London's most romantic restaurants

There are plenty of restaurants in London in which to enjoy a romantic meal for two, but if you want to dine in the crème de la crème of London’s romantic dining rooms, SquareMeal’s helpful guide to London’s most romanti

Posted on 16 April 2018

London's most romantic restaurants

There are plenty of restaurants in London in which to enjoy a romantic meal for two, but if you want to dine in the crème de la crème of romantic restaurants in London, SquareMeal’s helpful guide will ensure a successful meal. It may not be Paris, but London can be a great city for romance and what better way to enjoy time with your loved one than with a wonderfully romantic meal. Every one of the romantic restaurants in London featured in SquareMeal’s list of London’s top romantic restaurants in London 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.


Oldroyd

Oldroyd

£30 - £49
Modern European

344 Upper Street, London, N1 0PD

Wedged between two inconsequential outlets, Tom Oldroyd’s first solo venture after leaving Polpo is tiny and easily missed on chain-heavy Upper Street. But its diminutive size produces a convivial buzz – as does the open-plan layout and the draw of seasonal, modern European sharing plates. The food fills the minute tables: golden, crunchy smoked pork belly and pea croquetas are a must, soothed with truffle mayonnaise; chilli coriander prawns (a special) arrive shell-on: fortunate, given the piquant juices lurking within. Larger offerings include crab tagliarini dotted with succulent white flesh, sitting on a brown crab rouille that made us want to lick the plate. For dessert, salty pistachios and fresh raspberries cut through a decadent chocolate mousse, and a sweet, white-peach Bellini from the refined cocktail list also does the job. Oldroyd is surely set to become integral to Islington’s dining scene. Whether you can bag a table is another matter.

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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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Kettner

Kettner's Townhouse

£30 - £49
International
Over £80

29 Romilly Street, London, W1D 5HP

Famous as the restaurant founded in 1867 by Auguste Kettner, the private chef of Emperor Napoleon III (Bonaparte’s nephew), and as the location of interval-time trysts between King Edward VII and Lillie Langtry, Kettner’s has been given the ‘Townhouse’ treatment by new owner Soho House. As at Dean Street Townhouse, there are now 30 or so bedrooms upstairs, while the downstairs restaurant and Champagne Bar have both been spruced up, and a fabulous Piano Bar added for good measure. The bars, in particular, look lovely, all low lighting and marble surfaces and conveying something of the metropolitan élan and exclusivity of the Soho House members’ clubs. The dining room, in contrast, feels rather provincial, an effect enhanced by the fussy plaster mouldings (original, and Grade II-listed) and a French-inspired menu that seems self-consciously special occasion but fails to rise to the occasion. Small plates and starters were the best bits: cheesy gougères, comforting French onion tart and bracingly wintry crab with celeriac remoulade and russet apple. Mains were far less assured: roast Banham chicken tasted only of truffle not chook and omelette Arnold Bennett was a very limp imitation of the Savoy classic. Breakfast (lobster royale) and pre/post-theatre (any three courses for £22) may be better bets, or eat small plates instead in the bars, with two dozen wines by the glass and beautifully served classic cocktails. 

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La Poule au Pot

La Poule au Pot

£50 - £79
French

231 Ebury Street, London, SW1W 8UT

A restaurant like they used to make ’em, this blushing rose has been fluttering its eyelashes at customers for more than half a century – “it’s so French and so very romantic”, drools one long-time fan. With a quiet terrace for balmy evenings and a bare-brick interior filled with bushels of dried herbs, flowers and twinkly candles, La Poule au Pot has built up a charming patina over the years – half of London’s ladies and gents must have been here for dates, liaisons and family get-togethers. The menu is as predictably Gallic as the waiters’ accents (think soupe à l’oignon and escargots ahead of bouillabaisse, boeuf bourguignon and magret de canard with foie gras), but the cooking has always been good enough to warrant the fondness it engenders. To drink, the house wine (poured from a magnum) is fine, but prospective fathers-in-law prefer the posh Champagnes and clarets.

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Neptune

Neptune

£30 - £49
British
Fish

Kimpton Fitzroy London, Corner of Guilford Street and Russell Square, London, WC1B 5BE

Neptune is the dining room of Kimpton Fitzroy London hotel, a grand Empire-era pile overlooking Russell Square that outdoes St Pancras for gothic drama. With high Victorian being about as fashionable a design trope these days as a noughties feature wall, Russell Sage Studio has gone for an almost mid-century Tiki look – rattan-backed bar stools, dusty pink walls, boldly patterned fabrics – although you can still spot plaster cherubs peeking from behind the fronds of tropical greenery like orphans in a Victorian ghost story. 

