Cool restaurants in London

London’s the place to be for cool and trendy dining spots.

Posted on 26 February 2019

Cool restaurants in London

Scroll on for our pick of the best cool restaurants in London – these places are often star-magnets, so here you’re likely to find the who’s who of the foodie world as well as some of the best culinary trends. We’ve selected the coolest and most foodie-fashionable restaurants in London: venues in which you can feed your ego and your belly, as well as swoon in all the gourmet gossip. Find the trendiest restaurants in London with our top guide of cool dining spots to help you secure an evening worth gloating about.


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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Red Rooster at The Curtain

Red Rooster at The Curtain

£30 - £49
North American

45 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3PT

The polishing up of Shoreditch continues with the arrival of The Curtain hotel (just round the corner from the equally new Nobu Shoreditch). Although this luxe offering comes with a rooftop swimming pool, its in-house restaurant retains its Shoreditch cool with quirky decor and painfully cool staff. Red Rooster has a twin in New York’s Harlem and, like its NYC sibling, the Shoreditch menu is a celebration of America’s southern soul food, carried off with panache. We kick-started our evening with a trio of snacks including fish tacos, bacon-loaded popcorn and crumbly cornbread slathered with sweet honey butter and spicy tomato jam. We then moved on to a starter proper of meatballs served swimming in zingy pickled gravy and dotted with perfectly crisp bites of gnocchi. As Red Rooster’s name suggests, poultry is the star turn, but we mixed things up, skipping the fried yard bird and herb-roasted chicken for a helping of tender, spicy jerk pork and prawns, served with sweet coconut rice and chunks of juicy pineapple. Desserts are just as indulgent (rum-soaked doughnuts anyone?) and our slice of red velvet sponge, served with cream cheese sorbet and chocolate cremeux, was as sweet as can be. With brunch on Sunday and live music most evenings, Red Rooster is an impressive addition to the Shoreditch scene. With all that US soul food though, it’s just as well that The Curtain has a gym.  

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Rawduck

Rawduck

£30 - £49
International

197 Richmond Road, London, E8 3NJ

Circumstances beyond its control forced tiny Rawduck to move from Hackney Central to a more capacious home near London Fields. Now a happy addition to the food cluster at the Arthaus building (Lardo’s a neighbour), this café-bar has grown not only in size but also in stature. It’s a confident venture that goes all out to specialise in natural wines – the funkier the better – drinking vinegars and ferments. The scattergun global menu is slightly discombobulating (sub-headings include ‘pickles, salts and smokes’ and ‘milk by the gram’), and the kitchen’s powerful style brings together flavours that shouldn’t by rights belong on the same plate. Miso carrots and nori, pressed anchovy toasts, grilled aubergines with ponzu and (the weakest link) a raw duck ‘ceviche’ of sorts with orange and chilli was an oddball assortment, but assertively seasoned and well-paced. The concrete-heavy interior is very chic, though communal tables won’t be for everyone.

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Kurobuta Chelsea

Kurobuta Chelsea

£50 - £79
Japanese

312 King's Road, London, SW3 5UH

Aussie chef/founder Scott Hallsworth has moved on, but Korobuta is still a good-fun local in SW3 – even if service is a bit wobbly and some of the original spark has gone. By and large, it’s business as usual, which means stripped-back interiors, a raucous rock soundtrack, racy cocktails and a menu touting everything from jazzed-up sushi and raw salads to robata BBQ and ‘significant others’ (miso-baked aubergine with candied walnuts). Nothing is taken too seriously, so graze your way through the in-your-face flavours of 'junk food Japan' (tako-yaki octopus doughnuts, Wagyu sliders or Korean short-rib tacos with chilli oil and avocado, perhaps). Under the heading 'something crunchy', there’s black pepper soft-shell crab tempura with wakame, while the robata-grilled pork belly in a satay-loaded steamed bun is an unctuous, nutty treat. Also expect a strong showing of maki rolls, nigiri and sashimi – all at friendly prices. The bar is a destination in its own right, with cocktails matching the mood: anyone for a Drunken Samurai with sparkling yuzu saké?

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Bistrotheque

Bistrotheque

£30 - £49
Modern European

23-27 Wadeson Street, London, E2 9DR

Once an insider’s secret on a seedy Bethnal Green backstreet, Bistrotheque has gone on to become a bona fide east London institution. Best known for its weekend brunch service, it’s always packed to the rafters and great raucous fun, thanks to the colourfully coiffed house pianist and decent nosh (plates of pancakes with poached rhubarb and pork chops with layered potatoes do it for us) and even better cocktails. The decor “just stays cool” and the clientele is a veritable Who’s Who of modern east London, with a host of designers, architects, artists and assorted locals using it for nibbles, drinks at the “magnificent” bar (“staff will make sure your glass is never empty”) and lively suppers – perhaps pressed lamb with spring vegetables, cod with romesco sauce, caramelised tomato tart with burrata or “the best steak tartare in the east End”. The food’s good, but the ambience is “amazing”.

