While we’d never deny that the food on the plate is one of the most important things about choosing where to eat, we’re superficial enough to appreciate that a restaurant’s surroundings can play just as big a part in the enjoyment of a meal. So to celebrate this year’s London Design Festival (16-24 September), here is our round-up of the best designed restaurants in London.

Words: Ben McCormack

Aquavit London St James's Market Scandinavian restaurant

Aquavit, St James’s

Designs on your dining: Swedish interiors star Martin Brudnizki apparently took Gothenburg City Hall as the inspiration for the London outpost of New York’s lauded Aquavit, which showcases every covetable Nordic design trope. Close-set, unclothed tables are set with Georg Jensen cutlery, staff are kitted out in Filippa K uniforms, there are textile wall hangings designed by Olafur Eliasson, while the high-ceilinged dining room is illuminated by Scandinavia’s greatest gift to the world of interior design: flattering lighting.

1 Carlton Street, SW1Y 4QQ

Bob Bob Ricard London Soho restaurant bar

Bob Bob Ricard, Soho

Designs on your dining: Ostentation is blingy Bob Bob Ricard’s primary selling point, from the ‘press for Champagne’ buttons to the Murder on the Orient Express, art deco-esque decor – one of the key works from the late, great restaurant designer David Collins. Glitz and gold is everywhere, along with marble table tops, oak panelling, hand-printed Japanese wallpaper and mirrored ceilings, while the royal-blue booths are a favourite hiding place for hungry celebrities.

1 Upper James Street, W1F 9DF

Claude Bosi at Bibendum London restaurant bar Chelsea

Claude Bosi at Bibendum, Chelsea

Designs on your dining: Design guru Sir Terence Conran co-founded Bibendum in 1987 in the former Michelin tyre HQ, and from the outside it still looks very much like the garage it once was. Inside, however, it’s a different story. There are few rooms in London that are as much of a pleasure to spend time in as this one, when light filtered through the stained glass depictions of the Michelin man and streaming through the huge windows makes a meal here a life-affirming experience on even the rainiest of days.

Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 6RD

German Gymnasium Jan 2016 19

German Gymnasium, King’s Cross

Designs on your dining: Built in 1864 as England’s first purpose-built gym, D&D London’s immaculate restoration of the German Gymnasium is a return to the mega-brasserie style of their 90s heyday. Theatrical staircases link the sprawling, marble-floored ground-floor dining room to secluded tables tucked behind gleaming white architrave pillars upstairs. Look out too for original features like the climbing hooks in the ceiling – just the thing to work off the after-effects of the best Black Forest gateau in London.

1 King’s Boulevard, N1C 4BU

Isabel London restaurant bar

Isabel, Mayfair

Designs on your dining: Financier-cum-restaurateur Juan Santa Cruz has pulled out all the stops for this follow-up to Casa Cruz. There’s copper everywhere, from the gleaming pillars holding up a ceiling studded with shiny brass discs to the backs of the stools encircling the central eating counter. Glossy monochrome tables hug the borders of the room, and there’s a multi-coloured geometric carpet like a giant op-art installation. With loo walls covered with hand-painted De Gournay wallpaper (and a low-carb, high-protein menu), it’s no surprise that Isabel is currently the fashion pack’s fave place to eat in London.

26 Albemarle Street, W1S 4HY

Luca London city restaurant bar Italian

Luca, Farringdon

Designs on your dining: The Clove Club team’s ‘Britalian’ (Italian cooking recast with British ingredients) turns out fabulous starters and pastas but the best-looking thing about the place is the dining room, a gorgeous looking-space of floor-to-ceiling glass, fabulous lighting and a pasta-making room that transforms into a private dining space once the day’s work is done. The bar, all green leather booths, dark wood floors and mottled wall tiles, is as beautiful to look at as the restaurant.

88 St John Street, EC1M 4EH

Pharmacy 2 South East London Damien Hurst restaurant

Pharmacy 2, Vauxhall

Designs on your dining: Just like the original Pharmacy in Notting Hill (RIP), Damien Hirst’s resurrection of the brand in Vauxhall blurs the line between restaurant and art installation. Diners eat against a backdrop of Hirst’s iconic medicine cabinets and tablet-shaped bar stools, while the etched glass windows create a whirl of colour when a train goes past. Food comes courtesy of art-loving chef Mark Hix, whose Shoreditch restaurant Tramshed displays a formaldehyde calf by Hirst.

Newport Street Gallery, Newport Street, SE11 6AJ

Sake No Hana London restaurant bar

Sake No Hana, St James’s

Designs on your dining: Diners at Sake No Hana are whisked on escalators from a shiny black lobby to a dining room constructed from a latticework of bamboo and cypress-wood beams that looks like an exploded matchstick building. The surroundings have equally impeccable design credentials: Sake No Hana is housed the love-it-or-hate-it Economist Plaza, the Brutalist landmark designed by husband-and-wife architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1964.

23 St James’s Street, SW1A 1HA

Sketch Gallery interior 3

Sketch, Mayfair

Designs on your dining: London’s original has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed restaurant looks as spectacular today as when it opened in 2003. Sketch is in fact a restaurant of two halves: the downstairs Gallery (pictured), a bubblegum-pink boudoir designed by India Mahdavi that currently functions as an exhibition for 239 of artist David Shrigley’s works, alongside Shrigley-designed tableware. Ascend the dimly lit purple-hued staircase (stopping at the Swarovski-studded loos en route) to the upstairs Lecture Room & Library to gawp at the explosive riot of colour in the towering, dome-lidded dining room.

9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG

Looking for more designer dreams in London? Check out our list of the coolest restaurants in the capital.

This article was published 14 September 2017