London's best restaurants and bars for dates

Looking for a bar or restaurant in London for a date? Not sure which of the numerous drinking dens are the best bars for a date? At a loss for a casual restaurant in London which will make you look fun, sexy and rich (but not trying too hard) all in one go? It’s a tough one, so we’ve done the hard work for you and compiled a handy list of the best bars and restaurants for dating. Whoever you want to impress and whatever your budget or taste, whether it’s a first date, a second date or you’re teetering on becoming a couple, take a look at SquareMeal’s selection of the best bars and restaurants to take a date. You know who to thank when you’re booking a church.

Updated on 22 May 2018

Santo Remedio Cantina & Comedor

Santo Remedio Cantina & Comedor

152 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2TU

Santo Remedio caused a stir in Shoreditch in 2016 before rent increases forced it to close soon after opening. But it was around for long enough to develop an ardent fanbase who have helped crowdfund this new two-floor site near London Bridge. It’s an easy-going, high-energy kind of place, with bare tables and blue tiles creating the sort of clattery acoustics that are perfect for dates or a catch-up with a mate, with half of the 90 covers for walk-ins and the other half available to book.

All of the three tacos we tried (chicken, pork confit, soft-shell crab) were good, but the chicken had the edge for the sweet-and-sour kick of orange juice and pickled onions; we also loved the heat and crunch of the soft-shell crab. Slow-cooked beef rib was more DIY, though no great hardship when the meat slides off the bone and there’s thick molé to spread on the taco like chocolate Marmite. Non-taco dishes include cactus coleslaw, corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise and Pecorino, chicharrón – light curls of pork scratching to dip into Mexico’s national sauce of Valentina, a sort of spicy ketchup – and churros to dip into a sugar bomb of dulce de leche.

To drink, there are half a dozen Mexican wines, a couple of beers and a house Margarita served on the rocks with a fiery rim of Tajin chilli powder. With high-end Ella Canta recently opened in the InterContinental, the vibrant immediacy of fresh Mexican cooking is finally getting the attention it deserves.  

Under £30
Mexican
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

12-16 Artillery Lane, London, London, E1 7LS

Here's a clue for newbies hoping for an audience with the Mayor: like Narnia for grown-ups, the portal to his magical hidden kingdom is disguised as a common household object – in this case a fridge at The Breakfast Club on Bishopsgate. Don't be a scaredy cat! Step inside and head downstairs to discover a chilled bunker that comes on like a Montana lumberjack's shack with moonshine aplenty on tap. Butch beers, punchy rum puncheons, lip-pucker sours, fiddled-with fizz, Pisco disco drinks and pimped-up Martinis are much cleverer than their tosh titles might suggest: A Mary Berry Kinda Gateau; Aloe, Is It Me You're Looking For; Peat-Nut Butter-Cup (bourbon, Mozart dark chocolate, peanut butter and Laphroaig spray). In the same spirit of silliness, we rate the Mayor's quesadilla platters, pulled pork sliders and vodka-battered calamari – surely the cat's whiskers.

£30 - £49
Bars
Spuntino Soho

Spuntino Soho

61 Rupert Street, Soho, London, 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.

£30 - £49
North American
Nanban

Nanban

426 Coldharbour Lane, London, SW9 8LF

“The waiting is over!” proclaims one reader: after protracted delays, MasterChef winner Tim Anderson has finally launched his homage to the nanban tradition of Euro-influenced Japanese cuisine, using ingredients from Brixton Market. A one-page menu offers crowd-pleasing curries and burgers alongside ramen and gyoza. Our salad of steamed cavolo nero with crunchy garlic chips drenched in ponzu butter was a revelation, and Anderson’s take on horumon-yaki (twice-cooked pig’s tripe in a spicy miso sauce with perky vegetables) is a masterpiece, but we’d also suggest deep-fried ‘electric eel’ and mentaiko pasta – an on-trend Italian/Japanese fusion riff involving spaghetti in chilli-cured cod-roe sauce, topped with a slow-cooked onsen egg. Service is helpful, and the thoughtful drinks list includes saké, shochu and small-batch craft beers. Our only gripe concerns the rather spartan first-floor dining room – try to bag the prime window seat on the cosier ground floor.