Neptune comes courtesy of chef Brett Redman and stylist Margaret Crow, who were a big hit on the east London party scene with The Richmond pub and its oyster happy hours. They’ve stuck with the seafood theme here, although with half the main courses involving meat from the wood-fired grill, the menu is not exclusively fish-focused.

A swimmingly fresh seafood platter accompanied by soda bread and seaweed butter was the best thing we ate, not least for the zip and zing of a trout tartare and mackerel escabeche; we were grateful to the waiter who took our crab legs away to be cracked by the chef so we didn’t miss a flake of the snowy white meat – a typically thoughtful touch from staff who showed consideration throughout the meal.

Nothing else we tried had such shimmering flavours; monkfish with white asparagus, brown butter and chicken sauce, and turbot with fennel, courgettes and an olive-oil hollandaise, were competent rather than compelling, while a plate of grilled red prawns had lost their firm texture, if not their sweet taste. There’s also a short vegetarian menu and, to drink, a wine list of natural and low-intervention wines – another individual touch at a restaurant that brings a welcome flourish of glamour and personality to Bloomsbury.   

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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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sketch: Lecture Room & Library

sketch: Lecture Room & Library

Over £80
Modern European
Three michelin stars

9 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2XG

Hidden at the summit of the Conduit Street pleasure dome, Sketch Lecture Room & Library is a two-Michelin-starred homage to glorious gastronomic excess and indulgence overseen by super-chef Pierre Gagnaire. His highly stylised, whimsical dishes arrive as miniature banquets: ‘perfume of the earth’, for example, is a cornucopia involving hay-smoked ravioli of foie gras and redcurrant on borlotti beans and mushrooms, snails braised with wild mushrooms, basil and datterini tomatoes, a mouthful of bone marrow and croûtons on nettle purée, and even a thick slice of textbook pâté en croûte with tamarillo sorbet – wow. Ample mains such as hare ‘in three services’ or aromatic rack of salt-marsh lamb with ‘green crumble’, piquillo-stuffed Portobello mushroom, aubergine and Marguerite potatoes maintain the thrilling momentum, while dessert yields a six-plate sugar-rush of wildly creative patisserie like you’ve never seen before. The dining room is an opulent, ballroom-like show-stopper, and the wine list is extensive but manageable – thanks to sage guidance from genuinely passionate staff. Sketch Lecture Room & Library is rightly dubbed “one of the best places in London” by admiring fans.

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The Ledbury

The Ledbury

Over £80
Modern European
Two michelin stars

127 Ledbury Road, London, W11 2AQ

“Incredibly inventive”; “consistently wonderful”; “simply outstanding on every level”: readers confirm that The Ledbury is still a paragon of fine dining in the capital. It may radiate old-school affluence, but Brett Graham’s über-suave destination comes across as an inclusive eatery for locals, tourists and perambulating foodies alike – a neighbourhood destination kitted out with arty chandeliers, leather chairs and mirrored walls. Diners descend on the place in search of “top-class contemporary food” from a chef who cooks with vigour, authority and audacious brio. Regulars suggest that tasting menus are the way to go: “every course is a surprise”, whether you begin with a Chantilly of oyster, sea bream tartare and frozen English wasabi or the “stand-out” flame-grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber, Celtic mustard and shiso. There is stupendous meat and game too, perhaps Herdwick lamb with salt-baked kohlrabi, Padrón pepper and garlic or a sanguine-toned dish of Berkshire roe deer accompanied by smoked bone marrow, cherries, red leaves and vegetables. As thoughts turn to sweetness, the kitchen obliges with masterstrokes such as blackcurrant-leaf ice cream paired with buffalo-milk meringues and mead. Impeccable staff “genuinely enjoy their job”, and it’s worth engaging with one of the knowledgeable sommeliers if you want to get the best from the endlessly fascinating list. What more could you want from a two-Michelin-starred sophisticate?