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Morito Exmouth Market

Morito Exmouth Market

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish

32 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE

‘Orange is the New Black’, as they say on TV, which makes the chosen colour for the dinky offshoot of big-hitting Moro totally on-trend. Morito is a tiny spot and it fills up fast (bookings are only taken at lunchtime), but we guarantee you’ll love this immensely stylish little joint. Once you’re in, get stuck into small plates with a decidedly rustic Spanish flavour: salt cod croquetas, Padrón peppers, jamón Ibérico, patatas bravas and other tapas classics are all here, but keep an eye out for the specials too – perhaps pork belly with mojo verde or deep-fried rabbit shoulder flavoured with rose harissa. The plancha turns out lamb chops spiced up with cumin and paprika, while desserts might include a divine chocolate and olive oil mousse. The enticing all-Iberian wine list features some splendid sherries and watch out for Morito’s annual ‘seafood and sherry’ festival.

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Xu

Xu

£50 - £79
Taiwanese

30 Rupert Street, London, W1D 6DL

Erchen Chang and co made London fall in love with Taiwanese buns when they opened Bao, and they look set to repeat that success for the island’s other culinary delights with this impressive venture – a handsome slice of 1920s Shanghai chic complete with some original space-saving touches (note the tables that flip over to make mah-jong boards). But the most original thing about Xu (pronounced ‘Shu’) is the food, which runs from ‘xiao tsai’ small plates and ‘mian shi’ pancakes to ‘classics’ such as char siu ibérico pork. Highlights include ‘numbing’ beef tendon set in a jellied terrine pooled with fiery chilli vinaigrette, a pungent whip of creamy crab meat with fermented shrimp, garlic and more hot chilli, and a dish of sweetbreads cleverly enhanced with fermented greens. There’s “sensational” onion rice too, although nothing can trump that char sui pork, meltingly tender in the middle and crisped around the edges. Some ideas are a taste or texture too far (we’re thinking of the spongy taro dumpling filled with sausage meat), but Xu is an exciting introduction to an under-represented cuisine – and you’ll be pleased to hear that it takes bookings. 

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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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Primeur

Primeur

£30 - £49
French

116 Petherton Road, London, N5 2RT

A converted 1930s garage in residential Stoke Newington provides the unlikely setting for this French-inspired neighbourhood favourite. Large concertina doors open on to the street in summer, encouraging punters to venture outside. Inside, all is dimly lit, cosy utilitarianism, with a large communal table and benches running alongside the open kitchen. Top-quality, seasonal ingredients are used to simple, stunning effect. A handful of daily dishes are written on the blackboard: perhaps a fresh, zesty plateful of squid, lemon, capers and parsley, or clams in a rich wine, garlic and parsley sauce – perfect for mopping up with sourdough. To follow, rare yet tender grouse with stuffing and a creamy bread sauce might provide a late-summer treat. All entries on the ever-changing wine list (also chalked up) are available by the glass. Nearby competition is sparse, so Primeur is frequently packed: it looks primed for success.

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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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Casa Cruz

Casa Cruz

£50 - £79
International

123 Clarendon Road, London, W11 4JG

Things are going swimmingly for Casa Cruz. Jet-setting designer, financier and restaurateur Juan Santa Cruz has won over the fashionable west London crowd, who now feel at ease within this glamorous Holland Park edifice – a pantheon of burnished copper with a handsome oval cocktail bar and a menu that appeals to voguish ‘clean eating’ sensibilities – think raw dishes, hero vegetables and grills of fish, chicken and grass-fed beef. Quality is everything, as in fresh tomatoes with basil and olive oil, charred beets with horseradish or raw tuna soothed by creamy avocado and a kick of wasabi. A plate of sea bream carpaccio with chilli and lime won’t bother your calorie count, nor will weeny portions of roast cod or grilled monkfish, while bigger appetites might prefer steaks or blackened chicken, perhaps followed by lemon polenta cake with crème fraîche. The wide-ranging wine list covers the best of the Old World, supplemented by Argentinian bottles from Mendoza and Patagonia.

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Nobu Shoreditch

Nobu Shoreditch

£50 - £79
South American
Japanese

10-50 Willow Street, London, EC2A 4BH

It’s 20 years since London’s first Nobu launched on Park Lane and almost as long since Shoreditch became a destination with a ragtag of cooler-than-thou bars clustered around Old Street. Now the two worlds collide with the launch of the Nobu Hotel Shoreditch. Come for quieter lunches and weekend brunches to appreciate the calm beauty of the design. A long staircase leads down to a dramatically high-ceilinged, concrete-lined space of glass walls and gauzy curtains, tricked out in 90s neutrals and with a four-stepped terrace leading off the large bar area for when it’s not raining. Inside, it’s raining men: we spotted a total of four female diners hidden among the big tables of City boys of every age group. A menu that’s about half the size of Nobu London’s nods towards time-pressed City diners and touts the brand’s greatest hits, from black cod with miso to yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño.  Springy rock shrimp tempura encased in light batter and slicked in addictive creamy jalapeño sauce, and crisp tacos stuffed with lobster smeared in wasabi mayo, do the classics proud, while ‘Shoreditch specials’ include excellent pork belly with a beautifully balanced spicy miso caramel sauce. For pud, squidgy mochi cakes are perhaps more of an acquired taste, while a chocolate orb twice failed to melt on cue under its torrent of hot sauce. Cynics may carp that the arrival of one of the world’s foremost luxury lifestyle brands in EC2 shows how corporate the Shoreditch scene has become, but Square Mile diners will be thrilled to have somewhere on their doorstep with such a palpable frisson of global glamour.

