12 Denman Street, London, W1D 7HH
Cooked up by Rik Campbell and Will Bowlby, casual Kricket is a “modern memoir to time spent living and working in Mumbai”. The duo’s original shipping-container eatery at Pop Brixton has been making waves since 2015, but this is a proper restaurant with snazzy London embellishments including an open kitchen and dining counter, plus tables in the darker, atmospheric basement. The succinct small-plates menu changes daily, and Kricket’s game is a gentle one – the heavy pepper dusting on the signature Keralan-fried chicken is as fiery as it gets. Bhel puris come with a swirl of tamarind stickiness, crunchy puffed rice and dollops of yoghurt, while bright yellow kichri combines rice and lentils with morsels of haddock and lightly pickled cauliflower – all beautifully presented. Barbecue-blackened sweet potatoes and crunchy samphire pakoras make a convincing case for vegetarianism, while spice-infused cocktails and cheeky rum masala chai pep up the drinks list. With its fair pricing, cool vibe and bright, eager-to-please staff, Kricket is settling in very comfortably.
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37 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 1RR
A Fitzrovia hit since launching in 2004, Roka’s trailblazing modern Japanese cuisine and “sophisticated atmosphere” are still a universal smash with readers. Some enjoy “chilling out”, others love its “romantic vibe”, but the expertly fashioned food is what really turns heads. Most diners are old hands at navigating a menu packed with modern-day classics (black cod in yuzu miso, wafer-thin truffled yellowtail sashimi, scallop and shiso lollipops, baby spinach in creamy sesame dressing) although clued-up staff still offer ever-changing seasonal tips – perhaps grilled cobia fish with mushrooms and truffle, or indulgent Wagyu tartare sushi rolls topped with caviar. The sleek glass-fronted room is all polished wood and industrial ceilings, with in-demand seats ringing the frantic action around the fierce robata grill (mercifully with an efficient extraction system). Prices merit either an expense account, or a very careful eye, so maybe grab a tasting menu to keep bills in check or skip the ostentatious dessert platters. Wine fits the top-end bill, but eye-opening saké and classy, shochu-based cocktails steal the show.
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85 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7NB
Hiding in plain sight with a vast three-story location on Piccadilly, Hide is the hugely ambitious restaurant that chef Ollie Dabbous has seemed destined to open since his self-titled debut picked up every award going in 2012. Hide is actually three spaces – Above, Ground and Below – though it may as well be called Upstairs Downstairs for the hierarchies of exclusivity involved.
Below is a cocktail bar overseen by long-time collaborator Oskar Kinberg; Ground is an all-day modern British restaurant, affordable by Mayfair standards; while a swirling oak staircase leads to Above, which has the sylvan view through sound-muffling windows over the London bus rooftops to Green Park. Tables up here are spaced so you never need make eye-contact with your neighbour, let alone hear what they are saying, while inspired design touches include not only the expected handbag stools but mobile phone chargers hidden in the table and a leather-bound iPad that can access the 6,000 wines from Dabbous’ backers, Hedonism Wines, and have them delivered within 15 minutes and served with a £35 mark up. Well, what else would you expect in a restaurant rumoured to have cost more than £20m?
To eat, there’s a 10-course tasting menu for £95 (plus a four-course lunch for £42), bursting with inventive visuals such as charcuterie speared on the end of a feather, caviar-beaded tuna tartare prettily heaped at the centre of an ornamental, inedible leaf, and Dabbous’ signature ‘nest egg’ of coddled egg and smoked butter, a sort of savoury Creme Egg served in the shell on a bed of hay. Things didn’t get truly exciting for us until halfway through, though, with the arrival of a breathtakingly subtle red mullet in a bread and saffron sauce, and a gamey, dry-aged Goosnargh duck breast. Puddings were also best-in-class, from the ‘garden ripple ice cream’ that looked like a slice of Twister, to a swirl of coconut cream fashioned into a white rose petal.
Criticisms? Even allowing for 10 courses, we found the pace of the meal dragged, and while staff can’t be faulted for their enthusiasm and expertise, the constant interruptions and explanations a tasting menu necessitates does not make for the most relaxing experience. For make no mistake, this very much is an experience – albeit one that might remain in the once in a lifetime bracket.
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Bleeding Heart Yard, London, 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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1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London, W1U 7PA
The fervour that surrounded André Balazs’ Marylebone hotspot has died down and you no longer need to be famous to secure a table, but Chiltern Firehouse still delivers in spades. Readers praise the outdoor-themed interiors as well as the high-decibel “party vibe”, and we’ve also been impressed by the all-inclusive attitude of the staff, who happily laugh and chat with diners. Meanwhile, in the open kitchen, chef Nuno Mendes and his team send out plenty of likeable big-time successes. Snacks such as bacon cornbread and the famous coral-dusted crab doughnut kick things off nicely, but there are other highlights too: char-grilled Ibérico pork comes with the unexpected additions of grilled peaches and red pepper kimchi, while a side of mac ‘n’ cheese is given a fiery kick with jalapeño peppers. Early risers pack in for breakfast (potted eggs with caramelised onions and curried potatoes), freelancers take advantage of the indulgent lunchtime offers (crab and lobster omelette, say), and we’d also recommend Chiltern Firehouse for a pre/post-meal trip to the botanically themed bar for cheekily named cocktails. Be warned – the bill (with impressive wines included) may have you reaching for the fire alarm.
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34 Grosvenor Square (Entrance on South Audley St), London, W1K 2HD
Promising British hospitality at its finest, 34 is testament to the “slick”, “five-star” hospitality that marks out the Caprice Holdings stable. From the top-hatted doorman outside this former bank to the timeless art deco-style interiors – think table lamps, brown leather banquettes and a marble bar – every bit of the consummate experience is “perfectly executed”, cocktails included. The grill menu has steak at its heart, but also does a mean line in seafood – our sprightly lobster, shrimp and sea bass ceviche was a judiciously spiced appetiser for the oncoming meat fest. Yorkshire heritage breeds and top-end Wagyu both feature prominently, but it’s worth doffing your cap to the nearby American Embassy and opting for the USDA Prime chateaubriand – a glorious, “succulent”, hunk of beef for two served with truffle gravy and mushrooms. If you have space for dessert, a chocolatey peanut-butter crunch bar with blackcurrant sorbet is simple but satisfying. Dapper, ever-attentive staff earn due praise, and the sommelier is full of great recommendations (in our case, a gorgeous Los Vascos Grande Reserve 2012 Rothschild). High prices reflect the postcode, but fans reckon 34 is “worth every penny”.
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The Connaught Hotel, Carlos Place, London, W1K 2AL
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught is the legendary hotel’s flagship restaurant and it continues to live up to its two-Michelin-starred credentials, with effortlessly efficient staff overseeing the cosseting wood-panelled dining room. The food bears all the hallmarks of Darroze’s signature style – artisan ingredients, beautiful presentation and pinpoint cooking with subtle eclectic nuances. Flavours and textures sing throughout, from the soft folds of Bayonne ham delivered as an appetiser to sweet strawberries topped with fragrant basil and olive-oil Chantilly for dessert. Elsewhere, grouse carries North African ras-el-hanout spicing balanced by the sweetness of dates, and velvety cubes of Wagyu beef are served with crispy puffs of potato laced with truffle for a thoroughly decadent take on steak-frites. Wine pairings chosen by a team of talented sommeliers make Hélène Darroze at The Connaught an oenophile’s delight, and there’s a huge selection of vintage bottles from top producers on the pricey list.
The Ayala SquareMeal’s Best Female Chefs Series: Hélène Darroze
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4 St James's Market, London, SW1Y 4AH
The latest addition to St James’s Market comes from ex-Nopi head chef Ramael Scully. Cosy interiors include copper pendant lighting, potted plants and a treasure trove of a glass-fronted pantry, stocked with herbs and spices from around the globe (the staff will let you smell a few). A large sharing table and an open kitchen add a communal vibe, but the marble-topped chef’s counter is undoubtedly home to the best seats in the house, where you can watch Scully and his team slice vegetables with expert precision and artfully plate up dishes on pretty ceramics, without ever breaking a sweat.
This captivating kitchen theatre is backed up by a truly intriguing menu, inspired by Scully’s heritage, which includes roots in Australia, Malaysia, India and Ireland. Nearly all the seasonally changing sharing plates impress, from a veggie-friendly tomato and coconut salad with green strawberries (summer in a bowl), to barbecued beef tendons, hidden by a dollop of smoky oyster mayo and served with salty fried tendon puffs for dipping. Elsewhere, there’s lusciously fatty pork belly with house-made XO sauce concealing a subtle flash of heat, and an outstanding plate of monkfish rubbed with sambal belacan, a tongue-tingling shrimp paste. Desserts toy with the balance of flavours, with mixed results: witness the love-it-or-hate-it dish of parsnip and coconut ice cream, which was more sharp than sweet, followed by the more impressive bitter grapefruit sorbet which arrived paired with a scoop of indulgent caramel ice cream – a delightful mix of sweet and sour.
Fastidious sourcing, impressively well-informed staff and an unflappable kitchen team swapping jokes while turning out plates of pure wonder all help to make dining at Scully a thrilling and eye-opening experience – we can’t wait to go back.
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17 Berkeley Street, London, 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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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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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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65 South Audley Street, London, W1K 2QU
Michelin-starred Kai’s big claim is that it ‘liberates’ Chinese cooking, delivering what some fans regard as the best “fusion food” of its kind in London – although the straight-backed dining rooms can feel rather staid, despite the odd colourful flourish and statement objets. Supporters are happy to forgive any excess ceremony, allowing the kitchen to play with flavours in imaginative ways. At lunch, a succession of small plates might include glutinous rice balls scented with Wagyu beef oil, while tiger prawns with crisp curry leaves recall Indo-Chinese meetings on the great spice routes. For dinner, dial things up with a plate of pan-fried foie gras, caramelised cashews, white pepper, spring onions, grapes and passion fruit dressing, followed by ‘lobster and lobster’ – a combo of the burly crustacean with ginger and spring onion plus noodles drizzled with lobster oil. Desserts are no afterthought, either – their durian and vanilla soufflé with salted caramel is likely to be the only pud of its kind in town.
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The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0ET
The American Bar opened in 1893, when glamorous 'American-style' mixed cocktails were all the rage, and has played host to a procession of legendary bartenders – not least Harry Craddock, author of the iconic Savoy Cocktail Book back in 1930. Today you'll find Erik Lorincz behind the stick, heading up a team that's won pretty much every bar award going. The theme for their 2017 cocktail menu (it changes every year) is a regional tour around Britain, featuring creative mixes such as Arthur's Seat with Royal Brackla 16 Year Old whisky and the herbaceous Heathland History, with Gin Mare and mushroom-infused vermouth. Attention to detail is what really sets this bar apart, from its vintage decor and bespoke glassware to bartenders who remember your name and favourite drink. Shut your eyes; soak up the delicious buzz, tinkling piano and clinking of ice in cocktail shakers – and be transported back to the golden age of cocktails.
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The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0ET
If the Savoy’s American Bar is Frank Sinatra doing it his way, the Beaufort Bar is Billie Holiday singing the blues: seductive and smooth, with an edge of darkness. There aren't many bars in London that match the sheer glamour of the Beaufort, with its sleek black and gold decor, complemented by silky service. Its latest menu pays tribute to the long history of the Savoy, with drinks including the Garden of Memories, a fresh mix of Tequila, Suze, passion fruit, St Germain and lime, inspired by one of the hotel’s most lavish parties, when its courtyard was flooded and dinner was served on gondolas. A few of the Savoy’s famous guests have inspired cocktails too: The Grass is Always Greener is a homage to crooner Tom Jones; while Under the Stars is a Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned twist for Fred Astaire, who once danced on the roof of the hotel. A jaw-dropping range of rare and vintage spirits is also on offer for those with deep pockets.
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11 Langley Street, London, WC2H 9JG
“The best steak in London, by a mile”, declares one reader, and we have to agree. The beefy Hawksmoor chain somehow manages to get everything right, from its glorious 35-day-aged steaks supplied by The Ginger Pig to its creative cocktails – all presented by staff with a genuine passion for service. It's easy to understand why there are now six branches in the capital (and another in Manchester), though this atmospheric site in the old barrel-vaulted Watney Combe Brewery is one of our favourites. Start with Old Spot belly ribs or sweetly caramelised roast scallops with white port and garlic, before taking your pick of the beefy cuts chalked up by weight on blackboards. Perfectly crisp triple-cooked chips, gut-busting macaroni cheese or grilled bone marrow make happy companions, but we urge saving some space for the addictive salted caramel Rolos too. The comfortable bar deals in burgers and lobster rolls as well as brilliant drinks, though between the hours of 3pm and 5pm Monday-Friday, you can dine from the full a la carte menu when booking in advance. Sunday lunch sees roast rump of Longhorn beef with all the trimmings for Sunday lunch. “Great for big groups and for couples”, notes one fan.
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64 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JJ
Brat' is the Northumbrian vernacular for a turbot but it’s also a knowing wink from Tomos Parry. The Welshman won the Young British Foodie Chef of the Year award in 2014, wowed in his first head chef gig at Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair and has opened his first solo restaurant in a former strip club in Shoreditch, with a logo whose font blends Celtic and Basque typefaces. While Kitty Fisher’s had David Cameron as its most famous regular, now it’s the likes of fashion designer Henry Holland and a nightly brigade of Parry’s curious chef peers (Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee on our visit) trouping up the stairs above Smoking Goat to see what all the fuss is about.
The house speciality turbot is cooked Basque-style in an iron cage over a wood grill until the flesh is almost melting; it’s already had more rave reviews than Hamilton but is a struggle for two people to finish, so we went instead for smaller plates followed by a beef chop. Some of the flavours were happy memories from Kitty Fisher’s – the smoked cod’s roe that is the perfection of taramasalata, piped on to a finger of toast like a savoury éclair; the almost gamey flavour of the beef – and some were new revelations: a sort of puffed-up naan bread slathered with oil, flecked with chives and draped with three intensely flavoured anchovies; oysters roasted to draw out their sweetness, topped with pickled seaweed.
The flip side of the menu is printed with 35 wines by the glass, including seven sherries; there’s further fascination in in the wine list proper. It is, without a doubt, very enjoyable cooking – Parry has an innate sense for how to extract the maximum natural flavour from high-quality ingredients – but what sets the place apart is the mood. The blurring of kitchen and dining room feels completely democratic, as too the eating counter and tables packed so closely they may as well be a communal bench, while right now the atmosphere crackles at that febrile pitch of diners who know they are in London’s hottest restaurant.
True, some may find the workshop machismo of cooking with fire in plain view a tad preposterous (it reminded us of Henry VIII’s kitchens at Hampton Court), and the sight of fanboy diners queueing up to congratulate Parry is cringe-inducing. But, overall, we were captivated by the spectacle.