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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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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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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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London Shell Co

London Shell Co

£30 - £49
Fish

The Prince Regent, Sheldon Square, W2 6EP

If you love both seafood and dining with a difference, we suggest a trip with London Shell Co. Following several pop ups, the seafood specialist now resides aboard The Prince Regent, moored next to Paddington Station. Have a set lunch (in every sense), or wait until dinner for a return cruise to Camden on Regent’s Canal. The miniscule kitchen serves up sparkling, sea-conjuring Carlingford oysters and the seasonal likes of butter-poached hake or vegetable ratatouille. On our visit, hit-and-miss dishes ranged from a delicious mussel, cockle and cuttlefish salad imbued with the sweet tang of red onion, to a creamy combination of smoked cods’ roe and leeks with a chemical aftertaste. Tight tables and terrible acoustics are drawbacks but overall, the boat has a charming atmosphere buoyed along by its small crew. Drinks celebrate Britain via Somerset cider and sparkling Hampshire wine, alongside interesting European bottles to dilute your sea legs.

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Barrafina Dean Street

Barrafina Dean Street

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish
One michelin star

26-29 Dean Street, London, W1D 3LL

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

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Aqua Shard

Aqua Shard

£50 - £79
British

Level 31 The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, , London, SE1 9RY

Swankily appointed Aqua Shard has one astonishing USP – 31 floors up on the Shard, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering spectacular views, mainly across the urban sprawl leading to the North Downs. The views and the location alone should just about guarantee a full house every night, but it would be remiss to minimise the sterling contribution made by current head chef Dale Osborne (ex-Terroirs). With some mains breaking the £40 barrier, eating here isn’t cheap, but in return you’ll be offered some skilfully rendered and reassuringly seasonal modern British food: jellied ham hock with pickled heritage carrots and parsley oil; fillet of John Dory with Scottish girolles, sea beet, pickled samphire and lentils; Merrifield Farm duck breast with seared duck hearts and slow-roasted Evesham beets; cherry Bakewell tart with cherry sauce. Useful tip: they’re also open for breakfast, weekend brunch and afternoon tea, though prices are as sky-high as the views. Readers also reckon that drinks are “somewhat expensive”.

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Galvin at Windows

Galvin at Windows

£50 - £79
French
One michelin star

London Hilton, 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE

“Nothing quite compares to Galvin at Windows”, declares one reader. With “unsurpassed” 28th-floor views adding something special to proceedings, seasoned chef-patron Chris Galvin heads up one of the slickest operations in the capital – a buzzy, handsome space overseen by Fred Sirieix (of TV’s First Dates fame) and underpinned by service that “never fails to leave you feeling pampered”. The kitchen adds a few Asian touches to the “excellent” Michelin-starred French food. Light mushroom tortellini in a tofu-laden unami broth is a delicate and well-balanced starter, while beef fillet accompanied by a wobbling slab of foie gras, braised short-rib and sticky bordelaise jus is no-holds-barred Gallic cooking at its best. A delightful sommelier globetrots to find the right match – full marks for the sweet, tropical New Zealand Riesling offered with a passion fruit and white chocolate soufflé. “Still our favourite place in London for a great night out”, concludes another fan.

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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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Noizé

Noizé

£30 - £49
French

39 Whitfield Street, London, W1T 2SF

It’s a brave restaurateur who would take over a site as garlanded as what used to be Dabbous but having been co-owner, manager and sommelier of Pied à Terre, Mathieu Germond has built up a loyal following in Fitzrovia and beyond. The place is unrecognisable from its former life, not only in looks – the raw industrialism of Dabbous has been smoothed over with a lick of turquoise paint and an upholstering of red and grey velvet – but on the menu, with former Pied à Terre chef Ed Dutton cooking classic French bistro food, but executed with a finesse several notches of sophistication higher. Warm cheese gougères are thickly stuffed with strong Cheddar, glazed sweetbreads come with a liberal scattering of bosky morels, beautifully cooked scallops sit under thinly sliced cauliflower and, best of all, there’s  a superb plateful of meltingly soft suckling pig belly with crisp crackling and silky, tarragon-infused pomme purée. Steep prices are generally worth it, although a terrine of foie gras, leek and pork simply advertised as ‘foie gras’ on the menu seemed disingenuous. Otherwise, this place is a charmer – Germond even nipped round to Pied à Terre to fetch some crackers for our plate of well-chosen cheese. Noizé, incidentally, is the name of a village in the Loire where Germond’s grandparents owned a farm, and the sparkling Vouvray is just one of the excellent Loire Valley wines on a list that can be sampled in the basement bar. 