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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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Hakkasan Mayfair

Hakkasan Mayfair

£50 - £79
Chinese
One michelin star

17 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QB

Putting on the style is second nature to this scintillating, seductive and downright intoxicating branch of the global Hakkasan chain – whether you’re flashing it in the pulsating nightclubby bar or playing it cool in the sleek ground-floor dining room. Either way, devotees of the house style are in heaven as they drool over “incredible east-meets-west platefuls” of steamed langoustines wrapped in glass vermicelli with chilli and garlic sauce, spicy lamb salad with peanut dressing (one of our favourites) or stir-fried Norfolk quail with winter chestnuts, basil and lemongrass – a dish that’s unique to Hakkasan Mayfair. “Divine dim sum” such as steamed har gau crowned with gold leaf, homemade pumpkin tofu or smoked beef ribs with jasmine tea crank up the thrill factor even further (especially at lunchtime), and the whole Michelin-starred shebang is fuelled by premium sakés, brilliantly chosen matching wines and ritzy cocktails (“unusual, but in a good way”). As you’d expect, staff are immaculately groomed – although they’re not here just for show (even if their attention sometimes wanders). Eating at Hakkasan Mayfair may be a wallet-emptying experience, but “you’ll feel like a billionaire for a few hours”. 

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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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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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Duck & Waffle

Duck & Waffle

£50 - £79
International

110 Bishopsgate, London, EC2N 4AY

Although it’s only two floors above Sushisamba, and shares the same incredible views, Duck & Waffle has a noticeably more relaxed vibe compared to its Japanese-fusion neighbour – and with 24/7 opening as its trump card, it’s also a shoo-in for “active Londoners” living la vida loca. Food-wise, the “creative menu” plays fast and loose with the world larder, and the daring, innovative flavours are guaranteed to please (and challenge) the taste buds. Irresistible snacks of sweet/savoury bacon-wrapped dates and crispy polenta with Parmesan and truffle get things rolling, while goat meatballs in thyme broth or warm ox-cheek doughnuts with apricot jam maintain the gutsy theme – although “nothing beats the eponymous house speciality”, a mouth-watering pile-up of waffles, confit duck leg and a fried egg. If you make it to dessert, we recommend the rich salted caramel choux buns. Chatty, knowledgeable staff are also happy to advise on the ‘wham-bam’ cocktail list: “Worth every penny”, concludes one fan of Duck and Waffle.

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Sushisamba City

Sushisamba City

£50 - £79
South American
Japanese

Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate (38-39th floor), London, EC2N 4AY

“It’s all about the experience” at Sushisamba, from the moment the lightning-quick glass elevator whisks you up to the 38th floor of the Heron Tower. Once inside, you can’t miss the incredible floor-to-ceiling views or the covens of noisy young City types splashing serious amounts of cash at the bar. The “fabulous atmosphere” spills over into the restaurant, where the menu promises a thrilling fusion of Japanese and Latino cuisine – from shrimp tempura with snap pea julienne, spicy mayo and black truffle vinaigrette to refreshing crispy lobster taquitos with avocado, aji amarillo, jalapeños and morado. Other standouts on our list include the multi-coloured sushi rolls, sweet potato noodles served with egg yolk and gold shavings, and a drool-worthy chocolate banana cake with maple butter, plantain chip and rum-spiked ice cream. Samba music blasts from the speakers, while innumerable staff are on hand to deliver “the best service ever”. It’s not everyone’s cup of saké, but high-octane Sushisamba is spot-on for City revellers with deep pockets.

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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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Shackfuyu

Shackfuyu

Under £30
Japanese

14a Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TJ

Bone Daddies' year-long pop up has gone permanent, with a refurbishment including a new upstairs bar and basement private dining. Housed in a former Italian restaurant, high-energy Shackfuyu makes use of the old pizza oven for mentaiko (marinated fish roe) and USDA beef picanha (a rump cut), while the succinct, keenly priced menu is an addictive pick-and-mix of flavours inspired by current trends: a moreish prawn toast/okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pizza) hybrid; yellowtail sashimi tostadas packed with contrasting textures, and delicious miso-coated roast aubergine. With so many hits, we can forgive the odd dud (disappointing mackerel escabèche) – especially when the sole dessert (springy kinako cake with whipped green tea ice cream) pays sweet dividends. The bar delivers strong cocktails, sakés and mighty sharing goblets of Koshihikari Echigo beer, plus gao bao buns at lunchtime.