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34 Rupert Street, London, W1D 6DN
“What an experience!” shouts a fan of The Palomar – a fun-loving foodie hangout driven by funky chef Tomer Amedi’s infectious joie de vivre. The whole place feels like a house party, complete with hard drinks, kooky cocktails, loud beats, kitchen banter and “laid-back staff”. A grill-focused menu references the cuisine of modern Jerusalem, so be prepared for highly original food with a seasonal slant: we’re hooked on the ‘chicken under pressure’ with citrus, lentils and courgettes, the ‘Josperised’ octopus with chickpea msabacha, and the Persian pappardelle with artichoke, lemon and mangetout. Elsewhere, the bread is “fantastic” and the chopped liver is “sublime”, while the pick of the puds has to be ‘kiss kiss bang bang’ – a wicked confection of pomegranate ‘basbousa’ semolina cake, halva ice cream and almond palmier. You’ll need to queue for a seat at the no-bookings counter, but it’s worth it just to watch the kitchen’s livewire performances. When it’s really firing (and that’s most of the time), The Palomar is Soho at its best – and the perfect spot if you want to “impress your friends”.
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113 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 6QQ
Will Lander’s Portland is a rare thing – a thoroughly grown-up, relaxed and “cosy” restaurant that deals in neighbourhood fine-dining without a hint of stuffiness. The cool, “understated” dining room is as dashing as a Savile Row suit, with its dark-wood flooring, Scandi furniture and watercolour portraits – all leading towards the Michelin-starred open kitchen. The menu wows without overcomplicating things, and every dish “hits the heights” – from a show-stopping snack of crispy chicken skin loaded with rich chicken liver parfait to a little bowl of silky crayfish flan with a foamed, buttery bisque.
Elsewhere, simplicity also reigns – witness thick, creamy mozzarella topped with the last of the summer’s tomatoes, tarragon leaves and earthy kombu seaweed or a dish of translucent cod with squid ink, hazelnuts, kale and a plump oyster. For dessert, strawberries atop a yoghurt cake with cashew-nut butter really highlights Portland’s use of stellar ingredients. “Textbook” wines are listed on the back of the menu, “friendly” staff are “attentive but don’t hover” and portions are big enough to “satisfy a rugby player” – in fact, it’s hard to have anything less than a “great experience” here.
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8 Hanway Place, London, W1T 1HD
“Wow, wow and wow!” exclaims a fan of Hakkasan, who reckons it’s definitely the “sexiest restaurant” he’s ever frequented. Certainly, there’s a “sultry charm” to this “sensual”, barely lit basement, with clubby VIP vibes, easy-on-the-eye staff and black-lacquered interiors making it “perfect for a hot date”. Kick off with Asian-inspired cocktails at the bar, then try definitive versions of takeaway classics and “impressive” ‘small eats’ such as jasmine tea-smoked ribs or “amazingly light” Shanghai dumplings boosted by chilli and vinegar. To follow, readers rave about the gigantic spicy prawns with asparagus, almonds, lily bulbs, spring onion and water chestnuts (“a riot of colourful tastes and textures”), but we’re hooked on the salt and pepper squid, the duck braised with truffle and the “riveting” crispy lamb salad with peanut dressing. No one escapes the top-end pricing, but readers agree that “you pay for what you get”. Multiple tasting menus can keep the bills in check, although the ambitious wine list might push them back up again. Either way, it’s “absolutely outstanding”.
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92 Kensington Park Road, London, W11 2PN
Since leaving the three-Michelin-starred world of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth has “forged her own special path” – much to the delight of readers who have fallen head over heels in love with her new venture. Core is cor-blimey brilliant rather than a hardcore, haute-cuisine ordeal, complete with the sort of high-end interiors that covetous Notting Hillbillies dream about – think cute handbag stools, feather-light Zalto glassware and Bridget Riley artworks. Unclothed tables, meanwhile, indicate we’re in casual-luxe territory, while “gracious” staff do their very best to make the whole experience extra-special.
The room may be gorgeous in its own right, but everyone is here for food – and rightly so. Readers already have their favourites from Core’s carte and tasting menu: for some it’s the ‘potato and roe’ (actually a dish of skin-on charlotte potato topped with herring and trout roe sitting in a slick of seaweed beurre blanc), while our tip for signature status is the whole carrot topped with braised lamb served alongside a dollop of sheep’s milk yoghurt. These are “smile-inducing” dishes that extract almost unbelievable flavour from the humblest of ingredients.
Elsewhere, brilliant hits abound: a sweet Colchester crab doughnut alongside a glass of crab consommé; an even sweeter Roscoff onion stuffed with rich oxtail to accompany beef short-rib; countless nibbles including crispy smoked duck wings and jellied eel misted with a malt vinegar spray. And then there are the ravishing desserts – exquisitely reimagined versions of cherry Bakewell or warm chocolate tart, for example. Quite simply, this is “the epitome of thoughtful, stylish and technically brilliant gastronomy”.
The “fabulous” French-led wine list is a real head-turner, with plenty of fine drinking below £50, and you can also eat in the handsome bar, which is a cocktail destination in its own right. We’re in no doubt that Core is headed for the very top, and its many fans agree: “One of the best evenings we've ever had in a restaurant. Superb, understated excellence from start to finish”.
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7 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 5JE
Proof of the adage that good things come in small packages, Bar Termini may be tiny but it’s an undoubted star of the Soho bar scene. It only does two things – coffee and cocktails – but does both extremely well. Of course, we’d expect nothing less of cocktail maestro Tony Conigliaro (69 Colebrooke Row, Zetter Townhouse), who took inspiration from classic Italian train-station buffets of the 1950s for this cute café-bar. All-Italian caffeine fixes (don’t ask for a flat white) will keep you wide awake; otherwise, get all shook up by ordering from the short but carefully managed list of cocktails. The elegant Terroir remains one of our favourite serves, but Italian mixes such as the house Negroni or Marsala Martini (Beefeater gin, Marsala, vermouth and almond bitters) are exemplary. Meanwhile, fizzy fixes such as the Spritz Termini are perfect pick-me-ups. Bar Termini eats meanwhile include mini paninis, artisan Italian cheese and ham.
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160 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9EB
“The daddy of them all” declares a fan of The Wolseley – and he’s not alone in cheering this “rather posh” grand café to the skies. Whether you’re here for the all-conquering breakfast, afternoon tea or a late-night pick-me-up, the barnstorming Wolseley always delivers – “it doesn’t matter what you look like, you’ll get treated like a VIP”. The sheer razzmatazz of the fabulously converted car showroom is part of its attraction, as regulars seek out their favourite tables, others mingle in anterooms and a regular trickle of walk-in celebs, creatives and shoppers adds to the spice of it all. To begin, you might find yourself dusting off the cobwebs over a bowl of Birchermuesli, a crispy bacon roll or a full fry-up; later on, thoughts could turn to steak tartare, salade niçoise, burgers, schnitzels or coq au vin – and there’s never a bad time for the Wolseley’s luscious array of creamy patisserie, cakes and ice-cream coupes. Service is always “top-notch” too. In short, The Wolseley is the complete West End package, and we concur with the reader who remarks that “I always come away with my high expectations satisfied and met”.
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55 Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6LX
Archaic, determinedly old school and one of the few restaurants where that outmoded jacket-and-tie policy still seems wholly appropriate, this impeccably groomed restaurant looks right at home among the streets of St James’s. Wiltons is a handsome fellow indeed, “a restaurant with purpose and life” – so switch off your electronic devices and tap into the velvety richness of it all. As fish sellers of yore, with a family tradition dating back to Georgian times, Wiltons still majors on the finest British seafood – some of the best oysters in town, dressed crab, Dover sole meunière, lobster Newburg et al. Meanwhile, those with other palates and preferences might prefer a bowl of beef consommé or a twice-baked Stilton soufflé ahead of a trencherman mixed grill or fallow deer with roast shallots, fennel and cherries. Lunchtime trolleys are weighed down with gargantuan roasts and other pleasurable repasts, while desserts mine a rich vein of nostalgic comfort – apple crumble with custard, bread-and-butter pudding, etc. Service is deferential to a fault, and the upper-crust wine list is generously endowed with vintage clarets and Burgundies from the great years – although its “astronomical” prices are unlikely to trouble the old brigade in their Savile Row suits.
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Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London, W6 9HA
Although artisan competition is fierce these days, we side with the fan who reckons that The River Café serves “the best ingredients-driven Italian food in London”. This convivial Hammersmith evergreen (30 years young in 2017), which is rightfully so happy in its skin, is a very slick operation and certainly in the capital’s gastronomic ‘Serie A’, although it gains added kudos by virtue of its entrancing views and seductive riverside terrace (an absolute must-do on balmy days) as well as its decor, which some say is “dated but iconic”.
The rustic glories of Italian regional cuisine are writ large in a seasonal menu that majors on daisy-fresh salads, glossy pasta and specialities from the imposing red log-burning oven: in summer, that might mean poached langoustines with aïoli and pea salad followed by clam risotto dressed with zucchini flowers or wild salmon baked in sea salt; in winter, Tuscan bread soup with Swiss chard could precede whole Anjou pigeon wood-roasted in Chardonnay with speck, smoked celeriac and watercress. Further classics might be turbot with the greenest of beans, lobster risotto or char-grilled calamari with rocket. To conclude, chocolate nemesis is still the go-to option, but fruity tarts, grappa-laced pannacotta and the citrusy almond and polenta cake are also delicious.
Prices are top lire (a bowl of cherries is £10), although “exceptional service” is as friendly and engaging as it gets in London. Meanwhile, a list of pedigree Italian wines served at the correct temperatures in the correct glasses makes The River Café is the most well-rounded of treats.
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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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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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5 Raphael St, Knightsbridge, London, SW7 1DL
Fifteen years on and London is still deeply in love with world-class Zuma: “fabulous” says one fan, “can’t beat it” exclaims another avid supporter. And the waves of adoration stretch far beyond the capital itself: this high-gloss, big-money rendezvous draws in a global cast of A-listers and jetsetters, all attracted by the age-defying industrial-Zen interiors and the sleek designer mix of rough-hewn wood, polished granite and shiny steel. Tables are predictably hard to come by, but we prefer chancing our arm with the no-bookings ringside seats by the kitchen. Kick off with a trend-setting cocktail (perhaps Wild Yasei, a macho yet graceful blend of rye bourbon and wild-cherry tea syrup), and expect to pay top dollar for the food. In return you’ll be offered some of the finest Japanese cuisine in the capital: sliced seared tuna with chilli, daikon and ponzu; warm aubergine in sweet miso (an umami-laden masterpiece); robata-grilled jumbo tiger prawns with yuzu pepper; marinated baby chicken roasted on cedar wood, and – of course – the much-imitated, but never-bettered black cod. Service is flawless, and for the final flourish, we suggest asking the dedicated saké sommelier for a tour of his exquisite list. In a word, awesome.
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Walham Grove, London, SW6 1QP
‘Not your average gastropub’ says the tagline, and for once the hype is fully justified. This Fulham boozer has been a pack leader for many years, staking its claim with urbane ingredients-led cooking and handsome gentrified interiors (bare-boarded floors, chunky wood furniture, mirrors and monochrome photos on pastel walls), all overseen by starry backers (it’s co-owned by Brett Graham of The Ledbury). The Harwood Arms kitchen specialises in remarkably seasonal British victuals – including bags of furred and feathered game (roast Berkshire deer with baked carrot, pickled walnuts and juniper, for example). Other highlights from the daily fixed-price menu might range from the famous crab muffins or new season’s beetroots with smoked eel, pumpernickel and purple rocket to calendar-tuned desserts such as blackberry and bay-leaf trifle with brown sugar meringues or cherries with vanilla cream and a brandy snap. It may tout a Michelin star, but The Harwood Arms still trades as a dyed-in-the-wool watering hole, serving pints of real ale, venison Scotch eggs and cauliflower croquettes to the drinkers, and making a big splash with its sell-out Sunday roasts – although the serious wine list is several notches above the pub norm.
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8-10 Pollen St, Mayfair, London, W1S 1NQ
Secreted beside a discreet Mayfair alleyway since 2011, Jason Atherton’s imperious Michelin-starred flagship, Pollen Street Social, remains “bang on the money” – a “masterpiece of fine dining” and a worthy winner of the SquareMeal Restaurant of the Year 2017. Step through the glass door and the good vibrations hit you straight away, while the clean-lined metropolitan dining room shows its cosmopolitan class with dramatic lampshades and eye-catching arty exhibits. Atherton may oversee a global empire these days, but he still puts in the shifts at PSS, and is often to be seen at the pass – a world-class hands-on restaurateur in his rightful place. Culinary influences and cross-fertilisation abound, but everything is underpinned by indigenous ingredients, from a witty Cockney riff involving smoked eel, buttermilk, beetroot reduction and jellied eel to South Downs fallow deer with pear, cocoa and chocolate vinegar or “staggeringly good” Lakeland lamb with beetroot, blackcurrant, savoy cabbage and a mini hotpot on the side – scintillating, exuberant food of the highest order, with maximum flavour delivering maximum satisfaction. To start, the ‘fruits of the British sea’ is a delirious array of maritime delights presented on a special stand – we love the oyster ice cream dressed with an oyster leaf, the lobster cocktail, and the Orkney scallop with pickled radish and jalapeño; to finish, the dessert bar promises close encounters with the likes of Brogdale pear sorbet, goats’ cheese ice cream, honey and bee pollen. Service plays it ‘social’ without ever losing its professional cool, and there are treasures galore on the ever-expanding wine list curated by the group’s whizz-bang sommelier Laure Patry. “Few places are such a treat” concludes one admirer of Pollen Street Social– amen to that.
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12 Archer Street, London, W1D 7BB
Sit at the “lovely marble bar” at Bocca di Lupo for a quick refuel or book one of the wooden tables at the back if you have more time: the vibe is the same – busy, buzzy, noisy and fun, with a menu offering some of the very best Italian regional food in London. Although the idea is to share, there are full-size versions of nearly all dishes for diners who don’t like another person’s fork near their plate. The seasons dictate proceedings at Bocca di Lupo, but some items are all-year keepers: delicate sea bream carpaccio, anointed with orange zest and rosemary; unctuous arancini filled with soft cheese and pistachio; wonderfully rich and comforting tagliolini gratinati with prawns and treviso. Also expect simply grilled fresh fish (perfect) and soft slow-cooked specialities such as white polenta with suckling pig ragù. Gelati come from Gelupo (Bocca’s own ice-cream parlour across the road), and we’d recommend them over the restaurant’s more adventurous desserts. There are also some terrific Italian regional wines by the glass or carafe for refreshment.
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35 Spital Square, London, E1 6DY
Set in the “atmospheric” surrounds of a grandiose converted Victorian chapel, this Michelin-starred, Grade II-listed high flyer from the Galvin brothers comes complete with stone archways, iron chandeliers and awe-inspiring “ecclesiastical vaulted architecture”. As such, it provides a suitably lavish backdrop for a menu of highly worked, “expertly prepared” and intricately presented dishes culled from the lexicon of modern French cuisine – from the signature Dorset crab lasagne with creamy beurre nantais and pea shoots or pressed terrine of Landes guinea fowl, foie gras and Bayonne ham with sauce gribiche to tagine of Bresse pigeon with couscous, confit lemon and harissa sauce or poached chicken breast with herb gnocchi, kale and sauce suprême. To conclude, the perfectly caramelised tarte Tatin with Normandy crème fraîche is a must, while the enviable cheese trolley provides the perfect excuse for a glass of Hermitage La Chapelle from the mighty French-led wine list – although a few more “modestly priced” offerings would be appreciated. Some dissenters find Galvin La Chapelle “bland and deeply earnest”, relying on “snob value and French-derived gravitas”, but we’re with those who reckon it’s a triumph in the City.