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Le Gavroche

Le Gavroche

Over £80
French
Two michelin stars
£50 - £79

43 Upper Brook Street, London, W1K 7QR

Stoically eschewing the cult of the new, Le Gavroche remains a bastion of haute cuisine in all its ancien régime finery – although you may need a certain worldly-wise mindset to fully appreciate this grandee’s many attributes. The dark exclusivity of the cocooned dining room, the fastidiously dutiful service and the indulgent extravagance of the food all seem to evoke a time gone by. As ever, Michel Roux’s Jr’s kitchen is intent on delivering classical cooking of the highest order, although he does allow the occasional flirtation with contemporary themes: trendy bottarga, two kinds of beetroot and ‘late-harvest’ Canadian vinegar balancing a dish of marinated and seared sea trout; ras-el-hanout spices adding exotic fragrance to a plate of stone bass, roasted peanuts enhancing some “incomparable” breast and leg of pigeon. Still, we take comfort in the classics – the ever-present and ever-gorgeous soufflé suissesse, the brilliantly succulent pig’s head terrine with braised snails, lemon and “inimitable” parsley purée, a perfect strawberry dessert highlighted with vanilla cream. Yes, eating here can be frighteningly expensive (especially if you dip into the aristocratic wine list), but readers also extol the virtues of the all-inclusive set lunch. With its two Michelin stars, fans say Le Gavroche is “quite simply the best”.  

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Park Chinois

Park Chinois

Over £80
Chinese

17 Berkeley Street, W1J 8EA

Replete with swathes of red velvet, powder-blue armchairs, ostentatious trappings and nightly live music (often jazz), Park Chinois is an opulent take on a 1930s Shanghai speakeasy that is built for big-money special-occasion dining – complete with a Chinese menu designed around separate western-style courses and served by “impeccable” staff. Dim sum is a top shout at Park Chinois, and rightly so: we love the spicy intensity of the Szechuan vegetable dumplings, the oh-so-crispy duck spring rolls and the summer truffle bao buns. Order from the carte and you might be treated to braised short-ribs with black bean sauce, red prawns with coconut, okra and tamarind or a veggie claypot of aubergines and tofu – although big groups go for the roasted-to-order full-strength Peking duck served with pancakes, shredded cucumber and baby leeks. To finish, there are some unmissable westernised desserts – do try the vanilla cheesecake twinned with passion fruit and strawberry sorbet. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something sultry, head downstairs to the plush-yet-cosy Club Chinois, where the entertainment is a little more risqué.   

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Casse-Croûte

Casse-Croûte

Under £30
French

109 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XB

If you go looking for an ‘authentic’ bistro in Paris, you may be disappointed; checked tablecloths, Edith Piaf and verbal menus that sound like an Inspector Clouseau sketch have gone the way of confidence in the Euro. But come to Bermondsey and you can step into a corner of France that is forever Amélie. The blackboard menu (just three choices per course) is in French; the chairs are bentwood; the floor is chequer-tiled, and the kitchen generally makes a good fist of things when it comes to delivering true bourgeois flavours. Follow our lead and get stuck into a plate of charcuterie before dipping into the menu itself – perhaps mackerel in white wine or saucisson en brioche with Madeira sauce ahead of salmon coulibiac with beurre blanc or pork shoulder with lentils, plus a dessert such as raspberry soufflé or plum tart. There’s a brief all-French wine list too, and service is certainly friendlier than the Paris norm.

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The Petersham Covent Garden

The Petersham Covent Garden

£50 - £79
Italian

27-31 King Street, London, 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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Claude

Claude's Kitchen

£50 - £79
Modern European

51 Parsons Green, London, London, SW6 4JA

Canny Claude Compton has struck exactly the right chord with his quietly brilliant little bistro above the Amuse Bouche Champagne bar. The low-lit, low-key ambience might be more rive gauche than haute cuisine, but the upcycled furniture, stripped floors and chirpy staff belie the ambition behind the pass. The kitchen has plenty of fun with flavour and texture on its weekly menu, pairing squid and seared tuna with confit lemon, hemp seeds and herbaceous lovage foam or introducing vanilla notes into a pretty plate of smoked eel, dressed with grated horseradish and wispy fennel tops. Desserts also turn heads – perhaps blackberry and fig, with quark soft cheese, porridge tart and lavender flowers. The fact that it manages to pull off these dishes is testament to serious talent and lightness of touch, as well as inventiveness. If that sounds sufficiently colourful and brilliant, we recommend considering the excellent-value tasting menu, with its on-point wine pairings.