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Hoppers Soho

Hoppers Soho

£30 - £49
Indian

49 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SG

Sometimes, very good things come in very small packages. This no-reservations South Indian eatery from the Sethi siblings (of Trishna and Gymkhana fame) goes from strength to strength, with the implementation of an app in 2016 eliminating one of very few negative points: the need to queue outside on Lexington Street. The average wait at dinner is still over an hour, but the pay-off is astoundingly good-value Sri Lankan and Tamil cuisine “full of delicate flavours and fragrances”. Pick an eponymous hopper (a bowl-shaped rice pancake) with a gooey egg embedded in its base or a sticky, crunchy dosa cone, then match your choice with a “perfectly balanced” kari (curry). Options range from lamb, black pork or fish to red pumpkin and gourd with cashew, irresistibly supported by fiery, must-order Bengali prawns or crisp and deeply meaty mutton rolls. Hoppers is perpetually packed, but “friendly, discreet staff” won’t rush you, so sit back and sip an exotic Margarita (pepped up with pickled lime and coconut salt) to compensate for the absence of a dessert menu.

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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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Blacklock Soho

Blacklock Soho

£30 - £49
British

The Basement, 24 Great Windmill Street, London, W1D 7LG

As an affordable on-trend eatery with great food worth talking about, this cool basement chophouse is manna for West End diners on the prowl. Blacklock’s incognito street entrance adds to the allure, although it won’t prepare you for the rocking basement room that’s full to bursting with a garrulous young crowd. Vintage Blacklock foundry irons are used to press pork, lamb and beef chops on the charcoal grill, which also lends its smoky flavours to daily specials such as maple-cured bacon. Best of all is the menu’s all-in sharing option, which sees the day’s ‘skinny chops’ piled onto strips of toasted flatbread to catch the juices, with sides ranging from beef-dripping chips to courgettes with Doddington cheese. Cocktails start at a fiver, otherwise pick from a clutch of British beers and wines on tap. You can make a reservation (although Blacklock favours walk-ins), while the sought-after Sunday roast gets booked up months in advance.

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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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Lyle

Lyle's

£50 - £79
British
One michelin star

The Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JJ

James Lowe of Lyle’s counts half the capital’s chefs and critics among his admirers – small wonder, since his stark, understated restaurant is a true original that dances to its own minimalist tune. Whether you’ll be nodding along is down to preference; we felt mildly chastised for not wishing to share and for requesting our filter coffee white (!), but came away wholeheartedly onside because Lowe’s beautifully rendered Michelin-starred food never fails to impress. Flavours are true, pure and intense, whether you’re grazing through the lunchtime small-plates menu or relishing the fixed-price evening deal. The former might range from lamb’s heart with gherkin, ramsons and capers to smoked eel with hispi cabbage and dulse seaweed, while the latter could take in mackerel with gooseberry and crab apple as well as a glorious seasonal plate of grouse with girolles and mulberries. Desserts are also on a roll at the moment: our caramel and espresso meringue almost trumped the signature treacle tart. To drink, expect some interesting picks from the new school of winemaking.

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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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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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Isabel

Isabel

£30 - £49
International

26 Albemarle Street , London, W1S 4HY

Despite the lack of signage, there’s no mistaking this offshoot of Notting Hill’s Casa Cruz with its burnished copper door, bowler-hatted doorman and fabulously beautiful dining room – more gleaming copper, glossy monochrome tables and a ceiling studded with shiny brass discs, plus a multi-coloured geometric carpet like a giant op-art installation. The food follows the same low-carb, high-protein template as its forebear, a hotchpotch of Mediterranean-style dishes topped by uniformly excellent small plates designed for sharing – think delicate spears of green and white asparagus, vitello tonnato with a punchy and chunky tuna mayo or ruby-red raw tuna folded atop a hump of avocado arrestingly dressed with grassy olive oil. Isabel’s bigger plates don’t always cut it: the signature beef short-rib ravioli with black truffle was overwhelmed by its rich sauce, while our grilled dish of luxe pluma ibérico pork arrived uniform brown rather than medium-rare as requested. Some say Isabel is “vastly overpriced”, and we can’t ignore the misfires or the wobbly service – although nothing can dim the sheer thrilling beauty of the room itself. 

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Magpie

Magpie

£30 - £49
International

10 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BX

This new bird from the team behind Pidgin in Hackney launched with a US-inspired concept as its USP: the idea was to bring an array of eclectic sharing plates to the table on trolleys and trays – a notion that met with a mixed response from punters (ourselves included). As a result, the trolleys have been parked and demoted to a supporting role in proceedings – namely the provision of ‘drinking snacks’ such as Viet-style rillettes when guests arrive. After that, everything comes as ordered from the kitchen – perhaps clams with saucisson and chilli crisp or burrata with herb oil, puntarelle and smoked almonds, alongside favourites such as smoked eel Caesar salad dressed with soy-cured Parmesan from Magpie’s earlier incarnation. There are also some bigger deals for sharing (beef short-rib with red cabbage and fried gnocchi, say), while puds include a cheeky ‘birthday cake’ with white chocolate crumble and ‘thousands of powders’. Overall, Magpie’s winning way with pilfering global ingredients certainly shows chutzpah and it deserves an extra cheer for its charming young staff and offer of a dozen wines on tap (including fino sherry).