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1-5 West Street, London, WC2H 9NQ
Celebrating its centenary in 2017, The Ivy is a celeb-friendly fixture of the glamorous West End scene. Yet, behind the iconic harlequin stained glass, the old girl certainly isn't showing her age – thanks to a glittering 2015 makeover that gave pride of place to a beautiful vintage-styled bar. Although the hype around the refurb has died down, there's still a warm glow of approval from readers, who praise the "utterly impeccable" service, "unflappable staff" and "buzzy, not noisy" atmosphere. The eclectic menu is a winning mix of Ivy perennials such as the "truly wonderful" crispy duck salad and classic shepherd's pie, alongside on-trend raw dishes like "delicious" yellowfin tuna sashimi with avocado or salmon ceviche with tiger's milk, as well as ultra-trad confit duck or grouse with bread sauce. The kitchen’s special talent lies in the fact that it manages to cook such a varied range of dishes equally well. "The Ivy will always have a place in my heart", declares one fan, while another reckons it’s “a delight all round”.
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16 Henrietta Street, London, WC2E 8QH
‘Frenchie’ was the nickname Jamie Oliver affectionately pinned on Nantes-born Gregory Marchand when he was head chef at Fifteen – although it’s hard to spot many Gallic references amid the bare brick walls, low-hanging light bulbs, swish green leather and marble counters of this “cool but chic” spot run by a staff brimming with effusive charm. Marchand’s truly modern, eclectic menu is also more Blighty than Brittany: clotted cream with irresistible bacon and maple syrup scones; Keen’s Cheddar accompanying ‘cauliflower’ mushrooms and ceps in vin jaune; plump Cornish cod partnered by wild rice and bean ragoût – even a roasted Brussels sprout canapé. Sharing plates have been wisely jettisoned, although the cooking retains its irresistibly inventive flair – witness sea bream tartare buried in pear, yuzu and quinoa, just-cooked trout with courgettes and smoky merguez sausage or blushing honey-roast duck breast partnered by miso aubergine, hazelnuts and plum sauce. For afters, try chocolate and malt with coffee sauce and meringue. Frenchie’s plush bar serves up sophisticated but inventive cocktails, while sommelier Bastien Ferreri curates a list of quirky, affordable wines. Finally, the open kitchen downstairs is all fire and energy – we love it for private dining.
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20 Mount Street, London, W1K 2HE
Under the awning or amid polished oak panels, glamorous Scott’s is a top choice if you want to take clients out for some “sublime” seafood and a thorough spoiling, backed by service that’s “second to none”. Staff “really care”, so rest assured that the “best fish in town” will be delivered with seamless care and attention. The sight of glistening crustacea displayed at an ice-heaped bar serves as a reminder that it’s sometimes best to leave well alone. In that spirit, purists also enjoy potted shrimps, lobster mayonnaise and dressed crab, while more elaborate starters might bring tempura langoustine tails, char-grilled squid with ‘nduja or “delicious” sautéed monkfish cheeks with snails and bordelaise sauce. ‘Turf’ is always an option (try the chicken, mustard, bacon and quails’ egg pie), but many customers return to the sea for halibut with dashi broth and shrimp gyoza, battered haddock or fish for two on the bone. Despite the obvious luxury, Scott’s is widely judged to be “great value for money” – something to bear in mind when leafing through the wine list. In short, a “unique experience”.
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Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, London, SW3 6RD
The latest iteration of iconic Michelin House unites two legends of the London restaurant scene: Bibendum’s co-founder Sir Terence Conran and chef Claude Bosi (formerly of two-Michelin-starred Hibiscus). Here in Chelsea, Bosi’s cooking is a little more relaxed, although the style is definitely more Hibiscus than Bibendum – witness clever amuse-bouches of pissaladière fashioned into lifelike ‘olives’ or eggshells filled with mushroom duxelles, coconut foam and curry powder. However, you’ll also encounter whopping stalks of intensely flavoured green and white asparagus, chicken that tastes of a life well lived and, best of all, a Staub pan brimming with chunky, funky tripe and cuttlefish gratin, plus hefty slices of pig’s ear and ham cake on the side: simple dishes elevated to the sublime by a kitchen versed in skilful technique. Prices are as unremittingly high as ever, although a set lunch and Sunday roasts are an attempt to make this special-occasion destination work for locals as well. But Bibendum’s food is only half the story: few dining rooms in London give such unremitting life-affirming pleasure, especially when the light is streaming through those famous stained-glass depictions of the Michelin man.
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The Connaught, 16 Carlos Place, London, W1K 2AL
Few drinking dens in the capital can match the effortless glamour of The Connaught Bar. Designed by the late great David Collins and inspired by 1920s Cubism, it's a shimmering shrine to cocktails and home to a world-class team of bartenders. Their ‘expressions’ menu is a showcase for creativity, featuring on-trend ingredients and drinks inspired by natural elements. We fell for a Heart of Gold (a refreshing long mix of Amaro Lucano, lichen-aromatised Noilly Prat, Ruche, rhubarb soda and oregano blossom), but the jewel in The Connaught’s crown is its sleek Martini trolley. ‘The secret of a perfect Martini is the sound,’ smiles the mixologist as he slowly stirs Tanqueray 10 over blocks of hand-cut ice, mixed with the house vermouth and a choice of seasonal bitters to create a bespoke sip for every guest. A superb selection of whiskies and decadent canapés such as black truffle and Comté fritters with truffle mayo are further reasons to add The Connaught Bar to your ‘must-visit’ list.
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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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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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Beaumont Hotel, Brown Hart Gardens, London, W1K 6TF
The low-lit, art deco American Bar at The Beaumont feels like it’s been around for years – though it only opened in 2014. Comfortable brown leather chairs, a marble-topped bar and walnut-panelled walls lined with sepia photos of bright young things from the Roaring Twenties set the tone for old-school serves, with a focus on classic cocktails and American whiskey.
Start your night with The Beaumont, a signature sparkler made with gin, sherry, elderflower, pineapple and lemon juice topped with Champagne. Or settle in for an after-dinner session with a bourbon-laced Old Fashioned or Scofflaw (a Prohibition-era recipe of bourbon, vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine and orange bitters). The American Bar at The Beaumont is attached to the hotel’s Colony Grill Room, so you can also expect above-average bar food including steaks, loaded club sandwiches and decadent sundaes.
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Claridge's, Brook Street, London, W1K 4HR
The more we revisit Claridge’s, the more we adore the poised, polished perfection of its main bar and the 1920s glitz of Le Fumoir – an art-deco, Lalique-mirrored gem that's as swoony as Rita Hayworth in the movie Gilda. Class marques such as Gosset, Henriot, Bruno Paillard and David Léclapart appear on a Champagne list whose four-figure divas are out to tempt: Krug, Dom Pérignon and Jacques Selosse '95 (a snip at £2,100) are there for the taking, although mouth-wateringly moussant Deutz Brut NV suits us fine at £85. Meanwhile, killer cocktails such as Some Apples Get Eaten (a mix of Cognac, apple, sage and teapot bitters) are fit for the royals when they drop in with A-list friends. Nibbles are equally regal too – think caviar, oysters, lobster tempura, asparagus risotto, macaroons and warm sugar doughnuts with apricot sauce. Need we continue?
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South Place Hotel, 3 South Place, London, EC2M 2AF
From the moment you arrive for drinks on the gorgeous roof terrace, it’s clear that Michelin-starred Angler knows how to host its diners. Given that it’s located on the seventh floor of the South Place Hotel, superb views come as standard – thanks to a giant sloping window that looks out onto the busy street below. “Great seafood in a calming atmosphere” sums it up, with comfy striped chairs, light colours and an impressive foliage-motif mirror running along on wall of the opulent dining room. The kitchen matches the sophisticated vibe with a menu of precision-tuned contemporary dishes ranging from roast octopus with taramasalata, chipirones and spicy salsa verde to light-textured John Dory accompanied by coco beans, bacon and sardines. Meat eaters might go for smoked chicken wings with chanterelles followed by a tasting of Iberian pork, while dessert could bring a rich, warm chocolate cake with banana-milk ice cream and crunchy peanut butter. Service is impeccable, and a devoted sommelier is on hand to pair each course with wines from the varied list. Pricey, but highly recommended.
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58 Poland Street, London, W1F 7NR
“Great food, informal and fun” sums up Social Eating House, Jason Atherton’s regularly rammed Soho outpost – a noisy Michelin-starred hangout that mixes cool-dude vibes and moody lighting with cooking that bears all the chef and restaurateur’s culinary hallmarks. Chef/patron Paul Hood (previously at Atherton’s flagship, Pollen Street Social) oversees proceedings day-to-day and his seasonal menu shows a trademark commitment to native sourcing as well as a fondness for all things creative and cheffy – we’re huge fans of the mushrooms and toast, a richly flavoured, artful melee punctuated with pickled girolles, creamy cep purée and onion marmalade. In a very British twist on steak tartare, tender chunks of Buccleuch Black Angus are paired with beetroot, horseradish and egg-yolk jam, while baked Cornish hake is served with hispi cabbage gratin and textured slices of Tokyo turnip laced with saffron. Simpler pleasures range from aged native-breed steaks with triple-cooked duck-fat chips to the addictive mac ‘n’ cheese with chanterelles and luscious sundaes for afters. Social Eating House’s well-curated wine list and spot-on cocktails are further pluses, while staff are hip, happy and on point (well, most of the time).
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3 Prince Edward Road, London, E9 5LX
When a chef with a background in Michelin-starred kitchens chooses a location for a solo debut, Hackney Wick is unlikely to top the list – but it has for Tom Brown. The former head chef at Outlaw’s at The Capital has sited Cornerstone, his thrilling new small-plates venture, just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station among a little group of recently developed retail spaces.
Don’t be disheartened by the locality: there’s ample space for diners, and the vibe in the restaurant is cool, with black tabletops, retro wicker chairs and black walls (complete with requisite scribbles). Mercifully, the place avoids crossing over into hipster-satire territory thanks to the friendly young team at the helm. Guests are greeted by the central dining counter, behind which you’re likely to find Brown beavering away. Unsurprisingly, given the chef’s pedigree, his regularly changing menu champions seafood. The run of small plates we sampled, served in terracotta tapas dishes, were exceptional.
Our bubbly waitress recommended eight plates between two and the meal kicked off with a pair of sensational oysters, pickled for two hours in gherkin vinegar and served with a subtle horseradish cream. Next up, a mound of juicy potted shrimps arrived piled high on a warm crumpet, soaked with shrimp butter that melted into the holes. A perfectly cooked strip of succulent bream followed, elevated to luxury by hidden chunks of lobster and saffron. Desserts, too, are a force to be reckoned with. A light, fluffy pistachio cake with vanilla cream and a sticky mess of raspberries preceded a heavenly peach crumble well worth the 20-minute wait time: its crispy top layer breaking to reveal tangy cubes of fresh peach, completed by a dollop of cream and hints of lemon.
The drinks list provides admirable back-up, informed by on-trend cocktails and classy European wines, but prices as a whole can add up (£10 desserts are rare in Hackney Wick), and some diners might consider Cornerstone rather out of the way. Nevertheless, this is an accomplished, exciting debut from one of the capital’s most promising chefs – we can’t wait to see what Brown does next.
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The Ritz London, 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR
An exercise in art-deco opulence, The Rivoli Bar's elaborate jewel-box interior will make minimalists break out in hives with its gilded ceiling domes, tone-on-tone marble, camphor wood walls, swirly chandeliers, Lalique glass and leopard-print stools. A byword for luxury, the Ritz's aristocratic charms come at a correspondingly kingly cost: you’ll need to shell out handsomely for a shot of Churchill’s Courage (a Manhattan involving butter-washed bourbon, maple syrup and white port), an Iron Lady (a Champagne cocktail with Bombay Sapphire gin, quinine bark and lime) or the Modern Traveller (Plymouth Gin, spiced water, fig liqueur, Cassis and lemon juice served in a glass pipe). Oligarchs and the landed gentry can swan it with big-ticket bubbles, beluga caviar and luxe seafood platters, while the lower orders get small change from £100 for a bottle of house white Burgundy and a burger.
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538 Kingsland Road, London, E8 4AH
Raw, deconstructed and stark, this bar, café and gallery is the work of Tony Conigliaro (Bar Termini, 69 Colebrooke Row) and his protégée Zoe Burgess. The antithesis of the postmodern, baroque eclecticism that informs so many contemporary London bars, Untitled’s design references Warhol’s Silver Factory, that mid-60s New York crucible of counterculture, as well the Japanese minimalism propounded by fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. Bare, silver-clad walls delineate this monochromatic, split-level space, while the street-level lounge is neatly bisected by a brutalist, polished-concrete communal table, which is served by a small prep station. Using arcane ingredients, Mr C and Ms B’s recherché drinks are conceived to taste like their tersely annotated namesakes: ’silk’ (clay and silica); ‘snow’ (clay, chalk and enoki); ‘violin’ (oak, pine, beeswax, benzoin and black pepper). Such obscure and intellectually rarefied fixes are likely to provoke an existential crisis, and – like Warhol – Untitled is already polarising opinion. Our stance, however, is firmly on the side of the acolytes.
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30 St Cross Street, London, EC1N 8UH
Anyone bemoaning the increasing dominance of big restaurant groups in London should visit this Farringdon newcomer. Anglo is a pocket-sized, pared-back British bistro serving high-end food in simple surrounds at just £45 for a no-choice, seven-course dinner (lunch is à la carte). It’s overseen by rising star Mark Jarvis, whose eclectic CV ranges from The Bingham, to Le Manoir and Zuma. He has no airs and graces, though: delivering food to the table himself and giving mercifully brief explanations of the dishes, followed by a touching smile. You’ll be smiling, too: the tasting menu brings big plates of small portions – exciting, beautifully fashioned assemblies of rare intensity. The flavours of each course segue harmoniously into the next, but we were particularly smitten by the bracingly acrid edge of a burnt leek tartlet; a delicate, petal-scattered scallop tartare with a deeply flavoured dashi; and the contrast between the saline tang of fat little mussels and the rich meatiness of ruby-red Devon beef – not to mention the cloud of house-whipped butter to spread on soft sourdough. To drink, nearly everything on the snappy European wine list costs less than £40 and is mostly available by the glass; there are beer and cider pairings, too. Our only complaint concerns the long waits between courses and glasses being topped up. On the other hand, the pleasure of not feeling rushed is yet another reason to cherish this endearingly independent one-off.
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67 Brushfield Street, London, E1 6AA
A breezy, attractively priced new-wave Italian wine bar and off licence, Bottles nails the ‘so now’ look and location. Repurposed woods and understated vintage styling help do the job, aided by high communal tables and a slouchy covered terrace on to Old Spitalfields Market. The wine list (collated by owners Daniele Marano and Franco Mancini, of SE1’s Bottles & Battles) also comes up trumps, featuring 40-odd well-kept by-the-glass selections: investable Italians interspersed with other EU worthies. Italian pop-up peeps, Sood Family, are on kitchen duty. A naturally-cloudy sparkler, Malibran Sottoriva, makes an inspired pairing with satin-soft San Daniele prosciutto; and crisp, organic Sicilian Catarratto (with notes of burnt orange peel, olive oil and melon) cuts through the creamy sweetness of a red-pepper sauce accompanying tender octopus, celery, potatoes and olives. On a Mediterranean-hot night, we’d no room for tiramisu sbagliato made with apricot jam and caprino (goats’) cheese – a pity.