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The Ritz Restaurant

The Ritz Restaurant

Over £80
French
One michelin star

The Ritz London, 150 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9BR

Nobody goes to the unimaginably opulent Ritz Restaurant on the off-chance – this is proper special-occasion dining, where chaps wear smart suits and ladies don their poshest back-of-the-wardrobe frocks. The pay-off is, of course, Michelin-starred food served in a “truly exquisite” fin de siècle dining room with cherubic pink-hued lighting and legions of tail-coated staff pandering to your every whim (service is “beyond this world”, drools one fan). Exec chef John Williams MBE is a master of the ever-present haute-cuisine classics (beef Wellington, Bresse duck, baked Alaska etc), but he’s no conservative – witness thrilling ideas such as poached langoustine topped with pickled fennel on crushed broad beans and verbena, veal fillet with girolles and Grelot onions or Dover sole with truffles and grapes and unctuous cauliflower purée. After that, there is much flambéing of crêpes Suzette in the grand Escoffier manner, although modernists might prefer coconut mousse with compressed pineapple and passion-fruit sorbet. If money’s tight (heaven forbid!), opt for the sommelier’s wine pairing; if not, indulge in the patrician glories of the full list. Either way, The Ritz Restaurant delivers “a night to remember”. 

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Hutong at The Shard

Hutong at The Shard

£50 - £79
Chinese

Level 33,The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY

London flagship of the Hong Kong-based Aqua Group, this luxe eatery on Level 33 of The Shard is nigh on impossible beat for its beautiful interiors, glamorous vibes and “spectacular views”. Despite ‘hutong’ bringing to mind Beijing’s backstreets, the menu’s a sophisticated mix of Szechuan and Northern Chinese, with some “absolutely exquisite” Cantonese dim sum for good measure. Recent highlights have included Shandong shredded chicken (for stuffing into fluffy buns), boned lamb ribs (braised then stir-fried), and a plate of “soft, yielding and deeply savoury” braised beef in aged vinegar and ginger sauce. The full-on version of Peking duck is simply “fantastic”, and there’s also ma-po tofu, with a blend of chilli and Szechuan pepper giving it that distinctive numbing-hot effect known as ma-la. Spicing is considerably toned down from the full blast you’ll find in Chengdu, but that suits most of the suburban visitors and expense-account diners just fine. Prices are double what you’d pay in Chinatown, although readers are happy to shell out for such “phenomenal” food. “A real treat.”

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Bleeding Heart Restaurant

Bleeding Heart Restaurant

£50 - £79
French
Under £30

Bleeding Heart Yard, EC1N 8SJ

The name references a murder hereabouts back in the 16th century, but there’s nothing gruesome about this glorious cellar restaurant – often described as one of London’s more romantic dining destinations. A series of subterranean rooms shows off bare-bricks and earthy colours, with flickering candles and real fires upping the mood – “I wouldn’t have it any other way”, notes a fan. The menu seduces with gently modern interpretations of French and European classics – think paupiette of smoked salmon enriched with Dorset crab and parsley sauce, “outstanding” steak tartare or pumpkin and butternut squash ravioli enriched with herby butter sauce. It’s a measure of the kitchen’s confidence that it can work its way through wild mushroom risotto, lemon sole meunière and côte de boeuf, before ending on a triumphantly patriotic note with crème brûlée and nougat glacé. The winning wine list is a bumper tome with classy French connections – the perfect accompaniment to something ripe from the monumental cheese trolley. In short, a “truly traditional” dining experience.  

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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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Little Social

Little Social

£30 - £49
French

5 Pollen St, Mayfair, W1S 1NE

“I can’t contain how happy I am when I eat here,” says a fan of this Jason Atherton restaurant, which is both little and sociable – note its size, noise levels and richly convivial French-skewed dishes. The proximity of big boy Pollen Street Social across the road might cast this “refreshing small gem” in the role of plucky upstart, but Atherton’s trademark polish and “immaculate” detailing are evident throughout – from the charming well-drilled staff and design with a purpose (think French fantasy with a knowing London wink) to the finely rendered seasonal food. Just as customers must speak up rather than murmur, the kitchen revels in flavours with presence – perhaps meaty roasted ceps with garlicky smoked almond butter on toasted brioche, côte de porc or roast cod with girolles, celeriac purée and jus gras. Steaks and burgers try to steal the limelight, tarte Tatin is now the default dessert for twosomes, and cannily chosen wines neatly sidestep the obvious.