The Clove Club

The Clove Club

£50 - £79
British
One michelin star

380 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LT

It’s all happened so quickly for The Clove Club. From supper club to pop-up to successfully crowdfunded launch in the space of three years, Isaac McHale’s Michelin-starred Shoreditch destination now rubs shoulders with the high flyers on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It has achieved its success by doing things differently, such as adopting a pre-paid ‘ticketed’ booking system for dinner reservations (a first for London). The food’s experimental, with multi-course tasting menus promising a cavalcade of thrilling, enthralling and seriously on-point seasonal cooking along the lines of flamed mackerel with gooseberry and English mustard, Aylesbury duck ‘three ways’ (consommé, breast and smoked sausage) or apricot sorbet with burnt honey and bee pollen – all offered with imaginative wine pairings. Some find it precious, some too challenging, but nobody could fault McHale’s commitment. The dining room is chilled-out and surprisingly serene, with the bar even more so serving on-trend cocktails and racy snacks: we love the venison sausages with greengage ketchup and the buttermilk fried chicken with pine salt. In short, an unmissable one-off that chimes perfectly with cosmopolitan 21st-century London.

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MNKY HSE

MNKY HSE

£50 - £79
South American
Bars

10 Dover Street, London, W1S 4LQ

On paper, Mnky Hse seems all Mayfair style and no substance: a too-cool website vaunting the ‘discreet’ entrance, Instagram-friendly interiors, logo-heavy artwork and, of course, that jarring name. Fortunately, there is substance in the Latin American cuisine. Kick off with a Mnky Business rum cocktail for a smoky bit of theatre, before heading to the cavernous, buzzy dining room (celebs after ‘discretion’ may gravitate toward the cosy alcoves). From a tasting menu, we enjoyed crispy pork chicharonnes drizzled with salt and vinegar and dipped in a creamy pumpkin mole, before moving on to zingy seabass ceviche scattered with shards of dried purple sweet potato. Other menu highlights include an intensely meaty lamb shoulder taco, strips of Japanese wagyu beef that melt on the tongue, and flaky roasted stone bass on a bed of silky pearl barley risotto. Sweet corn cake comes with a bubblegum-like purple corn sorbet, and if dessert turns to dancing, there’s a huge spirits list with plenty of rum, pisco and Tequila. The staff are friendly, the crowd is bling and business, and your bill will be large. If this particular Mayfair glam is your thing, you’ll find more here than simply your next profile picture.

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Sexy Fish

Sexy Fish

£50 - £79
Fish

Berkeley Square House, London, W1J 6BR

With a waterfall behind the bar and a giant gold-plated crocodile hanging on the wall, it’s hard not to get caught up in the glamour of Sexy Fish – a lavish pan-Asian brasserie with real “wow factor”. Eager staff in multi-coloured waistcoats attend to diners’ every need, delivering thrillingly fashionable food at heavyweight prices to an equally fashionable crowd peppered with celeb faces. Wagyu ganku rolls come topped with white miso and black truffle, while scallops are pepped up with jalapeño sauce and pickled green apple, although the biggest hits are elsewhere – witness tender, honey-glazed duck breast sharpened with kimchi and pickled daikon or sticky pull-apart pork ribs from the robata grill dressed with green onions and chilli. Desserts are not to be missed either – the fluffy, sweet vanilla cheesecake embellished with a strawberry and golden lime sorbet is among the best we’ve tried in London. With its attention-grabbing interiors and moneyed clientele, wonderfully showy Sexy Fish won’t suit wallflowers, but everyone else has a ball.  

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The Marksman

The Marksman

£30 - £49
Gastropub
One michelin star

254 Hackney Road, London, E2 7SJ

This stylish born-again boozer is a co-creation from chefs Tom Harris (ex-St John) and Jon Rotheram (ex-Fifteen). They've gone with tradition on the ground floor, refurbishing the bar, but upstairs you'll find a highly original dining room with a woven ceiling and zany lino floor in primary colours. One menu is served throughout, with signatures such as kid goat curry, beef and barley bun or honey and brown butter tart alongside less attention-grabbing (but delicious) items including cod with leeks and brown crab or Tamworth pork with hispi cabbage and mustard. To drink, pick an Old World wine or join the locals for a pint of Meantime Yakima Red. Handy for Columbia Road flower market on Sundays, when the pub serves brunch and roast lunches.

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Bubbledogs

Bubbledogs

Under £30
International

70 Charlotte Street, W1T 4QG

Launched at the height of ‘gourmet fast food’ mania, Bubbledogs’ still-snaking queues prove that grower Champagne and high-class hotdogs are a combination built to last. This quirky match-up works, thanks to “awesome service” and a “cool ambience” in the smart, brick-on-wood room. Co-owner Sandia Chang’s passion for small-producer fizz rubs off on staff who know her treat-packed list inside out, while James Knappett’s kitchen applies similar respect to pork, beef or veggie dogs, with some 17 versions, including Sloppy Joe (beef chilli, Cheddar cheese and onions) and José (fresh tomato, avocado, jalapeños and sour cream). Our pick, however, is the purist’s dream – a New Yorker’s onions and sauerkraut drenched in table-top French’s and ketchup, backed up by ruthlessly addictive sides of ‘tater tots’ and sweet-potato fries. Those less enamoured of fizz will find on-point cocktails, craft beers and even a few still wines from the Champagne region.

