to do the patrician wine list full justice.
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10 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 2RD
A happy combination of warmth, familiarity and location ensures the longevity of this one-off bolthole, dedicated to the charms of the Veneto. You’ll find more directional interiors and of-the-moment food elsewhere, but this is a deliberately coddling experience, all brick arches, bounteous bread baskets and low-key generosity. From the antipasti list, try sarde in saor with white onion, pine nuts and sultanas or one of the variations on salt cod, ahead of bigoli pasta with duck ragù, plain-speaking beef tagliata with a salad of bitter radicchio or fritto misto – an effort to conjure the spirit of the lagoon using squid, mullet, soft-shell crab and king prawns. Lunchtimes now stretch out with an appealing, simplified afternoon menu (served until 5.30pm) and – as you’d expect – wines from the Veneto dominate the Italian drinks list.
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50 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 5HN
Oh, Vienna: Corbin and King’s grand café has one misty-eyed for the city of cafés and giant schnitzels without ever leaving Marylebone. It’s not so much the food, though that’s a cold-weather dream: neat rye sourdough brötchen lined with beetroot and herring, followed by braised beef tafelspitz or pan-fried duck liver with grapes and redcurrants piled onto crisp rösti. It’s more the cumulative effect of the smart staff, low lights, leather accents, copious taxidermy and gorgeous views. This is a comfortable, well-padded kind of seduction, complete with cake plates brought to the table for you to choose from (go for the classic Sachertorte), and silver coupes filled with nutty ice cream. Mid-European wines are a feature, but so is coffee and a biscuit. We love it, although one disappointed punter thinks that Fischer’s needs to “up its game”, with the Ivy Café now grabbing headlines (and customers) on Marylebone High Street.
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109 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4RX
Peter Gordon’s double-decker fusion palace is supposed to be fun, and readers confirm that it’s a blast. At street level, there’s the no-bookings Tapa Room (named after a Rarotongan tapa cloth, which decorates the space): this noisy rendezvous is perpetually rammed with crowds who gather for breakfast (brown rice, apple, maple syrup and miso porridge with tamarillo compote, perhaps) and all-day dishes. Upstairs, the eponymous dining room pushes more boundaries, delivering multi-ingredient combos with a little more formality – think smoked Dutch eel with coconut and tamarind laksa, green tea noodles, soft-boiled quail’s egg, girolles and sweetcorn followed by Creedy Carver duck breast with figs, walnuts, grapes, sherry vinegar and membrillo. Every day’s a school day here, so ask if you’re not sure what something is (the staff are used to it) and reserve some time, money and attention to explore the seriously Kiwi wine list.
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