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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.”
More detail about Hutong at The Shard
35 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BS
Nieves Barragán Mohacho was the breakout star of Barrafina, winning a Michelin star for the group’s original outpost and, by devising different menus for each successive branch, helping to transform Londoners’ attitude to Spanish food. She’s now taken that development even further with her first solo restaurant, Sabor, which while looking like a tapas bar – a long, L-shaped eating counter surrounds an open kitchen decorated with colourful Andalusian tiles – serves the sort of Spanish-accented small plates you won’t find anywhere else in the UK.
Some of them involve tweaking the familiar. Oil-soaked pan con tomate is topped with a vivid ruffle of cured meat, piquillo croquetas are dusted with a fine shaving of Manchego cheese, while garlic prawns have a wobbly, barely cooked texture and arrive atop a squelch of saline-heavy seaweed. But there is much that tastes completely new, including a superbly cooked piece of presa Ibérica served with a mojo verde so fragrant with coriander it tastes almost Indian. The biggest surprise is that the best dish is left until the very end: bombas de chocolas, a trio of doughnuts dolloped with a sticky mess of chocolate and coffee sauces so sinfully rich they taste like the most grown-up profiteroles imaginable.
Not all of it is so accomplished – the wild mushroom croquetas taste like deep-fried soup – and there will doubtless be diners who long for the straightforward comfort of chorizo and calamares. But we applaud Mohacho and her front-of-house partner José Etura for not simply Xeroxing the Barrafina formula. If you don’t want to queue for a seat, come early in the week for lunch, or book the upstairs Asador, specialising in lamb cutlets and suckling pig cooked in an open kitchen and served at communal tables.
More detail about Sabor: The Counter
68 Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4HP
“The top of Everest, the Roger Federer of fine dining” declares a fan of Gordon Ramsay’s three-Michelin-starred Chelsea flagship, adding that it’s “hands-down” the best place to eat in London. Former chef/patron Clare Smyth has moved on to open her own restaurant, Core in Notting Hill, but the kitchen is in safe hands under the stewardship of Matt Abé – a chef who has proved his worth as an alumnus of both Ramsay and Smyth. If proof were needed, consider the ever-delectable ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon (now enlivened with oxalis and sorrel), the pressed foie gras with green apple, turnips, watercress and smoked duck or roast pigeon pointed up with sweetcorn, lavender, honey and apricot. Vegetarians might be treated to gnocchi “as light as pillows of clouds”, while desserts are miracles of clarity and sweetness (a lemonade parfait with honey, bergamot and sheep’s milk yoghurt, for example). It’s all about consummate craftsmanship, combined with an acute eye for visual detailing. The dining room is cool and classy, with silky-smooth service to match, although it would be nothing without the gleeful attentions of genial overlord Jean-Claude Breton – a master orchestrator and a legend among maître d's. Like everything else at this gilded wow-inducing superstar, the staggeringly comprehensive wine list and the sommelier’s astute recommendations are “hard to beat”.
More detail about Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
15-17 Broadwick Street, London, W1F 0DL
“Still incredible after all these years”, ultra-cool Yauatcha Soho stakes its claim with “smart, snappy decor” and an inviting patisserie bar out front. The trademark blue-glass frontage gives way to a frenetic grey-toned room, while a glowing fish tank, candlelit tables and twinkling “night sky” lights await diners who descend to the “stunning” brick-lined basement. Wherever you sit, expect ultra-professional service, but with lots of winning smiles. The comprehensive menu is populated by “steamed to perfection” dumplings (try the edamame and truffle beauties) and other luxe Chinese ideas such as jasmine tea-smoked ribs and venison puffs – described by one salivating fan as “the sweetest, most crumbly piece of heaven”. Elsewhere, bigger items ranging from spicy steamed sea bass with pickled chilli or ‘lunar’ chicken hotpot with cured pork to homemade spinach tofu with shimejii mushrooms and baby asparagus are also in demand. “Spectacular-looking” chocolates, macarons and petits gateaux such as a ‘tropical’ dome of coconut dacquoise, passion fruit and pineapple get rave reviews, while a swanky line-up of classy wines, teas, sakés and killer cocktails completes Yauatcha Soho’s winning Michelin-starred package.
More detail about Yauatcha Soho
70 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4QG
“Mind-blowing food, exceptional wines and perfect service” – that’s what punters can expect if they venture into this semi-secret dining space behind a leather curtain at the back of funky Bubbledogs. True to its name, Kitchen Table’s U-shaped counter fits snugly around the kitchen, where up to 20 diners can perch on stools, elbow-to-elbow with their neighbours, watching and listening to chef James Knappett’s team as they prepare (and often serve) the day’s Michelin-starred menu. Nibbles of chicken skin, bacon jam and rosemary mascarpone generally open the show, while each of the subsequent 12 courses is described by a single word on the blackboard (‘oyster’, ‘shrimp’, ‘potato’). That said, the results are bold, ultra-modern and revelatory: a dish simply entitled ‘scallop’ might see a fleshy raw bivalve in harmonious company with lightly pickled cucumber, elderflowers and a frothy elderflower kombucha (a fermented beverage). James’ partner/sommelier Sandia Chang takes care of Kitchen Table’s 100-bin wine list, which plunders the exclusive ‘grower’ Champagnes on offer at Bubbledogs next door. “A little pricey, but you really pay for what you get – namely quality”, concludes one reader.
More detail about Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs
6 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TQ
Sometimes all you want in London is a concise, straightforward menu, superb food and good value. The team behind much-loved Highbury Italian Trullo have well and truly cracked it here. Split over two floors, this cramped, no-reservations pasta bar features a marble-topped counter overlooking the kitchen (watch the pasta being hand-rolled on site) and a black and gold, low-lit basement dining room and bar. We were treated to a classic 80s soundtrack and a full restaurant, creating an effortlessly congenial vibe. Antipasti include unembellished plates of beef fillet carpaccio and burrata, leaving a list of six pasta dishes to steal the show. We ordered a second plate of the unassuming pici cacio e pepe: fat, al dente spaghetti with butter, Parmesan and black pepper, astonishingly delicious and tangy, only £6. Pappardelle with Dexter beef shin ragu was similarly bursting with flavour, the beef cooked with due respect. Almond and rhubarb tart was a crunchy, sublime steal at £4. Some portions could be larger (although none of the dishes are more than £10) and there are just three cocktails and four wine choices – don’t miss the peachy, smooth Sussex Bacchus – being succinct is Padella’s core characteristic. In a city of endless choices, Padella is a supreme antidote.
More detail about Padella
112 Draycott Avenue, SW3 3AE
A neighbourhood bolthole and gastronomic destination rolled into one, Daphne’s is the very personification of its Kensington clientele – handsome, refined and utterly assured. From the dark-pink marble bar with its green leather stools to the European modern art and baroque conservatory for private dining, this space resembles a tasteful and expensively clad Italian townhouse, complete with classic Jags and idling chauffeurs parked outside the concertina doors. The kitchen specialises in bold regional flavours: creamy burrata with intense cherry tomatoes and grilled focaccia; octopus carpaccio with crispy soft-shell crab; pappardelle with wild boar ragù; roast rump of lamb with caponata and salsa verde; seared slabs of tuna atop sweet peperonata. For dessert, the strawberry gelato is guaranteed to clear any rainclouds away. As you’d expect from Caprice Holdings, flawless and personable service is a given, while waiters “with a good sense of humour” take pleasure in steering drinkers through the exhaustive Italian wine list.
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8 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7JZ
Eating at Giorgio Locatelli’s Michelin-starred flagship brings you one step closer to la dolce vita – so writes a fan who adores this polished purveyor of “old-school glamour” and pure-bred Italian regional cooking. Beaded curtains, cream leather and dramatic domed mirrors create just the right amount of chic elegance, while neatly designed alcoves offer privacy for those who are at Locanda Locatelli for discreet assignations. Meanwhile, the kitchen delivers value, authenticity and culinary cred as it fashions an array of vivacious dishes inspired by provenance-led cucina rustica. Superlative hand-crafted pasta is the undisputed headline act (ring-shaped calamarata with monkfish, samphire, dry capers, chilli and lemon, for example), but everything at Locanda Locatelli is imbued with seasonal freshness – from a grilled vegetable salad with stuffed peppers, pine kernel and basil to roast grouse with stewed lentils and game chips. To round things off, try the Neapolitan ‘baba’ with Chantilly and orange cream or gorge on some artisan cheeses, offered lovingly with Italian honey. Service seldom falters and prices are “not ridiculous” – although you’ll need to shell out a pretty penny to do the patrician wine list full justice.
More detail about Locanda Locatelli
9-10 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4BE
The Imperial Treasure brand might not yet be well-known in the UK but it’s a huge deal in Asia, where the Shanghai flagship holds two Michelin stars and the Hong Kong and Singapore branches have one each; 20 further restaurants extend to Guangzhou, South Korea and a Paris outpost scheduled for 2019.
It’s the sort of heritage that means the brand’s founder Alfred Leung has had the confidence to launch a three-storey restaurant occupying 8,500 square feet of prime St James’s real estate. And with a 25-year lease, Leung is in London for the long haul.
That confidence is well and truly deserved. For make no mistake: Imperial Treasure is the best Chinese restaurant to have opened in London since A Wong. Wagyu beef, Iberico pork, Scottish lobster and sea cucumber feature heavily, while Peking duck is carved tableside with all the theatre you would expect. But there are plenty of other treasures on the menu.
Dim sum contains superior ingredients encased in the most delicate of wrappings. Classics of har gau and cheung fun set a new benchmark for London (try the char siu har gau, which tastes of the most beautiful barbecued spare-rib meat imaginable) while there are new treats to discover such as the snow pork bun: basically a sugary, savoury doughnut that, like all of the cooking here, keeps the balance of salty and sweet in perfect balance. Then there’s prawn toast served as a fat coil of deep-fried king prawn encrusted with sesame.
Full-sized dishes are handled just as deftly – kung po prawn keeps its chilli heat in check as deftly as any temperature-controlled thermostat – while lemon chicken is reinvented as juicy blocks of breast meat, coated in almond flakes and with a citrus-sharp lemon sauce on the side – although we preferred a blob of chilli sauce for seasoning. Even the fried rice would make a sumptuous meal by itself.
None of this comes cheap (the Peking duck is £100, dim sum around £8 a plate), but nor would you expect it to: the setting is luxurious without being ostentatious and there’s an army of solicitous staff to cater to your every need. Our only criticism was that the gap between dishes at lunch seemed to drag – but at these prices and with this quality of food, this is a ceremonial experience that you won’t want to rush.
More detail about Imperial Treasure
The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London, SW1X 7RL
Marcus Wareing’s one-Michelin-starred flagship brings together “the best of British and French culinary traditions” in an imposing high-ceilinged dining room done out in shades of chestnut brown with swathes of dark panelling, frosted glass panels and leather chesterfields. Wareing’s cooking is an “extraordinary celebration of flavour” as he applies tweezer-like precision to the very best ingredients – from a pairing of scallop, apple and lemon verbena with roasted beef dressing to Cumbrian rose veal embellished with beetroot, liquorice and parsnip. Readers also have their own “fabulous favourites”: a daring veggie creation involving Sharpe’s 1900 potatoes with girolles, Tunworth cheese and truffle; octopus with beef tea; Herdwick lamb with crispy breast, chimichurri and hispi cabbage; a dessert combo of toffee, peanut, milk chocolate and nougat (“heaven on a plate”). From nibbles of sourdough with Dorset snail and cap to pre-desserts such as lightly smoked milk and mandarin, every dish is a marvel of culinary dexterity. The mighty wine list is a pricey paean to global viticulture managed by a genius sommelier, while ultra-professional staff never miss a trick: “our waiter was incredibly smooth and charismatic”, noted one reader. In short “a truly delightful dining experience”.
More detail about MARCUS
42 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4JH
A “classy”, low-lit contemporary Indian from the multi-talented Sethi family (Trishna, Bao, Lyle’s et al), Gymkhana channels colonial clubbiness over two floors on Albemarle Street – with a dash of “French brasserie” thrown in.
Food-wise, fans reckon that the “real stars are the starters”, and we have to agree after sampling the kid-goat methi keema piled into buttered buns, and soft (almost scrambled) duck egg bhurji with lobster and Malabar paratha. Happy customers also appreciate the flexibility of the service, with “efficient”, unflappable staff willing and able to accommodate last-minute changes to party sizes and orders.
In these situations, add a muntjac biriyani with pomegranate and mint raita (an instant classic) to your order of paneer tikka with cashew nut and corn chaat, partridge pepper fry, a “fiery, blow your head off” wild boar vindaloo or tiger prawns with red pepper chutney, then sit back and watch the contentment set in. Thoughtfully chosen wines and specially brewed Gymkhana lager get top marks, or you could try a Quinine Sour with fresh curry leaves in the atmospheric basement bar.
More detail about Gymkhana
Berkeley Square House, London, W1J 6BR
With a waterfall behind the bar and a giant gold-plated crocodile hanging on the wall, it’s hard not to get caught up in the glamour of Sexy Fish – a lavish pan-Asian brasserie with real “wow factor”. Eager staff in multi-coloured waistcoats attend to diners’ every need, delivering thrillingly fashionable food at heavyweight prices to an equally fashionable crowd peppered with celeb faces. Wagyu ganku rolls come topped with white miso and black truffle, while scallops are pepped up with jalapeño sauce and pickled green apple, although the biggest hits are elsewhere – witness tender, honey-glazed duck breast sharpened with kimchi and pickled daikon or sticky pull-apart pork ribs from the robata grill dressed with green onions and chilli. Desserts are not to be missed either – the fluffy, sweet vanilla cheesecake embellished with a strawberry and golden lime sorbet is among the best we’ve tried in London. With its attention-grabbing interiors and moneyed clientele, wonderfully showy Sexy Fish won’t suit wallflowers, but everyone else has a ball.
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16 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4HW
Few restaurants have arrived in the capital as garlanded with awards as the London outpost of Indian Accent. The New Delhi original is the only restaurant in India on the World’s 50 Best list and is regularly voted the country’s top place to eat; similar plaudits have rained down on its New York sibling since it opened in 2016. Here in London, we’re a little more used to the idea of a high-end Indian restaurant and there was a danger that Indian Accent, which has taken over the old Chor Bizarre site in Mayfair, might feel a little late to the party, but chef Manish Methrota’s sure-footed updating of traditional Indian cooking – respectful of heritage while being unmistakably individual – is a very welcome addition. And at four courses for £65, it is currently a bit of a bargain for the quality on offer in this location.
Highlights for us included soy keema mopped up with soft little pillows of pao buns (vegetarian options are excellent); tenderly succulent pork ribs, beautifully marinated with onion seeds; an Indian spin on crispy duck, with ghee roast lamb proving just as juicy; and smoked bacon kulcha that we would gladly have made an entire meal of, dipping into the deeply flavoured dal. Service (especially from those staff flown in from New York) is on the ball, eye-opening wine matching is a strength, and the room is a stunner, with striking green upholstery set against a marble and pearl backdrop that practically glows with the expense lavished on it. In short, this Indian Accent is well worth adopting.