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Bao Soho

Bao Soho

Under £30
Taiwanese
Chinese

53 Lexington Street, London, W1F 9AS

Despite the opening of Bao Fitzrovia in 2016, the diminutive original still entertains lengthy (some say “interminable”) queues, such is the power of those Taiwanese steamed buns. With just 30 elbow-to-elbow pine seats, this minimalist, no-bookings outfit definitely rewards patience and an adventurous spirit. It’s worth the time spent in line to access Bao’s short, tick-box menu of calorific, sticky-and-sweet treats. Xiao chi (snacks) include deep-fried nuggets of pig’s trotter and fried chicken slathered in hot sauce – “strictly not for sharing”, warns one fan. That said, bao buns remain the “stars of the show”: try the classic version with moist shreds of braised pork, coriander and peanuts or the confit pork option, which adds crispy shallots and hot sauce. The balance of pillowy dough and intense flavours is just right, thoroughly addictive and a snip at a fiver or less. Service is rather solemn but highly efficient (a necessity given the demand), and we recommend ordering a glass of peanut milk to wash it all down.

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Hakkasan Hanway Place

Hakkasan Hanway Place

£50 - £79
Chinese
One michelin star
£50 - £79

8 Hanway Place, London, W1T 1HD

“Wow, wow and wow!” exclaims a fan of Hakkasan, who reckons it’s definitely the “sexiest restaurant” he’s ever frequented. Certainly, there’s a “sultry charm” to this “sensual”, barely lit basement, with clubby VIP vibes, easy-on-the-eye staff and black-lacquered interiors making it “perfect for a hot date”. Kick off with Asian-inspired cocktails at the bar, then try definitive versions of takeaway classics and “impressive” ‘small eats’ such as jasmine tea-smoked ribs or “amazingly light” Shanghai dumplings boosted by chilli and vinegar. To follow, readers rave about the gigantic spicy prawns with asparagus, almonds, lily bulbs, spring onion and water chestnuts (“a riot of colourful tastes and textures”), but we’re hooked on the salt and pepper squid, the duck braised with truffle and the “riveting” crispy lamb salad with peanut dressing. No one escapes the top-end pricing, but readers agree that “you pay for what you get”. Multiple tasting menus can keep the bills in check, although the ambitious wine list might push them back up again. Either way, it’s “absolutely outstanding”.

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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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Nobu Berkeley St

Nobu Berkeley St

Over £80
Japanese

15 Berkeley Street, London, W1J 8DY

London moves on, but Nobu still parties. More than a decade after opening on Berkeley Street, the toast of the noughties has been heavily flattered by countless imitations, none of which has managed to unseat the original. The late David Collins’ fantastical design (all bamboo murals and burnished futuristic tones) is as dear to some customers as their own homes – perhaps more so, because it signals sheer fun. As for the food, fans rate the lunchtime bento boxes and waiters who take the time to explain their contents: the classic version features tuna sashimi salad, baby tiger shrimp tempura, sushi and the much-imitated miso black cod. Dinner might involve anything from field greens with the eponymous (Nobu) Matsuhisa dressing to secreto Ibérico pork roasted in the wood oven, via the house tacos filled with salmon or king crab or an array of well-made sushi and sashimi. There’s enough choice for multiple nights out, though the bill (especially with wine) only comes in one form – massive.

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Smokestak

Smokestak

£30 - £49
North American

35 Sclater Street, London, E1 6LB

Discreetly housed in Shoreditch (the signage is hardly visible) is this BBQ smokehouse from David Carter, former front of house manager for Roka and Gordon Ramsay. The industrial, brooding two-floor site features an open kitchen on the ground floor and a bar below, with dark and moody interiors matching the young and bearded Shoreditch crowd. Food-wise, the menu is short with small plates and sharing dishes of grilled meats, with everything being served when ready. The kitchen delivers: our starting snack of crackled pig’s tail was so crispy and juicy that we asked for a second round; smoked girolle and beef-dripping toast was rich and gloriously messy; chunky, sticky and seriously tender pork ribs are paired with a cheese-slathered jacket potato. If you’ve got a sickly-sweet tooth, round it all off with the sticky toffee pudding, topped with burnt-butter ice cream. Staff are well-trained and the bartenders make a mean cocktail (we recommend the Plantation), or there are Dalston-brewed craft beers. Our only gripe is with the inconveniently placed toilets, which take the ‘industrial’ theme a little too far. Nevertheless, cracking food and pocket-friendly prices make this a smoking hot (sorry) debut for Carter.

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Black Axe Mangal

Black Axe Mangal

Under £30
International

156 Canonbury Road, London, N1 2UP

When you take a hipster who’s spent 10 years working at St John Bread & Wine, a pop-up restaurant, a Copenhagen nightclub and a swish version of Turkish kebabbery, the result is bound to be pretty cool. Lee Tiernan and his wife Kate have created their own selection of ‘kebabs, beers and other tasty junk’. Forget pitta: instead you’ll find imaginative plates such as salty smoked cod roe and crisps, followed by plump mussels with deliciously fatty bacon and zingy chilli. A plate of meaty kids’ offal is a delight, gloriously balanced by a side of hispi cabbage. We greedily followed this with Chinese-spiced Adana of lambs' tongues (a revelation), which arrived with lashings of sauce that we dutifully mopped up with homemade flatbread. Drinks are equally good (including a cocktail list from Ryan ‘Mr Lyan’ Chetiyawardana): a Lagerita does the trick, counterbalancing the spice, but giving an extra Tequila kick. 

