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.
Galvin La Chapelle
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.
A restaurant like they used to make ’em, this blushing rose has been fluttering its eyelashes at customers for more than half a century – “it’s so French and so very romantic”, drools one long-time fan. With a quiet terrace for balmy evenings and a bare-brick interior filled with bushels of dried herbs, flowers and twinkly candles, La Poule au Pot has built up a charming patina over the years – half of London’s ladies and gents must have been here for dates, liaisons and family get-togethers. The menu is as predictably Gallic as the waiters’ accents (think soupe à l’oignon and escargots ahead of bouillabaisse, boeuf bourguignon and magret de canard with foie gras), but the cooking has always been good enough to warrant the fondness it engenders. To drink, the house wine (poured from a magnum) is fine, but prospective fathers-in-law prefer the posh Champagnes and clarets.
La Poule au Pot
“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”.
Canny Claude Compton has struck exactly the right chord with his quietly brilliant little bistro above the Amuse Bouche Champagne bar. The low-lit, low-key ambience might be more rive gauche than haute cuisine, but the upcycled furniture, stripped floors and chirpy staff belie the ambition behind the pass. The kitchen has plenty of fun with flavour and texture on its weekly menu, pairing squid and seared tuna with confit lemon, hemp seeds and herbaceous lovage foam or introducing vanilla notes into a pretty plate of smoked eel, dressed with grated horseradish and wispy fennel tops. Desserts also turn heads – perhaps blackberry and fig, with quark soft cheese, porridge tart and lavender flowers. The fact that it manages to pull off these dishes is testament to serious talent and lightness of touch, as well as inventiveness. If that sounds sufficiently colourful and brilliant, we recommend considering the excellent-value tasting menu, with its on-point wine pairings.
“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?
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.
Bleeding Heart Restaurant
“I can’t contain how happy I am when I eat here,” says a fan of this Jason Atherton restaurant, which is both little and sociable – note its size, noise levels and richly convivial French-skewed dishes. The proximity of big boy Pollen Street Social across the road might cast this “refreshing small gem” in the role of plucky upstart, but Atherton’s trademark polish and “immaculate” detailing are evident throughout – from the charming well-drilled staff and design with a purpose (think French fantasy with a knowing London wink) to the finely rendered seasonal food. Just as customers must speak up rather than murmur, the kitchen revels in flavours with presence – perhaps meaty roasted ceps with garlicky smoked almond butter on toasted brioche, côte de porc or roast cod with girolles, celeriac purée and jus gras. Steaks and burgers try to steal the limelight, tarte Tatin is now the default dessert for twosomes, and cannily chosen wines neatly sidestep the obvious.
With a low-key, all-black frontage setting the tone, this Soho evergreen isn’t about to flaunt its near-legendary “romantic” charms. Space is at a premium here, but once you find a candlelit table, settle in for starters of plump confit pork cheeks with almond, peach and fennel or perhaps a delicate lobster bisque. The eclectic handwritten menu changes daily and “good value” mains keep things simple via a chunky Old Spot pork chop or fillet of stone bass with pine nuts, while puds might bring textbook pavlova or fresh figs drizzled with labneh, honey and walnuts. Personable, expert staff help to ease the digestion, while expertise and reliability characterise the superb selection of Old World wines – in fact the whole outfit is a friendly celebration of old-school restaurant values. The dimly lit, split-level premises may eschew anything remotely grandiose with its shabby, dated furnishings, but Andrew Edmunds delivers comfort and character in spades.