Under £30
Japanese
Gordon

Gordon's Wine Bar

47 Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NE

When Gordon’s first opened, talk over the claret or hock might have turned to Van Gogh’s death, Tchaikovsky’s new ballet or the opening of the Forth Bridge. More than 120 years down the line, it’s remarkable that this bar is still going strong. Crepuscular, candlelit cellars will appeal to those who value raffish character above clean-lined corporate clones. Good for a first date, a tête-à-tête or Merlot with your mates, the wine list offers great value at around £20: crisp Portuguese rosado, Muscat from Bulgaria, cava, Marlborough Sauvignon, sherries & ports aplenty. Gordon’s is open for breakfast, but its lunchtime spread is the big draw for office workers, tourists & nostalgia geeks: cold cuts, bakes, winter-warmer pies & summery salads have distinctly retro appeal at this sepia-toned charmer.

Wine Bars
Le Garrick

Le Garrick

10-12 Garrick Street, London, WC2E 9BH

Oozing Gallic character, this candlelit basement feels worlds away from the West End – though vintage theatrical flyers and the obligatory set menu (£13.50/16.45 for two/three courses) put you firmly in Theatreland. Reasonable prices (especially for the area) are a reminder that this is not French fine dining, instead expect a roll-call of bistro favourites and hearty classics, from moules marinière and pâté de maison to boeuf Bourguignon, confit duck and entrecôte with sauce au poivre. On our last visit, garlicky escargots made a great start, followed by a robust Toulouse cassoulet and rich boudin noir on a bed of creamy mash. Washed down with a quaffable bottle from the all-French wine list, and with a cheeky pot au chocolate or cheese to follow, this is comfort food par excellence. Convivial service adds to the appeal. 

£30 - £49
French
Blacklock Soho

Blacklock Soho

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.

£30 - £49
British
Morito Exmouth Market

Morito Exmouth Market

32 Exmouth Market, London, 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.

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish
Ceviche Soho

Ceviche Soho

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.

£30 - £49
Peruvian
Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack Fitzrovia

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack Fitzrovia

21A Foley Street, Fitzrovia, London, W1W 6DS

On a warm summer’s day, few things beat cracking into a whole Selsey cock crab and a bottle of chilled Picpoul at one of Bonnie Gull’s sanded wooden benches on the villagey corner of Foley Street. Not that there’s any downside to venturing into the “cosy but bright” dining room with its maritime blue-stained wood, checked tablecloths and nautical bric-a-brac for a steaming bowl of bass and clam-laden bouillabaisse or bubbling crab lasagne with lobster béchamel. The kitchen isn’t built on high-spec shellfish platters or Champagne-flamed langoustines, either – humbler dishes such as plaice almondine or hake with squid bolognese moussaka show real skill, and no hint of Bonnie’s roots as a pop-up. Service is chirpy, prices are refreshingly tight for such “fantastic fish”, and the white-dominated wine list is built for seafood (top pick: spritzy Basque Txacoli). We prefer skipping pud for a second round of oysters.

£30 - £49
Fish
Les Petits Gourmets

Les Petits Gourmets

18 Formosa Street, London, W9 1EE

Like its sibling in Knightsbridge, this relaxed neighbourhood rendezvous is an offshoot of Les Gourmets des Ternes in Paris – an iconic eatery with a classy 8th arrondissement address and a star-spangled clientele to match. Despite a recent name change, it remains an alluring prospect for Little Venice locals, who take advantage of its 4pm opening for a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie (we'd recommend perching at the high counter by the window for some people watching). In the evening, the place morphs into a romantic bistro with low lights, close-packed tables and a menu of traditional favourites such as a soothing veal normande, crisply sautéed scallops provençale, hulking steak-frites, boeuf bourguignon and enduring homemade puds including crème caramel. Plenty of patriotic wines by the glass and carafe help to make this ?a little bit of unspoilt France in W9.