More detail about Indian Accent
Level 32, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY
High in the sky above the sweeping London landscape sits Oblix, one of a handful of restaurants in tourist magnet The Shard. Boasting truly stunning views of the capital, alongside a menu of “first class” food, it has long been a favourite among SquareMeal readers.
At Oblix, moody modern aesthetics (the reception desk is in almost complete darkness) soon give way to truly stunning panoramic vistas. Owner Rainer Becker is better known for Asian-themed Zuma and Roka, but Oblix is more firmly rooted in Western gastronomy. The menu kicks off with snacks and small plates, including a decadent and crisp truffled flatbread which is topped with shavings of pancetta and flakes of ricotta. Elsewhere, try springy crispy squid pepped up with chilli and lime, or perhaps a super fresh and creamy lobster and clam linguini.
Sizeable mains come from the in-house Josper grill, rotisserie and wood-fired oven – think steaks in various sizes served alongside thick-cut chips and helpings of rich mac ‘n’ cheese, and a tender helping of duck with a crispy skin, dipped in a vibrant mango sauce. For pudding, the dessert platter is surely the only way to go, featuring miniature versions of Oblix’s entire dessert menu, including a bar of chocolate topped with crunchy bourbon ice cream, and a fluffy slice of New York cheesecake.
If dinner reservations prove hard to book, Oblix also offers a weekend brunch menu complete with an extensive dessert station, and a luxe Sunday lunch featuring the likes of lamb rump with puy lentils, parsley and mint. For the budget minded, a “good value” set lunch menu offers an affordable way in.
More detail about Oblix at The Shard
20 Queen Street, London, W1J 5PP
Angela Hartnett’s flagship restaurant is Mayfair dining at its very best – “fabulous” food, “unobtrusive” staff and a first-rate wine list manned by a “brilliant” sommelier. The sleek white-and-beige dining room with the odd art-deco flourish may still have echoes of its Gordon Ramsay days, but Hartnett’s Brit-Italian cooking keeps Murano apace with London’s vanguard. The ultra-flexible menu lets you choose up to five courses at will, from an exquisite scallop crudo with plump greengages and crunchy oats, piqued by a lemon verbena foam to gorgeous parcels of rabbit meat and sage in a clear broth or a star dish of confit pink fir apples, crispy skins and a creamy Tunworth cheese foam. The huge wine list stays true to Hartnett’s Italian heritage, and you can keep costs down by ordering the “excellent-value” set lunch. “Murano is perfect for any occasion”, confirms one fan.
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107 Roman Road, London, E2 0QN
On a snowy winter’s night, old school New Orleans speciality Café Brûlot Diabolique - a blazing brandy and spiced coffee grog for four, prepared with panache, served here with sugar-frosted beignets - is not the least of NOLA’s hooks. Another, is its genial Canadian capo, James Triffo, who has converted decrepit Georgian premises into a cute, fuzzy warm golden glow approximation of a French Quarter sauce saloon circa A Streetcar Named Desire. Upstairs, there’s a friends and members lounge, and a cigar terrace for languid Louisiana-hot spells should London get lucky. Staff is similarly sunny under pressure, knocking out the southern bordello belle and rakish gentleman caller’s favourite fancies Ramos Gin Fizz; Vieux Carré; Grasshopper; ridiculously rummy Hurricanes and our unimpeachable Sazerac and De La Louisiane (a rye, Bénédictine, red vermouth and bitters-tinged sweet Manhattan). Creole bar bites include hush puppies and sweet praline-glazed bacon strips; jambalaya and a smoky piquant gumbo are more substantial plates. Hounded from its original location by the rapacious rents that are crucifying cool Shoreditch, in Bethnal Green, class act NOLA is back on track.
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Dashwood House, 69 Old Broad Street, London, EC2M 1NA
There’s something very full circle about this Ivy site, which is the second to possess the ‘Garden’ moniker after The Ivy Chelsea Garden. It was Vintage Salt under previous tenant Des McDonald, who himself used to be head chef at – you guessed it – The Ivy. Located right by Liverpool Street station in serene Bishopsgate Gardens, the space incorporates a restaurant, bar, private dining room and the namesake garden, all decked out in the brand’s well-groomed, colourful interiors. A long, cuisine-leaping menu features everything from the famous shepherd’s pie to tuna carpaccio; ask one of the one-the-ball waiters for advice if you’re stumped what to order. We’d recommend prawn tempura pepped up with a matcha tea sauce and sprinklings of green papaya, edamame beans and cucumber shavings, and a generously portioned main of perfectly-cooked lobster with a side of rich truffle-and-parmesan-topped thick-cut chips. Dessert was a real showstopper, a chocolate bombe on a bed of milk foam, soft vanilla ice cream and sticky-sweet shards of honeycomb, melted at the table with a hot salted-caramel sauce. Vibrant surrounds (including a DJ) help this incarnation of The Ivy keep up with its younger City counterparts, and for big groups there’s a 32-cover private dining room upstairs which overlooks the garden.
More detail about The Ivy City Garden
9 Devonshire Square, London, EC2M 4YL
Aptly located in an old spice warehouse, the “beautiful” City offshoot of Vivek Singh’s ever-expanding Cinnamon group is a style-conscious contemporary space tailor-made for the neighbourhood. Industrial-chic design features, subtle clubland beats and an open kitchen serve as the cool backdrop to a menu that delivers modern food of “amazing quality and flavour”. There’s plenty of inspired stuff on the carte, from tandoori cod with carom and nigella seeds or Indo-Chinese stir-fried chilli paneer to char-grilled duck breast with spiced confit roll or pan-seared hake with yellow lentils, masala roast potatoes and green mango pickle. Although spicing is rather restrained compared to some places, the freshness and class shine through: it’s “quite simply heaven on a plate”, drools one fan. Desserts also spring a few surprises, from roast white chocolate and cardamom cream with buttermilk sorbet to ‘reverse malai’ (milk doughnuts, milk ice cream, berries and pistachio). The six-course tasting menu also comes highly recommended, while impressive service and an Asian-infused cocktail list cement the restaurant’s excellent reputation.
More detail about Cinnamon Kitchen City
5-7 Blandford Street, London, W1U 3DB
Simon Rogan has had a busy year with two new London openings. He has diversified his London offering, first with chef’s table Aulis in Soho, and now with this resurrection of his much-lauded pop up Roganic, which ran for two years in 2011 and takes some elements from the chef’s two Michelin-starred L’Enclume. Roganic’s focus is on supremely fresh ingredients, often sourced from Rogan’s own farm in Cumbria, with head chef Oliver Marlow (part of the original Roganic line-up) overseeing 10- and 14-course tasting menus of dainty but dynamic plates.
Everything we tried was near perfect, from the intensely creamy starting snack of a preserved raspberry tart rooted with an earthy beetroot base, to a dessert of apple slices caramelised into a bundle of sweetness that is almost too pretty to eat. More unconventional dishes include ice-cold scallops which first freeze the mouth before giving way to a topping of sour apple and gooseberry chunks, and a ramekin of unassuming-looking custard, which surprises with its savoury, saline notes of seaweed and caviar. The only dud is the dry-aged duck that is hyped up with a tableside visit from Marlow, but turned up minus the super-crispy skin we were promised.
France leads the European-focused wine list (good luck finding much below £45), while wine flights are supplemented by a dozen by-the-glass options, and there are also Cumbrian beers and gin. Service is positively warm and friendly. The restaurant’s understated interior (complete with 80s-style cane Cesca chairs) may not be to all tastes – not least given the not-very-understated prices – but Roganic excels at remixing the fine-dining of old in an exciting, and most importantly delicious, way.
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227 New Kings Road, London, SW6 4RD
Overlook the rather precious typography: RIGO’ is an Italian restaurant with an ambitious, wide-ranging menu that tests the talent and technique of well-travelled Piedmontese chef Gonzalo Luzarraga. He uses luxury and humble ingredients with respect and imagination: bone marrow with oscietra caviar, an umami hit of porcini and a bonito dashi, or oysters with salty plums and bitter puntarella (a variant of chicory), for example. The prix-fixe offers plenty of exceptional stuff, but it pays it pays to trade up to RIGO’s tasting menu – an extravaganza of flavours and textures, kicking off with snacks such as slivers of crispy tripe with salmon roe on home-baked sourdough. After that, we’d single out the chef’s take on bagna càuda involving a rich emulsion of sea urchin, fermented milk and quail’s egg, as well the gutsy Cinta Senese pork with broccoli, scallop coral and a plump oyster. To conclude, a luxurious spin on crème brûlée uses chestnut cream, porcini, black sesame and caramelised popcorn, and there are artisan cheeses with wild honey too. The restaurant itself is a long narrow space with pleasingly minimalist decor, while service is friendly and well informed.
More detail about RIGO’
10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP
“I love this place!” chimes one reader – and rightly so. Jason Atherton’s 21st-century reinvention of hotel dining has made Berners Tavern one of the hottest tickets in town. Sporting “the most beautiful dining room in London” (think towering ceilings, mosaics, gilt-framed oil paintings and a soaring, yellow-lit bar), this place oozes glamour, pizzazz and grandeur, without feeling remotely “stuffy”. There are many foodie triumphs here, although the reimagining of the hotel dining-room trolley is one to really savour – watch as a giant, perfectly cooked pork pie is sliced tableside and artfully arranged with pickled carrots, fennel, piccalilli and mustards. Other classic British options include the “best prawn cocktail ever” (loaded with sweet lobster jelly, avocado and crispy shallots), but the menu’s versatility ranges from gloriously indulgent five-cheese macaroni topped with slow-cooked beef blade (“to die for”) to roast Cornish cod with crispy squid, basil fregola and soothing tomato consommé. For a final touch of theatre, go for the buttermilk Alaska, finished with flaming liquor, soft hunks of rhubarb and pistachio. Service at Berners Tavern is “second to none” – as we’ve come to expect from Mr Atherton.
More detail about Berners Tavern at The London Edition
20 Savile Row, London, W1S 3PR
Time moves relatively slowly when it comes to Mayfair’s classic restaurants, and Sartoria’s thorough refurb (along with the arrival of chef/patron Francesco Mazzei from L’Anima) is still news on Savile Row. The place now looks pin-sharp, of course, if a little stately with its heavy furniture and hotel-neutral palette – although Mazzei’s emphatically “wonderful” cooking elevates the experience to something approaching “faultless”, with back-up from an “incredible” wine list. He’s not afraid of simplicity, stuffing romanesco peppers with salt cod or pairing brown and white crab with green apple and pickled radish. Like his well-dressed patrons, he’s not averse to the luxurious, either: try Grana Padano risotto with saffron and duck livers, generous veal milanese for two, or slow-roasted Black Pig belly with pickled vegetables and black pudding. To finish, insist on zabaglione – think of it as keeping a craft skill alive, not drinking a bowl of expensive custard. Meanwhile, in the late-licence bar, it’s snacks and Negronis a go-go.
More detail about Sartoria
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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11-15 Swallow Street, London, W1B 4DG
More than a century down the line, Bentley’s still offers “the freshest oysters in London” with all the conviviality you’d expect of a restaurant owned by Richard Corrigan. Downstairs, shuckers get through Carlingford, Jersey and West Mersea bivalves like they’re going out of fashion, with support from celebratory seashore platters, fish and chips and even a sushi salad bowl. Things are noticeably less hectic in the upstairs grill, where punters have time to anticipate and savour sea bass carpaccio with langoustine and lime, ‘royal’ fish pie or grilled sirloin of Irish Hereford beef with salted bone marrow and black pepper onions. Dessert could be a seasonal trifle or a tropical arrangement of pineapple, mango, chilli, ginger and coconut, while the wine list matches these fulsome flavours with plenty by the glass and a global outlook among the bottles. When it comes to the bill, “Corrigan knows how to charge, but can be excused given the overall quality,” says one regular.
More detail about Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill
35 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LB
As patriotic as a rousing chorus of Rule, Britannia!, this splendidly antiquated institution flies the flag for British dishes and ingredients with its proudly traditional menu. As London's oldest restaurant (opened by Thomas Rule in 1798), it would no doubt still be familiar to former patrons such as Charles Dickens, who looks down over the plush, panelled dining room from walls crowded with old sketches and paintings. Quality is consistent across the board, with confident renditions of staples such as potted shrimps, steak and kidney pie or golden syrup steamed sponge with custard. Game from the restaurant’s Lartington Estate in Yorkshire is a real draw in autumn, when dishes such as braised pheasant with lentils or roast grouse with game chips, bread sauce and redcurrant jelly make a perfect match for the savoury Rhône reds on the wine list. Expect to be treated like royalty from the moment you're greeted by the top-hatted doorman.
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26 Albemarle Street , London, W1S 4HY
Despite the lack of signage, there’s no mistaking this offshoot of Notting Hill’s Casa Cruz with its burnished copper door, bowler-hatted doorman and fabulously beautiful dining room – more gleaming copper, glossy monochrome tables and a ceiling studded with shiny brass discs, plus a multi-coloured geometric carpet like a giant op-art installation. The food follows the same low-carb, high-protein template as its forebear, a hotchpotch of Mediterranean-style dishes topped by uniformly excellent small plates designed for sharing – think delicate spears of green and white asparagus, vitello tonnato with a punchy and chunky tuna mayo or ruby-red raw tuna folded atop a hump of avocado arrestingly dressed with grassy olive oil. Isabel’s bigger plates don’t always cut it: the signature beef short-rib ravioli with black truffle was overwhelmed by its rich sauce, while our grilled dish of luxe pluma ibérico pork arrived uniform brown rather than medium-rare as requested. Some say Isabel is “vastly overpriced”, and we can’t ignore the misfires or the wobbly service – although nothing can dim the sheer thrilling beauty of the room itself.
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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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The Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JJ
James Lowe of Lyle’s counts half the capital’s chefs and critics among his admirers – small wonder, since his stark, understated restaurant is a true original that dances to its own minimalist tune. Whether you’ll be nodding along is down to preference; we felt mildly chastised for not wishing to share and for requesting our filter coffee white (!), but came away wholeheartedly onside because Lowe’s beautifully rendered Michelin-starred food never fails to impress. Flavours are true, pure and intense, whether you’re grazing through the lunchtime small-plates menu or relishing the fixed-price evening deal. The former might range from lamb’s heart with gherkin, ramsons and capers to smoked eel with hispi cabbage and dulse seaweed, while the latter could take in mackerel with gooseberry and crab apple as well as a glorious seasonal plate of grouse with girolles and mulberries. Desserts are also on a roll at the moment: our caramel and espresso meringue almost trumped the signature treacle tart. To drink, expect some interesting picks from the new school of winemaking.
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199 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2JX
Tom Sellers gained a reputation as something of an enfant terrible when he opened his first solo venture, Restaurant Story, at the age of 26 in 2013; now he’s re-opened it with a refurb after a six-week closure. The whole place feels more grown-up; the stark Scandinavian look of the glass-walled room (Sellers spent a year at Noma in 2011) has been softened with tablecloths and sculptures, while the rather precious ‘story’ elements, such as guests being asked to bring a book to leave behind, have thankfully been pulped.
