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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21A Foley Street, 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.
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109 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4RX
Peter Gordon’s double-decker fusion palace is supposed to be fun, and readers confirm that it’s a blast. At street level, there’s the no-bookings Tapa Room (named after a Rarotongan tapa cloth, which decorates the space): this noisy rendezvous is perpetually rammed with crowds who gather for breakfast (brown rice, apple, maple syrup and miso porridge with tamarillo compote, perhaps) and all-day dishes. Upstairs, the eponymous dining room pushes more boundaries, delivering multi-ingredient combos with a little more formality – think smoked Dutch eel with coconut and tamarind laksa, green tea noodles, soft-boiled quail’s egg, girolles and sweetcorn followed by Creedy Carver duck breast with figs, walnuts, grapes, sherry vinegar and membrillo. Every day’s a school day here, so ask if you’re not sure what something is (the staff are used to it) and reserve some time, money and attention to explore the seriously Kiwi wine list.
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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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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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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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66-70 Brewer Street, 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.
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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.
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61 Rupert Street, 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.
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8-9 Hoxton Square, 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.
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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.
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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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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
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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.
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12-16 Artillery Lane, 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.
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