£50 - £79
French
The Providores

The Providores

109 Marylebone High Street, London, London, W1U 4RX

Peter Gordon’s double-decker fusion palace is supposed to be fun, and readers confirm that it’s a blast. At street level, there’s the no-bookings Tapa Room (named after a Rarotongan tapa cloth, which decorates the space): this noisy rendezvous is perpetually rammed with crowds who gather for breakfast (brown rice, apple, maple syrup and miso porridge with tamarillo compote, perhaps) and all-day dishes. Upstairs, the eponymous dining room pushes more boundaries, delivering multi-ingredient combos with a little more formality – think smoked Dutch eel with coconut and tamarind laksa, green tea noodles, soft-boiled quail’s egg, girolles and sweetcorn followed by Creedy Carver duck breast with figs, walnuts, grapes, sherry vinegar and membrillo. Every day’s a school day here, so ask if you’re not sure what something is (the staff are used to it) and reserve some time, money and attention to explore the seriously Kiwi wine list.

£50 - £79
International
Fusion
Ducksoup

Ducksoup

41 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PY

Imagine a land of small plates, stripped-back surrounds and would-be diners ready to pounce on your barstool the second you vacate it. Welcome to modern Soho. “Pretentious”, perhaps; hipster, certainly; but we still like the view from the bar at Ducksoup with a plate of pappardelle and rabbit ragù or crab with monk’s beard in front of us. The kitchen trusts its intuition and broadly serves what feels right at any given time of year. This effective approach speaks to lovers of blink-and-you-miss-them seasonal pleasures and gives the menu freedom to roam the globe. Spanish fideo noodles with clams, turmeric-spiced lamb riblets, vitello tonnato and Jewish chicken noodle soup all coexist perfectly peaceably here. To drink, expect a line-up of leftfield ‘natural’ wines in all their glory – well, sometimes anyway.

£30 - £49
Modern European
La Bodega Negra

La Bodega Negra

9 Old Compton Street, London, 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.

£30 - £49
Mexican
Bull in a China Shop

Bull in a China Shop

196 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6LG

Intriguingly set behind a Dickensian-style frontage, this quirky, fun-loving, Asian-accented bar/restaurant is a new venture from the Chan brothers (behind the nearby Drunken Monkey). The kitchen produces healthier versions of dude food (including a panko-crumbed halloumi burger with harissa mayo and daikon), but the real star here is the sticky, succulent rotisserie chicken – brined with ginger and marinated in?yoghurt with a Nikka whisky glaze. Salads are?another highlight (we love the crunchy charred cauliflower version with fennel, apple and blood?orange), and there are bao buns for breakfast. Right on trend, the bar specialises in Japanese whisky, offering top drams and such fabulous cocktails as the Apricot Highball (a heady mix of Nikka from the barrel, apricot jam and apricot brandy topped up with soda water). Our tip: the table by the kitchen is the best seat in the joint.

£30 - £49
Bars
Bao Soho

Bao Soho

53 Lexington Street, Soho, 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.

Under £30
Taiwanese
Chinese
Pique-Nique

Pique-Nique

32 Tanner Street, London, SE1 3LD

You’ll need to keep your eyes peeled to find this second restaurant from Hervé Durochat, which occupies what looks like a café-cum-shelter in the corner of Tanner Street Park. But get up close and Pique-Nique is a bobby dazzler, a real-deal French bistro of tiled floors and close-set tables, with outside seating to soak up the summertime buzz and wraparound windows that will make it a pleasure even in the middle of winter. Durochat has become a local hero for Casse-Croûte and he’s done Bermondsey another huge favour with this casual follow-up. Start with an aperitif (vermouth, pastis or pale Provençal rosé) from a short, mainly French wine list ahead of house speciality spit-roast poulet de Bresse, either from a chicken-lickin’ tasting menu or an à la carte plate of skin-on breast and thigh, spooned with alluringly dark meat jus. Elsewhere, there is entrecôte with garlic butter, a loosely assembled terrine of sea bass, cucumber and tomato, a supersized vol-au-vent filled with crayfish tails and glossy Nantua sauce, and a chocolate moelleux that was well worth the wait. All of this was good rather than outstanding but what really made our meal memorable was the easy charm of the young staff and the absolute delight of the setting: is there any sound more summery than the thwack of a tennis ball bouncing off a racket?

£30 - £49
French
Chick

Chick 'n' Sours Haggerston

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.