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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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Maggie Jones

Maggie Jones's

£30 - £49
British
£50 - £79

6 Old Court Place, London, W8 4PL

With its hotchpotch of trinkets, high-backed antique pews, wicker baskets, dried flowers and dripping candles in wine bottles, redoubtable Maggie Jones’s looks like a set from a Richard Curtis film – although the food “feels like it predates Four Weddings and a Funeral”. Appropriately, the kitchen plays it straight, and the cooking is old-school British to the core – think asparagus with vinaigrette, steak and kidney pie or stuffed roast chicken with bread sauce. Fish fans might go for grilled salmon with hollandaise and there’s game in season too, while old-fashioned desserts could feature Cambridge burnt cream, apple crumble or bread-and-butter pudding. French house wine is served from a magnum, and diners are merely charged for what they drink – a cute touch. Added to that, Maggie’s “friendly prices”, set deals and easy-going charms ensure regular full houses.

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City Social

City Social

£50 - £79
Modern European
One michelin star

24th Floor, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, London, EC2N 1HQ

It may share the signature low-key glamour of Jason Atherton’s other Social restaurants, but the “most incredible views” from Tower 42 elevate City Social to statement status. With the fitting air of a 1920s boardroom, this dining room is custom-built for “business entertaining” – although it has a surprising intimacy given the scale of the setting. Minor grumbles, including music that’s “too loud” in the bar, are dwarfed by readers’ enthusiasm for executive chef Paul Walsh’s oh-so-pretty plates of Michelin-starred food – from cured Scottish salmon with watermelon, saké, cucumber carpaccio, soy and wasabi to tarte Tatin with caramel sauce for sharing. In between, he brings considerable experience to bear on interest-piquing main courses such as saddle of Lincolnshire rabbit with Parma ham, trompette mushrooms, spelt, lovage emulsion and black garlic, line-caught halibut with fondant potato, turnips, crispy prawns and tenderstem broccoli or heritage potato and caramelised onion terrine with Jerusalem artichoke and walnuts. Cocktails are classy, and the wine list is designed to accommodate high rollers – without putting everybody else off.

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La Bodega Negra

La Bodega Negra

£30 - £49
Mexican

9 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 5JF

We’re going to call it: this is surely London’s only Mexican restaurant hidden behind the facade of a sex shop. Such exterior bawdiness is increasingly hard to come by in Soho, although Bodega Negra’s Stygian urban-chic interior and “great service” have much in common with current restaurant trends. The kitchen’s proclivity for supreme tacos has never been hotter, with fillings including soft-shell crab accompanied by a slathering of smoky chipotle crema, while tostadas feature a winning combo of Serrano ham and tuna. We suggest ordering a selection, plus salad or a piquant plate of ceviche – although those with bigger appetites should look to wood-grilled pork belly with mezcal and salsa or a whole sea bream, tender from the fire. Bodega’s party vibes and low-lit interior aren’t for everyone, but if Tequilas galore and 50ml shots of mezcal sound like a good time, this basement den from funky restaurateur Will Ricker (E&O et al) is for you.

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Andrew Edmunds

Andrew Edmunds

£30 - £49
Modern European
£30 - £49

46 Lexington Street, London, W1F 0LP

With a low-key, all-black frontage setting the tone, this Soho evergreen isn’t about to flaunt its near-legendary “romantic” charms. Space is at a premium here, but once you find a candlelit table, settle in for starters of plump confit pork cheeks with almond, peach and fennel or perhaps a delicate lobster bisque. The eclectic handwritten menu changes daily and “good value” mains keep things simple via a chunky Old Spot pork chop or fillet of stone bass with pine nuts, while puds might bring textbook pavlova or fresh figs drizzled with labneh, honey and walnuts. Personable, expert staff help to ease the digestion, while expertise and reliability characterise the superb selection of Old World wines – in fact the whole outfit is a friendly celebration of old-school restaurant values. The dimly lit, split-level premises may eschew anything remotely grandiose with its shabby, dated furnishings, but Andrew Edmunds delivers comfort and character in spades.

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