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Temper Soho

Temper Soho

£30 - £49
Steak
South American
Barbecue
International

25 Broadwick Street, London, W1F 0DF

This buzzing bonfire of a restaurant is the first solo venture from BBQ-obsessed Neil Rankin, who co-founded Smokehouse and worked at Pitt Cue Co (now Little Pitt) back in the day. Temper is dedicated to the art and craft of cooking meat: below the small, ground-floor taco bar lies an expansive room featuring a theatrical open kitchen with a wood-fired grill and clay oven – bag one of the counter stools for a ringside seat. The name refers to Rankin’s commitment to tempering his meats, whether it’s Essex beef, Yorkshire pork or Welsh lamb. Take your pick from a high-octane cuisine-hopping menu that runs from must-order blowtorched mackerel tacos freshened with sweet white miso and mashed avocado to little bowls of Thai-style larb combining roasted rice with ‘burnt ends’ for a spicy clash of textures. We recommend ordering the full quota of sauces and finishing off with a gooey-centred cookie, baked in a cast-iron pan. Well-considered cocktails, Aussie wines and mezcal flights dominate the drinks list, while enthusiastic, committed staff seal the deal at this thoroughly modern BBQ bunker.

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Hoi Polloi at Ace Hotel

Hoi Polloi at Ace Hotel

£30 - £49
Modern European

100 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JQ

‘An English modernist brasserie’ was the brief for this super-stylish all-dayer at the Ace Hotel, and the guys from Universal Design Studio really nailed it: nerds will find much to fawn over and fondle here, from timber walls to Ercol Butterfly chairs and Castiglioni ‘Snoopy’ lamps. You can enter via the ‘secret entrance’ in the florists, but we suggest using the adjacent hotel lobby for a better appraisal of the scene. It’s invariably buzzing here, with a seemingly endless supply of beautiful creatives lured in by Hoi Polloi’s fashion-conscious offer. Breakfast brings chia-seed Bircher muesli, lunch sees soft-shell crab rolls and teatime means cute googly-eyed fancies. Dinner heralds a more ambitious repertoire, from pretty plates of blackened sea trout with macerated fennel, or dry-aged pork chop with broad beans, peas and wild mushrooms, to pistachio and raspberry Eton mess. Cocktail hour is never dull, and we’re pleased that service seems to be on the up.

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Farang

Farang

£30 - £49
Thai

72 Highbury Park, London, N5 2XE

There’s already quite a following for this Thai venture from chef Sebby Holmes, thanks to his two successful Street Feast stalls (Dinerama and Hawker House). Loyalty is certainly required to find the restaurant, ensconced in Holloway suburbia on the former site of neighbourhood Italian San Daniele (which was run by Holmes’s stepdad for years). The look has barely changed inside or out since the days of San Daniele, but what this outfit lacks in funds, it makes up for on the plate. The small menu manages to incorporate something for all palates, from a broodingly meaty curry of coconut-braised, butter-like beef cheeks, to a slap-you-round-the-face jungle curry: an energetic, spicy concoction of fresh Cornish fish, supremely fishy sauce and bitter baby aubergines. Everything arriving at our table intrigued, from the whiff of smoke evident in the ketchup-like burnt chilli dipping sauce, to a Bolognese-like salad of lon (fermented shrimp paste dip, slowly simmered in coconut cream) partnered by an array of raw vegetables for dipping. The large, low-key dining room is convivial, prices low and the mostly young troupe of staff effortlessly charming. The only dud was an overpriced, unremarkable doughnut dessert, so save your money for a bottle of Monsoon Valley wine all the way from Thailand’s Hua Hin vineyards.

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Ugly Dumpling

Ugly Dumpling

Under £30
Chinese

1 Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RB

This tiny, two-floor site is now home to a dumpling den, after a busy recent history in which it’s played host to Pitt Cue Co and Rockadolla hotdogs. Not the place to come if you want to discuss something secret (diners practically sit on each other’s laps), Ugly Dumpling is a buzzy space with simple interiors. The concise menu is split between ‘street food classics’ and ‘new favourites’; the dumplings come in portions of three pieces or you can opt to try all five varieties on each menu for £6, as we did. From the classics, we loved the fragrantly sweet duck dumpling and the sticky-glazed pork option, while stand-outs from the newer selection include an earthy mushroom and truffle combo. Don’t skip the fun sides either, which see crispy tempura aubergine drizzled in sweet honey dressing and topped with peanuts for extra crunch. Dumplings even appear for dessert; we preferred the sweet-as-can-be matcha tea and white chocolate take, while the blueberry variety came smothered in crème fraiche that was a little too thick. Chatty staff and run-of-the-mill cocktails complete the casual picture.

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Gunpowder Spitalfields

Gunpowder Spitalfields

£30 - £49
Indian

11 White's Row, London, E1 7NF

On a backstreet behind Spitalfields Market, this cosy no-bookings Indian may be small and unassuming, but the menu is certainly explosive. “Great food, lovely atmosphere, fantastic service”, exclaims one fan – and we share his enthusiasm for Gunpowder’s spicy offer.