There’s no menu as such; guests are asked for any likes or dislikes before a procession of tasting-menu size dishes arrive, although they are likely to include story classics such as ‘Storeos’ – a savoury spin on an Oreo cookie filled with cheese – and Sellers’ signature dish of bread with dripping, in which a beef-fat candle lit at the table melts to become a dipping sauce for sour dough.
But it’s not all about the visual gags. Sublime turbot, Champagne and sea herbs, and chicken with morels and lettuce, bear witness to Sellers’ rock-solid training with some of London’s most famous chefs, while oscietra caviar, veal sweetbread and turnip showcased superb ingredients with every mouthful.
Even diners who have an allergic reaction to tasting menus are likely to be won over by the joy and invention on show here, although what elevated the meal for us from high-end rivals was the relaxed service led by witty and down-to-earth maitr’d Joe Paulinski who, for all his good humour, learnt his trade at the very serious Per Se. All in all, this is a Story that now knows how to put a smile on its customers’ faces, and if you haven’t returned since it first opened, it more than merits a re-visit.
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129 City Road, London, EC1V 1JB
Book in advance for Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson's highly rated and regularly rammed jazz-age hootenanny, which is home to nightly blues, swing and ragtime jams. Golden eras of the cocktail are revisited in a considered list of well-built drinks whose recipes often involve abstruse ingredients: named after 1930s jelly-legs jiggler, Josephine Baker, Nightjar's signature crusta adds Afro mbongo spice, tonka bean liqueur and passion fruit curd to its Ysabel Regina brandy base. And you’d be forgiven for wanting to purloin its chic tiki-tastic drinking vessels: porcelain wishing wells, conch shells, glass bongs, Pygmy hunting horns and ancient copper bells. Nightjar's insistence on over-elaborate presentation can sometimes leave you struggling not to tip the sip down your front.
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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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1 Poultry, London, EC2R 8EJ
Going for the gold standard on a street called Poultry, Coq d’Argent is near the top of the City’s pecking order. We reckon its status as an “all-time favourite” in business diaries is down to a considerable clutch of attractions including gorgeous roof gardens, a heavily diverting wine list and the good looks of a cruise liner in its pomp. The Coq also delivers “consistently good food” from breakfast onwards, taking in gluten-free and vegan menus plus a surprisingly mature children’s offer. Wherever you sit – in the restaurant, grill or bar – the French accent is as robust as the pricing, conjuring Gallic luxury with careful flourishes. Lunch in the Grill might mean cauliflower soup with a poached egg followed by spiced braised lamb shank with white coco beans and wild mushrooms, while the restaurant promises higher levels of complexity – perhaps black truffle and ricotta tortellini with Parmentier espuma or immaculately balanced wild roe deer with a plateful of silky seasonal trimmings. The service at Coq d’Argent is equal to the demands of a confident clientele.
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4 The Polygon, London, SW4 0JG
“Everyone's favourite neighbourhood restaurant, now with star power!” declares one long-term admirer. Over the last decade, Trinity has grown from local gem to Michelin-gonged destination – thanks largely to chef-patron Adam Byatt and his team, who have created a genuinely bespoke experience here. The kitchen delivers a procession of “sublime” dishes well worth their accolades, from mini éclairs filled with rich, buttery cep mousse to the restaurant’s celebrated steak tartare – chunks of almost gamey Angus beef, mixed with pickled mushrooms, Daurenki caviar and smoked bone marrow, served in a vintage caviar tin. Elsewhere, pillow-like ravioli are filled with a fluffy, flavour-packed scallop and lobster mousse, while pink grouse breast comes dressed with hazelnuts and lardo, alongside creamy sweetcorn polenta and elderberries. To finish, the wobbly salt custard tart with salt caramel ice cream has us all a-quiver. Drinks are equally enticing, so sniff out the subtly hopped Trinity Ale or plump for a “gloriously different” G&T. The whole show takes place in a handsome room done out with parquet flooring, white tablecloths and muted colours, while service is deemed “amazing” and “delightful”.
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423 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 0AN
Gritty Bethnal Green is the destination as Chris Moore, former head barman at The Savoy’s gilded Beaufort Bar, flies solo. The former Albion pub has been transformed to create a low-key low-lit space (exposed brick walls, art nouveau globe-cluster chandeliers) that’s bang on the East End-now money. A bar counter inlaid with countless old centime coins, and a drinks list highlighting Calvados, Armagnac, ‘cidre’ and ‘fortified kirs’, indicate Moore’s Parisian inspiration. Similarly edgy but decidedly uptown, Coupette’s gimmick-free cocktails are a tour de force. Modernities such as Spyglass (Bacardi eight year-old rum, Cognac, port, clay and pastis bitters) measure up well against the classics. Try also Soyer au Champagne (a belle époque brandy and cherry-wine fizz topped with ice cream), and twists such as a compelling Calvados-laced take on a Vieux Carré. We’ll be straight back here to rip through the rest of Moore’s menu as soon as his kitchen is open for the likes of croque monsieur, truffled creamed leeks and confit salmon, or merguez sausage with Basque piperade.
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The Stafford Hotel, St. James's Place, London, SW1A 1NJ
During the 1930s, several bars opened in London’s luxe hotels catering to high-society’s thirst for US-style cocktails, but this renowned establishment is one of the few survivors. It received a sensitive refurb in 2018, leaving an enlarged, tastefully tweaked main bar alongside the heroically eccentric original lounge. In both you’ll find signed photos of celebrated guests down the decades – everyone from François Mitterrand to Dolly Parton. Similarly absorbing is the new St James’s-themed drinks list by legendary manager Benoît Provost. We enjoyed a take on the Queen Mum’s trademark gin and Dubonnet that added pear liqueur, Bénédictine and lemon to refreshing effect, and The Godolphin, a Woodford Reserve bourbon, berries-infused red-wine and cinnamon Sour. Five-star comfort food helps cure hunger pangs – juicy chorizo and pepper brochettes, say – backed up by a stellar wine cellar. On balmy evenings sip a glass in the cute cobbled mews leading to this unique institution.
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Somerset House, Lancaster Place, London, WC2R 1LA
A charming addition to historic Somerset House, Spring showcases the considerable culinary talents of Skye Gyngell, who rose to foodie fame with a Michelin star at Petersham Nurseries Café. Her cooking puts impeccably sourced native ingredients centre stage in a seasonal menu that never fails to delight, and readers are full of praise for her “fabulous” but disarmingly simple dishes – perhaps delicate queen scallops coated in velvety lemon butter, grilled lamb with farro, cavolo nero and braised radicchio or perfectly moist guinea fowl accompanied by hearty seasonal greens and an indulgent corn and truffle sauce. Italian influences are evident alongside wider Mediterranean touches – think ricotta dumplings with spaghetti squash and spigarello or a zesty sorbet made with mandarins grown on Mount Etna. Spring’s elegant setting elevates dinner to a special occasion, with the Grade II-listed space transformed into an airy oasis of calm, where staff in pale uniforms deliver “knowledgeable, cosy and personal service”. Other plus points include the carefully assembled wine list, bespoke seasonal drinks and a little leafy atrium. “A real cut above the norm”, declares one fan.
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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.
More detail about sketch: Lecture Room & Library
85 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7NB
With the opening of Hide, his spectacular three-floored restaurant overlooking Green Park, chef Ollie Dabbous has renewed his collaboration with cocktail supremo Oskar Kinberg. Discerning drinkers should glide down the glorious Gaudí-esque corkscrew staircase to Below, Kinberg’s cool basement bar. In the golden gloaming of what feels like some hip hobbity nether kingdom, take a seat at the sweeping oak counter. The seasonal menu currently favours fresh and light: a pisco, pink peppercorn and rhubarb Highball, perhaps; or Tanqueray gin with Sauvignon Blanc and sorrel. Champagne cocktails also feature; try the Bruno Paillard with gooseberry and Earl Grey. We’re similarly drawn to sturdier combos – Blunderbuss is a blast (Johnnie Walker Gold, Cocchi Americano, brown butter and two sherries). Otherwise, choose great bottles from the walk-in cellar run by Hedonism Wines (Dabbous’ business partner) and savour distinguished vintage spirits such as a super-pricey The Macallan 1971, 25 Year-Old Anniversary Malt.
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The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BU
Despite expanding his ‘Cinnamon’ brand and his portfolio, Indian celeb chef Vivek Singh hasn’t taken his eye off the ball here in Westminster. Cinnamon Club remains the mothership and still hums with an influential hotchpotch of politicians, lobbyists, hacks and opinion formers.
A recent refurb improved the interiors while still referencing the grand old library premises, and Singh’s authentic but contemporary cooking remains consistently delicious. This is modern Indian dining at its best and readers love it: “faultless food, never disappoints”, cheers one fan. We’re also enamoured of the “wonderful setting and stunning flavours” and have enjoyed countless hits, from tandoori octopus with fennel salad to fenugreek-infused roast cod with curry leaf and lime crumble.
Textures and contrasts also make an impact: seared sea bass comes with luscious red lentils, coconut ginger sauce and crisp puffed buckwheat, roast saddle of lamb has saffron sauce and pickled root vegetables for company, and rice vermicelli partners wild king prawns flavoured with mango and coriander. To finish, France meets India in irresistible desserts such as lemon and ginger brûlée with masala-spiced sablé biscuits. The fact that sommeliers are on hand to guide diners through the wine list says a great deal about this supremely accomplished Indian destination.
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70 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1DE
Located in a strange, transient part of Pimlico, Chinese big-hitter A Wong is an eye-opener for those used to provincial versions of the genre. Done out with blonde bentwood chairs and tables, it looks more Ikea café than Asian destination, and there’s plenty of bustle too. That said, there’s expertise and precision in the kitchen, along with a menu of regional specialities that begs to be explored. Dim sum rule at lunchtime; some items such as Chinese chive pot stickers are reasonably familiar, but we’re sold on the more esoteric stuff – both the rabbit and carrot glutinous puffs and the steamed-rice rolls stuffed with gai lan and poached yolk deserve to be tried. In the evening, you could settle for gong bau chicken with peanuts and Szechuan aubergine, although Cantonese honey-roast pork with wind-dried sausage and grated foie gras or Yunnan wild mushroom, truffle and red date casserole are hard to ignore. Tables turn quickly and there’s occasionally space at the kitchen bar.
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301-303 Chiswick High Road, London, W4 4HH
Although it’s named after the Greek goddess of pleasure, first impressions of Hedone’s striking interior are of post-modern Nordic severity, with lots of bare wood, angular surfaces, a weird triptych set against exposed brickwork and a ceiling splattered with surreal sketches. The dining room has its own genteel buzz, but we’re with readers who prefer to bag a stool at the counter overlooking the open kitchen. Swedish lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-chef Mikael Jonsson has cemented his position in London’s Michelin-starred hierarchy by virtue of his boundless creativity and almost manic commitment to sourcing. He buys in limited quantities and varies Hedone’s menus incessantly (often from table to table), but the results are never less than startling. Extraordinary umami-rich creations come thick and fast, from a pairing of confit and semi-dried tomatoes with Amontillado sherry ice cream and milky-sweet almond sauce to a meaty scallop brushed with soy butter and sprinkled with nori dust or unbelievably succulent crab claws served with dollops of hazelnut mayo, crab consommé, diced Granny Smith apple and horseradish. Sweet courses such as fresh figs partnered by sharp elderflower jelly, thyme-yoghurt ice cream and crème fraîche break the mould, and matched wine pairings are spot-on too. Ambitious pricing reflects the kitchen’s ambitions, but an “amazing experience” awaits – especially if you’re served by Mikael Jonsson himself.
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12 Jerusalem Passage, London, EC1V 4JP
A quick glance at the website is essential before a visit to the tiny Sushi Tetsu as the chances are it may be may be fully booked. Still, once you’ve secured a perch and made it through the door, you’ll see a handful of punters, with chef/proprietor Toru Takahashi on the other side of the counter, calmly preparing the sushi and sashimi with near forensic precision. This is a husband-and-wife outfit, with spouse Harumi completing the perfect circle that is Sushi Tetsu. Since you’ve gone to all the trouble of bagging a seat, you might consider going for the bespoke ‘omakase’ menu at 96 quid a pop: what you get depends on what the chef decides is good enough, so glistening sea urchin, turbot, snow crab, black bream, octopus and (hopefully) seared otoro fatty tuna might be on the cards, all embellished with the necessary accoutrements (wasabi, soy, mirin, seaweed and chilli). From the rice to the saké, everything is impeccable.
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73 St James's Street, London, SW1A 1PH
Formerly residing on the King’s Road, Chutney Mary is now one of St James’s sumptuously decorated jewels. A smart doorman is on hand as you walk through to the buzzy Pukka Bar, where house cocktails such as a zesty Rangpur Gimlet with kaffir lime leaves set the scene for what is to follow – namely “high Indian cuisine” overlaid with judicious spicing and luxurious touches.
Hedonists can indulge in tandoori foie gras or lobster chilli fry, although standouts from our recent visit included juicy scallops in Mangalorean sauce (a southern Indian blend of coconut, fenugreek and turmeric) and moreish baked venison samosas, crispy cones stuffed with rich, moist meat. Elsewhere, a hearty Bengal lamb curry, scooped up with buttery naan, delivers the comforting warmth of slow-cooked spices, while a lighter prawn biryani is shot through with ginger, green chilli and saffron.
After that, desserts such as Madras coffee cappuccino kulfi are imaginative Anglo-Indian mash-ups noted for their eye-catching presentation (a feature of all Chutney Mary’s food). Staff are “an absolute delight”, and the thoughtfully assembled wine list is a solid match for the spicy fare – try an Alsace Gewürztraminer with those scallops.
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2 Bellevue Road, London, SW17 7EG
“Reassuringly polished in every way” says an admirer of Bruce Poole’s remarkable restaurant, while another deems it “an all-time favourite at the top end”. We’re also enamoured of Chez Bruce’s sense of style, its neighbourly virtues and the fact that it can regularly deliver inspired Michelin-starred food at egalitarian prices. As a dressed-down local eatery of the best sort, its gusty Euro-inspired food pleases, excites and soothes in equal measure, from starters of trotter sausage with warm summer beans and confit rabbit to desserts such as the much-vaunted crème brûlée or pistachio meringues with lemon verbena and raspberries. In between, the kitchen’s big-hearted approach might yield roast cod with olive oil mash, Provençal tomato and gremolata or rump of lamb with stuffed tomato, sweetbread ragoût and courgette tarte fine – manna indeed for the well-fed burghers of Wandsworth. The magnificent cheeseboard is also a class act in its own right. Some feel Chez Bruce’s new layout is a tad “cramped” and it’s clear that pressure of numbers can occasionally impact on the kitchen, but impressively professional staff are always on top of things. In contrast to the “delightful small menu”, the wine list is an all-encompassing encyclopaedic tome offering diversity, style and quality in spades.
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Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, SW1X 7LA
Although it was lightly refurbished in early 2017, even regulars would be hard pressed to notice any changes to Bar Boulud’s wood and beige interiors. The design might be restrained, but the combination of super-flattering lighting, friendly staff and chattering diners makes this one of the capital’s buzziest dining rooms.