£30 - £49
International
Oldroyd

Oldroyd

344 Upper Street, Islington, 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.

£30 - £49
Modern European
Mam

Mam

16 All Saints Road, London, W11 1HH

All Saints Road has strong form as a location for top-quality Asian restaurants: pan-Asian Uli used to be at No.12 before moving to higher-end premises near Notting Hill Gate, and now Salvation in Noodles founder Colin Tu has chosen the street for this Vietnamese barbecue restaurant. It’s a fairly simple, homespun set-up, with a front dining room by the bar offering more appeal than the space behind. Don’t be deceived by the look of the place though, as the cooking is top-notch; beef was the highlight for us, served as a skewer that’s wrapped up in a sheet of steamed rice vermicelli along with fresh herbs and fish sauce. We also loved the deeply flavoured short-rib atop a pile of rice with half a runny egg to fold into the rich mix, although pork shoulder and chicken thigh skewers were pretty good too – as was an open ‘spring roll’ of chicken and wood-ear mushrooms. To drink, there’s a short and snappy wine list, plus beers and well-made cocktails. The only glitch on our visit was sweet but slow service – a side effect of Mam’s early success that should hopefully improve with time.    

Under £30
Vietnamese
Pamela

Pamela

428 Kingsland Road, London, E8 4AA

You’ll be hard-pushed to find a Pamela here: like Phyllis, Pearl or Peggy, it’s not a common name among twenty-somethings – the average age at this hole-up from the owners of (equally retro-named) Rita’s in Hackney. Pam’s pared-down decor relies on style-conscious locals to provide the colour. Squeeze onto a mushroom leather banquette and watch Dalston’s Dazed & Confused strut the catwalk from pavement to bijou bar. The cocktails are also model mixes, including an elderflower and beetroot-infused Collins; Des Barres (jalapeño-infused vodka, kiwi juice and coconut-water ice) and Waste Market, an El Jimador Reposado, Aperol and rhubarb Margarita. Open late from Tuesday to Sunday, Pamela is a name that might just catch on again.

£30 - £49
Mexican
Bars
Purl

Purl

50-54 Blandford Street, London, W1U 7HX

Reviving the illicit jazz-era speakeasy isn’t the most obvious move for bartenders in this postcode, but Purl has been evoking the glam end of clandestine drinking below Blandford Street since 2010. With raw brick, polished leather and aged objets, and alcoves for larger groups, it’s a hip rather than complicated space. All the detail is reserved for the drinks, which smoke, foam and fog out of unusual vessels, and often have a matching edible of some sort served alongside. Is that an old-school camera long lens, or a glass heaped with ice and mixed liquor? Both, of course. Bartenders have a sure mastery of their art and the experience can be captivating for the patient drinker, who is wise to book ahead. If you act on a spontaneous urge for high-class moonshine, you may be turned away. There’s live jazz on Wednesdays, and cocktail masterclasses make an enlivening team activity.

Bars
Lahpet

Lahpet

58 Bethnal Green Road, London, London, E1 8JW

Lahpet started life as a residency at Maltby Street Market and has now found its first bricks-and-mortar site on a prime spot just past Boxpark. A neutral colour palette of copper finishes and faux foliage looks the Shoreditch part, but what really sets this place apart is its contemporary take on Burmese cuisine, best described as a mix of Chinese, Laotian, Indian and Thai influences.

Starting snacks including a supremely buttery and flaky yellow pea paratha, and miniature dumplings in which a translucent skin conceals a Balachaung filling alive with ginger and fiery chilli. Elsewhere, the vibrant Lahpet salad (made with tea leaves) is crunchy with peanuts, and pillowy-soft roast aubergine comes stuffed with a heady mix of dried shrimp and oyster mushrooms, best enjoyed with a side of sticky coconut rice. Desserts include banana and caramelised peanut ice cream, crowned with a shard of dark chocolate and rolled in poppy seeds, while classic cocktails are remixed with floral flavours in the likes of a Lemongrass Mimosa. Keenly priced and with a buzzy atmosphere, Lahpet is an intriguing addition to London’s Asian restaurant scene.           