Set against an unfussy backdrop of exposed brickwork and steel chairs, the concise menu is rich in rustic Indian sharing dishes inspired by family recipes. Readers have singled out the venison and vermicelli ‘doughnut’, the aloo chat and the “sticky and sweet” Nagaland pork ribs with crunchy tamarind kachumber, but we’re fans of the ‘chutney cheese sandwich’ and the organic baby chicken char-grilled in tandoori spices.

The short dessert list also offers something for everyone: molten spice chocolate cake, comforting ‘old monk’ rum pudding or refreshing passion fruit and mint granita. Wine straddle the globe, but don’t ignore the Asian-inspired cocktails, made with ingredients such as masala Coca-Cola. “Reasonable prices” seal the deal.

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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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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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Som Saa

Som Saa

£30 - £49
Thai

43a Commercial Street, London, E1 6BD

Andy Oliver might be best known from the 2009 series of Masterchef, but he worked with David Thompson at Nahm – still the best Thai restaurant London has ever had – as well as spending two years at Bangkok’s even more highly rated Bo.Lan.

Oliver’s calling card is authentic northern Thai cooking, producing flavours unfamiliar to most Londoners. Lon gapi relish of shrimp paste with wild ginger and coconut cream was oily-rich, and satisfyingly dripped off crunchy crudités. Tamarind dipping sauce for a plump grilled chicken leg was worlds away from the usual sweet gloop, simultaneously sharp, sweet and sour. Burmese-style pork belly and shoulder curry arrived as a comforting pot of melty meat, but there was no hiding from the slap-in-the-face sour heat of som tam Isaan, a green papaya salad with snake beans, tomatoes and fermented fish sauce.

Too full for dessert (palm-sugar ice cream with grilled banana, say), we opted for a Dragon’s Milk cocktail (a heady combination of sticky-rice rum, Kahlúa, coconut cream, condensed milk, salt and sesame) from a list boasting interesting takes on the classics. Previously a no-bookings joint, Som Saa thankfully now takes bookings for parties of any size.

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Bone Daddies Soho

Bone Daddies Soho

£30 - £49
Japanese

31 Peter Street, London, W1F 0AR

"Confidently residing at the delectable end of the fast-food spectrum", this high-energy ramen joint continues to win fans – despite cramped, canteen-like conditions and a no-bookings policy. Head honcho Ross Shonhan knows how to conjure a magic mix of addictive flavours ("bone broth plus plastic bib equals noodle bliss", assures one fan), so bag a stool at one of the communal benches for a "delicious bowl of goodness". Sustenance arrives "lightning quick", and there's no shame in slurping your way through the different flavours – perhaps spicy miso with Padrón peppers or ground chicken with lip-tingling spice. The soundtrack often comprises "one soft-rock abomination after another", but snacks of soft-shell crab in high-octane chilli and ginger sauce or "unctuous" chashu pork and corn croquettes will keep you distracted. Strong cocktails make use of tangy yuzu, while shochu, whisky and saké take no prisoners.

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Bob Bob Ricard

Bob Bob Ricard

£50 - £79
International

1 Upper James Street, London, W1F 9DF

“That restaurant with the Champagne buttons” is more than just a gimmick, although ostentation is undoubtedly blingy Bob Bob Ricard’s primary selling point: “I feel like I’m in Gatsby’s dining room”, notes one fan. Luckily, the palpable sense of enjoyment lends warmth to the glitz and gold, which is everywhere you look. Cloistered royal blue booths explain why celebs enjoy hiding out here, as does a sumptuous menu of comfort food – think mighty beef Wellingtons and deep-filled, steaming pies. A new executive chef has introduced some lighter (but no less lavish) additions to the menu in the shape of, say, lemon sole stuffed with scallop mousse or lobster in a sparky Champagne sauce. The Sunday roast lunch stars prime USDA Black Angus beef, drizzled with truffle gravy, while the pricey wine list favours treats from the French regions. Service glides effortlessly, and although prices are reasonably high, it’s worth it for the fun you’ll have.

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Sager + Wilde Restaurant

Sager + Wilde Restaurant

£30 - £49
Modern European
Bars
Wine Bars

250 Paradise Row, London, E2 9LE

This wine-centric spot is just as cool as its trend-setting wine bar sister, Sager + Wilde on Hackney Road. Positioned just round the corner from Bethnal Green station, it’s joined by several other restaurants (including Arepa & Co) which all share a long dining terrace, making for a secluded, foodie community.

From the kitchen, you can expect a seasonally changing menu of on-trend European dishes, which are beautifully presented, and largely lean towards comfort food territory. On our dinnertime visit, we enjoyed a plate of sweet kohlrabi studded with fleshy crab, creating a bundle of sweetness, while silky ribbons of pappardelle matched with stomach-warming chunks of venison, is a perfect example of the ways in which Sager’s menu adapts with the seasons.

Expertly matched fine wines by the glass and bottle abound, naturally, with a separate, single bottle list adding extra interest and a strong selection of botanical cocktails inviting experimentation. Pricing angles this towards the middle of the market, while a classic interior of dark wooden chairs and gentle lighting reinforce this as a mature option for clued-up Londoners.

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