New York-based French chef Daniel Boulud may be a big name in global gastronomy but he’s very much in casual mode here, offering up the sort of Gallic classics that are many people’s idea of the perfect meal out. Starters of seared prawns and Burgundy snails are festooned with enough garlic to ward off a vampire, while lemon sole with grenobloise butter followed by a sweet slice of gateau basque and crème anglaise prove that this kitchen knows how to finish a dish with a fabulous sauce.
“Although it’s high end, it isn't snobby at all” say readers, so you can also pop in for a luscious croque madame with fries or one of the “mouth-watering” inch-thick BB burgers – not what you might expect from a dining room in the Mandarin Oriental. All in all, the “best fun” you can have in Knightsbridge.
More detail about Bar Boulud at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
49 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SG
Sometimes, very good things come in very small packages. This no-reservations South Indian eatery from the Sethi siblings (of Trishna and Gymkhana fame) goes from strength to strength, with the implementation of an app in 2016 eliminating one of very few negative points: the need to queue outside on Lexington Street. The average wait at dinner is still over an hour, but the pay-off is astoundingly good-value Sri Lankan and Tamil cuisine “full of delicate flavours and fragrances”. Pick an eponymous hopper (a bowl-shaped rice pancake) with a gooey egg embedded in its base or a sticky, crunchy dosa cone, then match your choice with a “perfectly balanced” kari (curry). Options range from lamb, black pork or fish to red pumpkin and gourd with cashew, irresistibly supported by fiery, must-order Bengali prawns or crisp and deeply meaty mutton rolls. Hoppers is perpetually packed, but “friendly, discreet staff” won’t rush you, so sit back and sip an exotic Margarita (pepped up with pickled lime and coconut salt) to compensate for the absence of a dessert menu.
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74 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4QH
Monica Galetti, MasterChef judge and former senior sous-chef at Le Gavroche, offered herself up for public scrutiny when she opened Mere, but reports of “understated excellence” suggest she is on a winning streak. An elegant, sumptuously upholstered bar allows guests to peruse the menu, and the striking design continues downstairs, where a double-height glass frontage makes Mere equally appealing for lunch or dinner. Galetti’s Samoan and Kiwi heritage blend seamlessly with Gavroche-style haute cuisine for a contemporary take on high-end dining that’s harmonious, pretty and shot through with “simply amazing” flavours and textures. A springy curl of octopus comes hot and sticky from the plancha with an addictive caper and raisin jam on the side, lobster is simply poached and served with potato purée, cabbage and a bisque sauce, while 30-day aged sirloin is accompanied by puffs of onion beignets, glazed cheek and a tarragon crème fraîche. After that, the coconut cream pie filled with roasted banana and drizzled with rum caramel is the stuff of sweet dreams. The wine list is also “a joy” – in short, Ms Galetti has stamped her identity on one of London’s most famous foodie streets.
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380 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LT
It’s all happened so quickly for The Clove Club. From supper club to pop-up to successfully crowdfunded launch in the space of three years, Isaac McHale’s Michelin-starred Shoreditch destination now rubs shoulders with the high flyers on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It has achieved its success by doing things differently, such as adopting a pre-paid ‘ticketed’ booking system for dinner reservations (a first for London). The food’s experimental, with multi-course tasting menus promising a cavalcade of thrilling, enthralling and seriously on-point seasonal cooking along the lines of flamed mackerel with gooseberry and English mustard, Aylesbury duck ‘three ways’ (consommé, breast and smoked sausage) or apricot sorbet with burnt honey and bee pollen – all offered with imaginative wine pairings. Some find it precious, some too challenging, but nobody could fault McHale’s commitment. The dining room is chilled-out and surprisingly serene, with the bar even more so serving on-trend cocktails and racy snacks: we love the venison sausages with greengage ketchup and the buttermilk fried chicken with pine salt. In short, an unmissable one-off that chimes perfectly with cosmopolitan 21st-century London.
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41-43 Atlantic Road, London, SW9 3JS
Will Bowlby and Rik Campbell first launched Kricket onto an adoring public at Pop Brixton in 2016 before re-locating to an equally loved permanent site in Soho. Now they’re back where their success story first started with this new site under the railway arches by Brixton Market (they opened a flagship site in White City in the summer of 2018).
The new Brixton branch is larger than Soho and incorporates a separate bar where you can sample punchy cocktails such as the rum-based Dark Matter ahead of a table in the colonial-meets-industrial dining room (all dark-wood tables and house plants) – although as this Kricket takes bookings, you won’t have to wait to sit down.
As in Soho, the short menu has a core list of Kricket classics joined by dishes that change every couple of months. The now legendary Keralan fried chicken, dusted with pepper and served with a tangy curry leaf mayonnaise for dipping, is worth ordering whether this is your first visit or your fifteenth. The crunchy bhel puris also make a welcome appearance with their swirl of tamarind stickiness, puffed rice and dollops of yoghurt.
Elsewhere, Goan sausage pao are like intensely meaty mini burger buns with a mild afterglow of chilli heat, while a colourful bowl of juicy tomatoes livened up with hints of spring onion, ginger and sesame is one of several veggie options – although like all the cooking, spice levels are toned down for Western palates. A smooth lassi-style mango parfait is the sole dessert.
Pocket-friendly, cool and complemented by fun and chatty staff, this branch of Kricket is a welcome return to a buzzing Brixton restaurant scene it helped to kick-start.
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Smithfield Market, London, EC1A 9LH
Beneath the market action on evocatively named East Poultry Avenue, this converted pub is a “cool” bar for our times. From the team behind Nightjar, Oriole promises a subterranean world of indeterminate provenance, but suffice to say it’s a little bit retro, a little bit glam, a little bit pan-Asian, and a fun place to hang out. Style is important here, evidently, and the “heavenly” cocktails look stunning in their assorted serving vessels: Kiruna is a Lapland-inspired number that brings together the stonking Absolut Elyx vodka, cloudberry jam, aquavit mead and root cider, while it’s off to Zululand for Umckaloaba – based on Mount Gay Black Barrel rum and tasting like the best adult dessert you’ve ever had. If you want food proper, a menu of globally inspired small plates awaits; tamarind-glazed steamed pork buns, ceviche, a burger with kimchi coleslaw… that sort of thing.
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3-7 Devonshire Road, London, W4 2EU
Regularly trumpeted as the “crown in Chiswick’s restaurant scene”, La Trompette is the kind of place that gives neighbourhood restaurants a good name, and the fact that it sports a Michelin star without putting on airs or charging the earth is something to be applauded. Whether you’re here for a special dinner or a sociable midweek lunch, the elegant dining room always gives off good vibrations with its contemporary artworks, polished floors, well-spaced tables and views over a smart terrace. La Trompette’s cooking is all about muscular European flavours and clever ideas, with lots of intricate detailing on the plate – as in a starter of char-grilled Cornish squid with chickpeas, green harissa, cucumber and shaved fennel. Prime ingredients get the attention and respect they deserve, be it Welsh lamb with summer turnips, garden beets, rainbow chard and ewe’s curd or Cornish cod accompanied by gnocchetti, English ceps, cavolo nero and hazelnut pesto. After that, the mighty cheeseboard is a must, but we also suggest dipping into desserts such as the muscovado custard tart with roast cherries and crème fraîche. Full marks for the spectacular 600-bin wine list too.
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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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48 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4DH
Following their collaboration at hit Dalston bar-diner Untitled, chef Rob Roy Cameron and drinks-druid Tony Conigliaro are now taking on Mayfair – with outstanding results. Gazelle is a swish 1960s Manhattan-style bar-restaurant incorporating a classy second-floor cocktail lounge. Here, the bar provides a showcase for the deceptively simple, recherché creations that make Conigliario a go-to for sophisticated palates that prize subtlety over shouty novelty. Savour, for instance, Dreaming of Salmon, a richly rewarding whisky and plum Shrub; Harvard, a magna cum laude pre-bottled Manhattan combining Cognac, Pineau des Charentes liqueur and orange bitters; or Red Amber, a rooibos tea liqueur and vanilla riff on Kir Royale. The accompanying bar snacks might be arcane, but make for exquisite eye candy: yeast ice cream in dinky Parmesan wafers will give you a Mr Whippy-style blast, while corn tostada discs intricately inlaid with savoury lace threads are groovy enough to be worn as earrings.
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34-36 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE
The word “love” crops up repeatedly in Moro’s plaudits – a sure sign that it’s still held in high regard after rocking on for two decades. From day one, Sam and Samantha Clark’s ground-breaking eatery made an impact with its zinc-topped bar, pavement tables, wood-fired oven and compelling Spanish/North African cuisine. The whole shebang still thrills, although nothing can trump the food: heady spicing and subtly matched flavours are at the heart of things, from a lamb and saffron broth with wee dumplings, or a rustic salad of warm white beans and celery topped with bottarga, to luscious chocolate and apricot tart. In between, the wood-fired oven makes easy work of sesame chicken (served with couscous), while the charcoal grill offers up lamb with fava bean and bitter leaf purée. Alternatively, pick some small plates from the tapas bar menu – perhaps fried spiced chickpeas or anchovies on toast. The wine list shows the same geographical interests as the menu, and the sherry line-up warrants proper consideration. “Fabulous, I just love this place”, raves one fan.
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10 Northumberland Ave, Westminster, London, WC2N 5AE
After a false start with the Jumeriah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge, Tom Kerridge has finally opened his first London restaurant at the Corinthia hotel. It’s in a slightly no-man’s-land location between Embankment tube and Trafalgar Square – both central and off the beaten track – but Kerridge’s fame and the skill of his kitchen should ensure this London outpost becomes every bit as hard to get into as his two Michelin-starred Marlow gastropub The Hand and Flowers.
Some of the dishes we treasure from The Hand are reproduced here. The signature glazed omelette of smoked haddock and Parmesan is pimped up with lobster and even better for it, the meat so sweet that the fabulously decadent concoction eats like a souffle. Other dishes were new to us, but demonstrated Kerridge’s trademark of lifting classic British cooking with sophisticated technique without losing any of its lip-smacking gutsiness.
So while a pig’s cheek pie was basically a pork pie, the buttery pastry lifted it into another realm entirely, with a devilled sauce (taking the place of mustard) to cut through the richness. Brown butter tart with buttermilk ice cream, meanwhile, was a straightforwardly sweet delight.
Vegetarians get three starters and mains apiece, set lunch and pre-theatre menus should appeal to theatregoers from the nearby Strand (or anyone put off by the steep pricing), while bar snacks such as venison sausage rolls and Welsh rarebit are another budget-minded way in.
To drink, draught beers, gins and 20 English sparklers keep the flag flying for Britain; elsewhere, grower Champagnes join the classic houses while there are more big names from France and highlights from the rest of the world on a wine list that shows the benefit of hotel funding; a long trek to the loos across the hotel lobby is, however, a downside.
David Collins Studio has done its best to make the high-ceilinged space (formerly Massimo’s) feel more intimate, with diners grouped around clubby horseshoe leather banquettes, but clattery acoustics can make conversation hard to hear. But make no mistake: this really is food to shout about.
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88 St John Street, London, EC1M 4EH
The second outing from The Clove Club’s Isaac McHale, Johnny Smith and Daniel Willis proves that the Young Turk trio are more than one-hit wonders. Luca, they say, is a ‘Britalian’ restaurant – ie Italian cooking recast with British ingredients. It’s a clickbait-friendly concept, although the most striking feature of the place is its styling, which suggests 1950s Italian design adapted for current London restaurant trends: no tablecloths, fabulous lighting and a pasta-making room that transforms into a private dining space once the day’s work is done.
Meals follow the classic four-course format, but go easy on breakout stars such as the Parmesan fries (actually gloriously gooey churros) if you want to make it to dessert. Pasta was the unequivocal highlight for us, from spaghettini laced with Morecambe Bay potted shrimps (blitzed into a buttery, bisque-like sauce) to classic pumpkin and chestnut ravioli, still with some stiff al dente bite. Elsewhere, we also liked softly crusted roast scallops sitting on an earthy splodge of Jerusalem artichoke purée, with ’nduja butter bleeding down the gutters of their shells, and a hefty rump of Hereford beef lined with a crisp sliver of pancetta – although a delicious plate of Hebridean lamb chops with rosemary breadcrumbs and mashed swede seemed more ‘gastropub’ than ‘gastronomia’.
The only real let-down was service, which was standoffish, slow off the mark and dodgy in the wine department. Alternatively, nibble on sandwiches, salads and small plates in the bar, which is as beautifully designed as the rest of the restaurant.
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12 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TQ
Financed by, and run in partnership with, Edward Weil and Rosie Stimpson (owners of Nightjar and Oriole), Swift sees Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson (a couple with an ardent following built on gigs at the likes of Milk & Honey, Callooh Callay and The Dead Rabbit in Manhattan) crack the West End with this dishy, Cubist-inspired duplex. Previously LAB, a late-Noughties crucible of inventive cocktail-making that launched many of today’s biggest names on the bar scene, Swift is bang on the 2017 zeitgeist: it’s a seminal spot that reflects Londoners’ increasingly sophisticated tastes. In the ground-floor bar, drill down into a grown-up menu that favours ‘swift’ fixes made with lighter spirits while downstairs, in the convivial maple-and-mocha piano lounge below, linger over twisted classics and postmodern sips. These include the likes of the Fourth Gentleman (£11), a satisfyingly smooth stir made with Chivas 12, umeshu and poire berry, and The Prestige (£12), a Clos Martin VSOP Armagnac, pistachio, almond and rose-petal liqueur Sour. Delve into Swift’s impressive, 250-strong whisky library and snack on steak tartare, Welsh rarebit, oysters and choripan (an Argentine-style chorizo sandwich).
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The Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London, W1K 1QA
The combination of a superstar name and three Michelin stars means that expectations are always sky-high at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester; in return, diners are treated to “an exercise in superlative service and presentation”, with hushed tones barely disturbing the reverential calm in the classic creamy-toned dining room – an “oasis of serenity” away from the bluster of Park Lane. Head chef Jean-Phillipe Blondet is his master’s voice, delivering a measured parade of profound and deeply flavoured dishes hinting at the “culinary genius” behind the scenes – just consider the “heavenly” sauté gourmand of lobster accompanied by homemade pasta and truffled chicken quenelles or the signature ‘contemporary’ vacherin with a coconut boule, pomegranate seeds and exotic fruits. In between, the ever-fabulous rib and saddle of venison with coffee sauce and a peanut-stuffed parsnip vies with fish classics such as fillet of turbot with beetroot and clams marinière or line-caught sea bass with braised chicory. Prices, as you’d expect of somewhere called Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, take no prisoners, and the platinum wine list promises a galaxy of French stars with hefty mark-ups – although fans still think that dining here is “time exceptionally well spent”.
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108 Golborne Road, London, W10 5PS
A tie-in between maverick money man turned rookie restaurateur Luca Longobardi and whizz-kid chef Chris Denney (ex-Viajante and The Square), this laid-back neighbourhood eatery is a mash-up of mesh chairs, bare light bulbs and Portobello Market crockery in a brick-walled, concrete-floored space that references 108’s former life as a garage. Denney also trained as an artist – something that’s apparent in still-life compositions such as pink slices of presa ibérica draped in a silky veil of lardo or a blackened hunk of ‘Jacob’s ladder’ beef adorned with a pretty jumble of dill-pickle tartare. His “refreshingly imaginative” approach to ingredients is akin to “food alchemy” (according to one disciple), as he wows diners with flavour-bombs that expertly balance rich satisfaction with startling sharpness: creamy veal sweetbread offset by charred king cabbage, say, or translucent slices of pickled fruits cutting through tangy Cheddar crumbled onto a sweet cracker. By contrast, the rest of the operation is refreshingly laid-back, with “surprisingly reasonable” prices and young staff who are engagingly friendly – if not always on the ball. Still, chilled-out locals are thrilled to have a chef of Denney’s talent on their doorstep.