Under £30
Burmese
Ferdi

Ferdi

30 Shepherd Market, London, W1J 7QN

This cross-Channel outpost of Parisian celebrity haunt Ferdi has brought a whole new level of anxiety to securing a table in London. Reservations can only be made via text, and your table may disappear in the course of your messaging. If you manage to get through the door, you’ll find a tiny wood-panelled dining room in Shepherd Market, with soft toys arranged around the ceiling and paper-topped tables packed so closely they require shifting when your neighbour needs to use the loo. The menu is reproduced in English, French and Spanish and it repays to be trilingual: there is no chilli con carne on the English list, but there is on the French. The famous ‘Mac Ferdi’ cheeseburger is far and away the best thing to eat. The repertoire is otherwise fairly hotchpotch (Greek salad, nachos, meatballs and mash). Breaded prawns had sweet meat but the appearance of a supermarket canapé; macaroni cheese came with a huge ruff of shaved ham encircling the bowl (instead of mingled in the pasta); and Belgian waffles with whipped cream tasted shop-bought. To be fair, Ferdi has arrived without generating any of its own PR fanfare, the tables of mostly French diners were having a whale of a time, and the French staff could not have been lovelier. But on the basis of the food, it’s not hard to see why London has stolen Paris’s crown as the best place to eat in Europe.

£30 - £49
French
Mark

Mark's Bar at Hix

66-70 Brewer Street, Piccadilly Circus, London, W1F 9UP

Like an upscale, arty members club that’s open to allcomers, the quintessentially cool basement bar at Hix Soho is as sharp as a Paul Smith Paisley shirt, as comfy as John Lobb ankle boots, as classic as a camel Crombie and as relaxed as your best, lived-in denims – the sort of wardrobe that understated core Hixters cleave to. Hix’s similarly stylish cocktails are a mix of familiar friends (Hanky Panky, Zombie, Gin Punch à la Terrington) and future ‘bezzies’ such as Dorset Donkey (a Black Cow vodka, cherry and sage mule). True to his West Country roots, the chef/ patron's list also includes cider-based swallows such as Temperley Sour. Prices are Soho average for above-average ‘snax’ of whipped squash with ricotta and toasted walnuts, steak tartare, chips with curry sauce, rock samphire pakoras or Essex cockle popcorn – a steal at three for a tenner.

£30 - £49
Bars
Cork & Bottle

Cork & Bottle

44-46 Cranbourn Street, London, WC2H 7AN

Wine bars have come full circle since this old faithful opened in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it basement next to a sex shop. Back then, Britain begged for Blue Nun, spag bol and Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep on Radio 1. At the Cork & Bottle, the staff are chirpy enough but thanks to inflation, shepherd’s pie, Caesar salad, fishcakes and sirloin steak are no longer as cheap as we’d like – even if £9.50 still represents good value for unctuous cheese and ham pie. The wine list really is ‘the bee’s knees’, with bags of interest to suit all budgets: sample a refreshing rosé from the Loire Valley at £20.95, or trade up to an irreproachable 1986 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste. In all, this place remains a cosy and timeless time warp amid the detritus and touristy tack of Leicester Square.

Wine Bars
£30 - £49
Kricket Soho

Kricket Soho

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.

£30 - £49
Indian
Happiness Forgets

Happiness Forgets

8-9 Hoxton Square, London, London, N1 6NU

Regularly acclaimed by critics the world over, this wee dive bar has won more awards than we care to count: in 2016, it even scooped 'Best International Cocktail Bar' at America's prestigious Tales of the Cocktail bash. No bad for a prosaic, no-frills, "low-rent basement" (owner Andy Bird's description). This is no achingly cool 'concept', no big-budget design team's take on a Prohibition speakeasy, 1970s disco or any other corny theme you care to mention; there’s no pretentious molecular malarkey either: what Happiness has in spades, is heart and soul. It also has a team of chipper, capable staff who are keen to craft old-school favourites and gratifying new stirs to order: try Dirty Sanchez (a tropical cobbler involving Havana Selección rum, crème de banane, port, Manzanilla sherry and pineapple juice). Like the Burt Bacharach song by Dionne Warwick that inspired the bar’s handle, this seemingly effortless number oozes class and sophistication.

Bars
Satan

Satan's Whiskers

343 Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9RA

Satan's Whiskers is a neighbourhood cocktail bar – although few neighbourhoods can boast a drinking den that also does duty as an unofficial taxidermy museum. If you’re happy to keep company with jokey stuffed exhibits and fun skeletal sculptures, settle in and order from a regular retinue of reasonably priced rogues such as East 8 Hold Up (vodka, Aperol, lime and pineapple, served short). There’s also a daily changing entourage of twisted classics and contemporary signatures: our most recent favourite is 34th Brigade, a Calvados and apricot brandy fizz. Another notable hit is the bar's rendition of Tuxedo #2, (a take on 19th-century favourite Turf Club), as promulgated by tuxedo-wearing Harry Craddock in his 1930s bible for the bibulous, The Savoy Cocktail Book. Nibbles are grouped under ‘two fingers’ (mini Scotch eggs or merguez sausages) and ‘four fingers’ (pulled brisket rolls or baby back ribs).