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8-9 Blacklands Terrace, London, SW3 2SP
“Still on the up and up” confirms a regular visitor to Five Fields – an elegant but homely neighbourhood restaurant that “really does feel very special”. Muted grey and beige colour schemes set a soothing tone in the bijou dining room, although all eyes are on the gloriously fresh-flavoured food coming out of chef/proprietor Taylor Bonnyman’s kitchen. Much depends on seasonal pickings from the owner’s Sussex garden – floral tributes and herbal embellishments that make an impact in dishes as diverse as Lindisfarne oyster with green herbs, sea lettuce and radish or a disarmingly simple ‘late summer’ plate of tomato, pea and watermelon. Bonnyman’s sense of adventure and his culinary intelligence also show in unexpected pairings such as beef with peanut, broccoli and tamarind or red grouse overlaid with the contrasting flavours and textures of carrot, yoghurt and cucumber. To finish, ‘chocolate, sesame and smoke’ sounds darkly dramatic, but there’s fruity freshness too – as in Charentais melon with orange flower blossom, raspberry and praline. Staff are gracious, genuine and accommodating – a real boon when it comes to picking from the comprehensive 500-bin wine list. “Surprising and charming in equal measure” says a fan – a verdict we’re happy to endorse.
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1 Kinnerton Street, London, SW1X 8EA
High expectations are matched by high standards at this Michelin-starred outpost of the Gordon Ramsay empire – a thickly carpeted, richly hued room with long skirted tables, sound-baffling furry walls and a huge circular wine store stacked with the titular Ch. Pétrus (and much, much more). Menus come topped and tailed with a panoply of dainty extras intended to supplement and complement “faultless” standouts such as seared curried scallop atop an umami-rich savoury sabayon with braised kombu and bacon, big-flavoured Herdwick lamb with beetroot and black garlic or fillet of Brixham turbot with pickled clams, samphire and lemongrass – all perfectly cooked and “meticulously presented” in the grand Ramsay manner. To finish, don’t miss the seasonal quince tart with poached rhubarb and ginger ice cream or the genius take on Black Forest gateau involving a light kirsch mousse, a dark cherry sorbet and more besides – although the small but interesting cheese selection is also worth a sniff. Those wanting the ultimate Pétrus experience should consider booking the eight-seater chef’s table in front of the kitchen – just brace yourself for a serious bill.
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5a Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3EP
Brooklyn, Berlin, Barcelona, Miami – Cecconi’s has been shipped all over the world to great fanfare, but the original Cecconi’s Mayfair still holds a special allure for readers (and ourselves). Occupying a corner site on Burlington Gardens, the set-up is “faultless from the minute you walk in”: the decor “oozes class and sophistication”, while tuned-in staff can “answer any question”. Soft lighting, green leather chairs and zebra-striped floors radiate from a constantly buzzing bar, so settle in for a superb Italian-style aperitif before diving into the Venetian-inspired menu. The kitchen keeps things generous and gloriously simple, from perfectly crispy calamari fritti with lemon aïoli or zesty salmon tartare to rib-eye with broccoli and chilli or crab ravioli with perfect bite in a “sunshine” baby tomato sauce. Tables are at a premium, but spaces are always held at the bar, where you can pop in for a few rounds of Prosecco on tap while nibbling on cichetti. The vibe at Cecconi’s Mayfair varies with the crowd and the time of day – from hedge-fund lunches to weekend shopping treats and “testosterone-fuelled” Saturday jollies, not forgetting winningly enjoyable breakfasts.
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43a Commercial Street, London, E1 6BD
Andy Oliver might be best known from the 2009 series of Masterchef, but he worked with David Thompson at Nahm – still the best Thai restaurant London has ever had – as well as spending two years at Bangkok’s even more highly rated Bo.Lan.
Oliver’s calling card is authentic northern Thai cooking, producing flavours unfamiliar to most Londoners. Lon gapi relish of shrimp paste with wild ginger and coconut cream was oily-rich, and satisfyingly dripped off crunchy crudités. Tamarind dipping sauce for a plump grilled chicken leg was worlds away from the usual sweet gloop, simultaneously sharp, sweet and sour. Burmese-style pork belly and shoulder curry arrived as a comforting pot of melty meat, but there was no hiding from the slap-in-the-face sour heat of som tam Isaan, a green papaya salad with snake beans, tomatoes and fermented fish sauce.
Too full for dessert (palm-sugar ice cream with grilled banana, say), we opted for a Dragon’s Milk cocktail (a heady combination of sticky-rice rum, Kahlúa, coconut cream, condensed milk, salt and sesame) from a list boasting interesting takes on the classics. Previously a no-bookings joint, Som Saa thankfully now takes bookings for parties of any size.
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Halkin Arcade, 19 Motcomb Street, London, SW1X 8JT
A clever combination of flattering lighting and a genius design spec that brings the ‘theatre’ kitchen unobtrusively into the slinky dining room would be enough for most restaurants to make a fashionable leap into the limelight, but Amaya has its Michelin-starred food and brilliant service too.
Readers confirm that this glamorous venue is up there with the Indian big boys thanks to spot-on cooking, “wonderful variety” and a menu that cherry-picks influences from across the subcontinent. Plenty of “superior” high-end ingredients are woven in too: foie gras gets the tandoori treatment, and lightly stir-fried lobster masala also features. Don’t miss the subtly spiced chicken tikkas, the tandoori ocean prawns or the sizzling specialities from the tawa hotplate and sigri grill (white sweet potatoes, wild venison, stonkingly good lamb chops fired with smoked chilli).
Most dishes are designed for sharing and arrive from the open kitchen as and when they’re ready. A spice-friendly wine list matches the food in every department, but it would be a mistake to overlook the cocktails.
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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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Royal Garden Hotel, 2-24 Kensington High Street, London, W8 4PT
It’s hard to talk about Min Jiang without mentioning the view: 10 floors up on the fringes of Hyde Park, it’s a mesmerising prospect. Now fast approaching its 10th birthday, this venue has become one of London’s slickest operators, a top-end Chinese decked out with mirrored panels, oriental screens and classical pottery, dealing in scrubbed-up but authentic Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine. The star of the show – and one of our guiltiest treats in the capital – is the Beijing duck, presented in three servings. No doctor is going to recommend the crispy skin dipped in fine sugar but, boy, is it good – likewise the traditional pancake wraps, lettuce parcels and alternatives such as salted vegetable soup with duck and tofu. Elsewhere, baskets of steamed dim sum are a beauty to behold, while rib-eye in a sticky black pepper sauce is sweet and soothing. To drink, put your trust in the sommelier’s pick from an Old World-leaning wine list.
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58 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9TL
The name of Ben (Smoking Goat) Chapman’s second restaurant tells you everything you need to know: it’s cramped, full of fire and spins out baked clay pots filled with outstandingly appetising noodle dishes from the northern Thai borderlands. Kiln’s focus is on casual dining, with a long, metal counter running parallel to the open kitchen: various Thai-style barbecues deal with the clay-pot dishes, while modern grills turn out the meat skewers, smoked sausages and chickens that complete the menu. Our must-order is a sticky, dense assemblage of glass noodles with pork belly and brown crab, but there’s also grilled Tamworth pork loin paired with a sweet, dark fish-sauce dip and super-spicy Laos-style salad with roasted rice and a heavy dose of chilli. Order stir-fried greens or brown jasmine rice to counteract these intense, salty flavours, and drink quality beers or something from the ever-evolving wine list. Uncomfortable stools don’t encourage lingering and mark-ups sometimes seem high, but this high-voltage newcomer is an undoubted hit.
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Dukes Hotel, St James's Place, London, SW1A 1NY
Is there anything better than a Martini from Dukes Bar? We think not. This classic hotel lounge inspired James Bond author Ian Fleming, who created the Vesper Martini here. A mix of Gordon’s gin, vodka and Lillet vermouth – shaken not stirred, of course – it appeared in the 1953 novel Casino Royale and the rest is history... White-jacketed head bartender Alessandro Palazzi is almost as legendary as 007 in bartending circles and his Martini trolley is a wonder to behold, though we advise slow sipping of his knockout mixes. All Martinis are made to order at your table, and with up to 200 served daily, you know you’re in safe hands. If you’re feeling adventurous, try Palazzi’s signature 89 Jermyn Street – a blend of tonka bean-infused vodka, rose, amber vermouth and chocolate bitters inspired by Bond's favoured cologne, Floris No 89. Also boasting a bijou Cognac and cigar ‘garden’ with potted palms, Dukes Bar is licensed to thrill.
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9 Christopher Street, London, EC2A 2BS
This little sibling of nearby Worship Street Whistling Shop is a foxy modern Tokyo-style shrine to whisky with a unique centrepiece that’s guaranteed to provide tomorrow morning's talking point in the office – at least for Black Rock virgins. Dispensed from taps at one end, BR’s house whiskies course through parallel glass-covered channels, cut into a 20-foot transect of a fallen ancient oak transformed into a communal table. Upwards of 250 class-act malts and boss blends from distillers worldwide are displayed in glass cabinets, all grouped by flavour, style and price-point (from £7 per 35ml dram) to encourage experimentation. Alternatively, a dialled-down list of spot-on stirs includes Campfire (Bulleit, Lagavulin and smoked marshmallow) and Rice (a mix of Nikka Barrel whisky, ‘popcorn’ green tea, saké and coconut water) – one of several highballs to try with haggis balls and baked oysters at this solid City investment.
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14-16 Bruton Place, London, W1J 6LX
The feel-good factor kicks in the moment guests touch the discreet door button, revealing this Kyoto-style kaiseki enclave in all its Zen-like purity – although you may be distracted by the smiley keen-as-mustard staff shouting their words of greeting. Two-Michelin-starred Umu is strictly old-school and chef Yoshinori Ishii’s attention to detail is legendary – whether he’s teaching his Cornish fishermen the Japanese ways, organising supplies of organic wasabi or fashioning handcrafted tableware for the restaurant. He’s responsible for every aspect of the food and leaves himself no room for error. Not surprisingly, the results are extraordinary: featherlight kombu-cured mullet with chrysanthemum and sudachi; gloriously limpid ‘nimonowan’ soup delicately garnished with autumn ‘leaves’ made from chanterelles and carrots; omakase fish platters with an astonishing variety of textures and flavours. Make it through to dessert for a construct of fig, sesame, chocolate and sesame that appears to defy the laws of physics, before coffee with hybrid Euro-Japanese petits fours. Wines are worthy of the food, but adventurous cocktails and saké seem more appropriate. Dining at Umu is an unforgettable experience, and (for those picking up the tab) so is the bill.
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12 New Burlington Street, London, W1S 3BH
The Araki in numbers reads like this: three Michelin stars, nine seats, £300 set menu, zero ability to accommodate dietary requirements. But the proportions work nicely both for sushi master Mitsuhiro Araki and his customers – he couldn’t cater for more diners, and they wouldn’t want him to try. Exclusivity is a necessary part of the omakase experience, played out along a cypress wood counter with Araki-san moving swiftly and elegantly on the other side. Each day’s menu is built around Edo-style sushi, starting with a deeply flavoured but delicate clear soup, ravishing sashimi and a little cooked seafood – perhaps saké-steamed abalone with scallop ‘strings’ or grilled salmon with yuzu. Araki’s ability to bring out the flavours of tuna is much-admired and demonstrated beautifully in a trio of sushi using progressively fattier cuts. As you’d hope, every immaculate detail – including the gorgeous bespoke tableware and covetable saké glasses – is given proper attention. Talking numbers again, The Araki is simply a one-off.
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26 St John Street, London, EC1M 4AY
St John’s utilitarian simplicity was revolutionary back in the day, and its ‘nose-to-tail’ concept raised a few eyebrows too. Once ahead of its time, it’s now of its time – and is still relevant. The industrial minimalism of the starkly white interior places the focus firmly on matters gastronomic (and the company you’re keeping, of course), while the menu reads like a foodie’s dream – “oh, the bone marrow and parsley”, sighs one fan. Alternatively, play it safe with a damn fine pea and ham soup or go for broke – braised cuttlefish and alexanders, lambs’ tongues with chicory and anchovy, or braised hare with swede, kid liver with turnips are “simply great”. As for pud, take your pick from the likes of quince and hazelnut pavlova or apple and blackberry pie. “Everything is good, I never know what to eat”, sums up readers’ heartfelt enthusiasm for Fergus Henderson’s trailblazer turned Michelin-starred City treasure. The wine list is exclusively French, with interesting options by the glass and bottles to take out too.
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Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
With Heston Blumenthal’s name attached and a menu of eye-catching dishes that play with our perceptions of British cookery, Dinner was always going to be a hit with London’s gastro-tourists, and there are plenty of reasons for them to leave feeling satisfied – not least the beautiful daytime view of Hyde Park, the fun of the nitro-fuelled ice cream cart and the switched-on staff.
“Attention to detail is second to none”, observes a fan. Even if you don’t buy into the restaurant’s date-stamped reinterpretation of historical recipes, there’s a formidable cornucopia of gastronomic delights to relish – from the ‘meat fruit’ (c.1500) disguised as a mandarin with subtle citrus notes to the soft, juicy ‘tipsy cake’ (c.1810) with spit-roast pineapple. Also brace yourself for other extraordinary conceits ranging from ‘sherried’ scallop tartare with mushroom broth to chicken ‘oysters’ invigorated with horseradish cream and pickled walnuts. Sides are not to be sniffed at either – the mash is among the creamiest we’ve tasted. Obviously, such a “luxurious experience” doesn’t come cheap (especially if you commit to the wine flights), although set lunches offer a more accommodating prospect. Either way, prepare to be astonished.
More detail about Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at Mandarin Oriental
43 Elystan Street, London, SW3 3NT
Phil Howard strikes gold with this stylish Chelsea gem” declares an admirer of Elystan Street – a slick yet informal affair untroubled by amuse-bouches, tasting menus and tablecloths. Having sold The Square after 25 years of critical acclaim, Howard decided to postpone retirement and return to the stove, where he is now delivering uncomplicated yet highly sophisticated food full of “clever and subtle flavours”. Expect out-and-out indulgence from, say, golden-roasted veal sweetbreads with a rich veal sauce and an autumn ‘slaw’, or grouse breasts cooked blushing pink with little croquettes of leg meat, root vegetables and elderberry sauce. Lighter options might bring mackerel rillettes with Porthilly oyster and dressed Poole prawns, while pasta is a forte – think a fat raviolo of scallop and langoustine in a delicate foaming bisque. After that, bitter chocolate mousse with milk ice cream and salted caramel sauce is the must-order pud. Prices are hardly kind (mind you, this is high-living Chelsea), but the dining room is a dream – all towering windows, polished wood and clean lines. With smart staff who get the low-fuss approach just right and a wine list that ticks all the boxes, this is the “perfect all-round package
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