Bars
Barrafina Dean Street

Barrafina Dean Street

26-29 Dean Street, London, 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.

£30 - £49
Tapas
Spanish
One michelin star
Titu

Titu

1A Shepherd Street, London, W1J 7HJ

Kiwi chef Jeff Tyler used to be head chef of the Asian side of flashy mega restaurant Novikov, so it’s a complete surprise that his first solo project is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner spot in olde worlde Shepherd Market, with space for only 15 diners (tables are bookable). What isn’t a surprise is how good the modern Japanese food is. Titu is billed as a gyoza specialist, though there’s much more to the small-plates menu than dumplings: meltingly soft tuna blobbed with a subtle jalapeno mayo and dressed with an artful frill of salad leaves, deep-fried chicken popcorn that eats like a gourmet McNugget, or a citrusy salad of chunky soft-shell crab. The dumplings themselves are served linked like conjoined twins attached by a filigree of lacy batter; we preferred the warmly spiced chicken and foie gras version to Wagyu gyoza that seemed like an ostentatious intrusion from Novikov.

Prices, while not exactly cheap, are something of a bargain for Mayfair given the quality of the ingredients and cooking. And while the tiny dimensions mean this is not somewhere to come to discuss anything remotely confidential, the charming staff somehow find space to mix the likes of Pisco Sours and Espresso Martinis. We’ll definitely be back – perhaps after a matinee at the nearby Curzon Mayfair.    

£50 - £79
Japanese
Oklava

Oklava

74 Luke Street, London, EC2A 4PY

Lauded as a “great modern take on Turkish food”, cosy Oklava takes its culinary inspiration from chef Selin Kiazim’s native roots.

Sophisticated small plates are the order of the day, from complementary bread with Medjool date butter or nibbles of chilli-roast cauliflower studded with “jewels of pistachio” to meaty braised octopus with ricotta, green olives, honey and “tangy” pickled caper shoots or well-seasoned char-grilled chicken with Kayseri pastirma dressing and thyme.

We also rate the herb-flecked lahmacun (Turkish ‘pizza’) and the crispy pomegranate-glazed lamb breast with yoghurt, although desserts such as a rather unimaginative peach and vanilla borek with hot white chocolate and poached peach can let the side down.

Prices are affordable, friendly staff are happy to guide novices through the menu, and the well-curated wine list features some “very interesting” Turkish tipples. Also check out innovative cocktails such as Smoky Mangal (Cypriot brandy, charcoal syrup, lemon and bitters).

£30 - £49
Turkish
Hai Cenato

Hai Cenato

2 Sir Simon Milton Square, Victoria, London, SW1E 5DJ

The buzzing centrepiece of the shiny new Nova development near Victoria station, Jason Atherton’s homage to his favourite New York pizzerias is tricky to locate, but once inside you’ll find a slickly designed, noisy space lined with plate-glass windows and a wall of chef caricatures that’s proving popular with restaurant nerds. The line-up of sourdough pizzas includes plenty of “big hits”, from goats’ cheese and zucchini to a “hearty” combo involving lamb neck and aubergine, but that’s just the beginning. The kitchen also deals in “simple flavoursome food” done to Atherton’s usual high standards: confit guinea fowl and Barolo risotto offset by bitter radicchio; corzetti pasta topped with “decadently sticky” venison ragù; perfectly timed whole gilthead bream stuffed with saffron, lemon and fennel – cooking with real heart and soul. Sides of chilli-kissed cavolo nero almost steal the show, although the dish destined for signature status is salted caramel gelato sandwiched in a warm brioche bun. Sure, it feels a tad corporate, but with seven-day opening and a first-floor cocktail bar (The Drunken Oyster), Hai Cenato is a brilliant all-purpose addition to the Victoria scene. 

£30 - £49
Italian