Best new restaurants of 2012

BEST OF 2012

Updated on 20 December 2012

Best new restaurants of 2012

10 Greek Street - 10_Greek_Street_2012_-_10_Greek_Street_2_web.jpgLast year saw an avalanche of restaurants open in the capital, proving that economic uncertainty doesn’t necessarily have the most obvious, or most negative, knock-on effects. Restaurateurs aren’t just pulling in one direction, either: successful new launches over the past 12 months have included starched fine-dining affairs, jovial elbow-to-elbow eating experiences and permanent versions of people-pleasing pop-ups, all of which has led to a rich, diverse and buoyant restaurant scene. Here, Square Meal rounds up the most outstanding newcomers on the capital’s radar, mixing our own experiences with comments from our readers.

Notable no-bookings newcomers

No-booking destinations continued to thrive last year, with diners accepting, grudgingly or otherwise, the uncertainty of a definite booking – and the certainty of an accompanying queue. It’s a formula that has worked in favour of cafés, fast-food joints and US-style diners for decades, and its proliferation in the capital points to its safety-net function for restaurateurs operating in a recession, putting the power to fill and turn tables firmly back in their hands.

Gussied-up American junk food – savvily labelled ‘dude food’ – dominated the capital last year, with deep-fried chicken wings, burgers and ribs benefiting from a gourmet makeover and banishing lacklustre memories of their fast-food counterparts. Their grab-and-run ease (which fits perfectly with the no-bookings trend) and wallet-friendly prices have cemented the popularity of this style of food with the public.

10 Greek Street (pictured, top right)
Accomplished modern-European dishes from an ex-Wapping Food chef

‘Service was grown-up, confident, friendly and efficient’ Matt P

‘This is one of the new group of places springing up in Soho and Covent Garden that are not Michelin-star chasers, but want to provide good, honest cooking, in a pleasant atmosphere. And they succeed marvellously’ Richard E

‘The best place in Soho, hands down. Delicious food, lovely service, great atmosphere, brilliant wine at a very reasonable price. I'm going back as soon as I can!’ Michael L

Honest Burgers
A Brixton pop-up that’s made it all the way to Soho

‘Honest deliver everything you would want, and despite the wonderful toppings, the beef here is still king – as it should be’ burgeraddict23

‘Glorious! Honest Burgers’ house-cooked chips, sprinkled liberally with rosemary salt, are a masterpiece – some of the best chips I've tasted’ BurgerMe

Meatliquor_2011_-_Long_Bench_Table_High_Res.jpgMeatliquor (pictured, right)
The instigator of London’s burger obsession, with arguably the longest queues in London

‘Great burgers, the Dead Hippie my favourite, great chilli fries and great cocktails for a decent price’ Steven H

‘The constant queue outside Meatliquor speaks for itself: this place is magnificent’ Cara

‘There are numerous pretenders to the burger throne, but in my mind, Meatliquor reigns supreme above its peers’ The Cheese

Pitt Cue Co
Award-winning US-style ribs from a former food truck

‘Great fun, and the waiters are just the right balance of friendly and respectful’ Matt P

‘The beef ribs are just great, everything you expect: sticky, tender, sweet and meaty’ What! More food

‘Best BBQ in town by a country mile. The queue is a hassle but it proved worth the wait’ Darren K

Fine dining in the City

2012 saw the City – previously the domain of slightly staid restaurants that relied almost exclusively on the expense-account crowd – become a culinary centre in its own right. This was in part due to the London Olympics, with all the international interest in and redevelopment of the east of London that it entailed; the luxury apartments that sprang up in the East End in the run-up to London 2012 were bought by wealthy newcomers to the area looking to dine out somewhere local but fabulous.

But the City was not the only area to welcome hot newcomers in 2012: Dabbous, for example, made Fitzrovia the place to be when it opened to universal acclaim early in the year. With its industrial interiors, cool basement bar and understated head chef, the restaurant moved the public perception of fine dining away from the starched tablecloths and studied deference of yesteryear, paving the way for outsider interpretations of fine dining such as Chrysan.

Glossy fish restaurant from seasoned operator D&D

‘The restaurant design and especially the terrace are extremely stylish. The menu is interesting, the cooking accomplished, and portions generous’ Neil M

Chrysan & HKK
Top-end Japanese kaiseki cuisine and exquisite Chinese tasting menus, both by the Hakkasan Group

‘I normally dislike “fussy” food, and prefer solid, identifiable courses, but this place manages both to get great ingredients and do interesting things with them’ Thomas D

‘Ouststanding…a great addition to the neighbourhood’ S Ridley

Dabbous_2012_-_Dabbous_Restaurant_7JPG_web.jpgDabbous (pictured, left)
Hard work and creative vision have paid dividends for Raymond Blanc’s protégé

‘The service throughout was extremely good, very relaxed and highly professional. In fact, many big-name restaurants should come here for a service masterclass’ Neil M

‘The best meal I've had all year, hands down – and I don't offer that praise lightly’ Caped C

‘I was disarmed by how small and informal Dabbous was…the food is utterly exceptional’ The Discerning Pig

Bankable restaurateurs back winners

Instead of continuing to plough tried-and-tested furrows, innovative restaurateurs tapped into the emerging trend for high-quality brands or high-value items tailored to a pinched pocket by offering fresh takes on the formats they are known for. It’s the gastronomic equivalent of the designer diffusion lines sold through high-street shops – and it seems to have gone down a treat with diners.

Corbin & King, the brains behind The Wolseley, wowed London not only with their audacity – three high-profile restaurant launches in 12 months is no mean feat – but also with their ability to nail the type of dining experiences modern Londoners desire: good-quality food and service offering excellent value for money. The Goodman Group, The Cinnamon Club’s Vivek Singh and the Hart brothers also responded boldly to the changing dining scene and were rewarded with packed dining rooms.

Brasserie Zédel
Corbin & King offer bargain-basement prices for well-made dishes in a glam setting

‘One to try for sure, and still have enough spare change in case you need to cab it home’ WSN

‘Food and service are good, combined with value for money, it makes a great experience’ Umberto S

‘The room is magnificent, huge and when full, generates a great atmosphere… a good place to take anyone’ Robert B

burger and lobster 2012 - 20111214-TB2_8836burgerlobster.jpgBurger & Lobster (pictured, right)
A simple but polished offering that has brought lobster and Champagne to the masses

‘Me and my family all left with a big grin on our face – can't recommend it enough’ Jonathan T, Mayfair branch

‘Super and attentive service…without doubt, some of the best-trained staff in the city’ Erik H, Mayfair branch

‘You would hardly think that a restaurant serving lobster in the heart of Mayfair could even be in the running for best cheap and cheerful restaurant of the year’ Richard E, Mayfair branch

Cinnamon Soho
The most casual and accessible branch of Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon trilogy

‘Food is massively flavoursome and hugely enjoyable for it; lick-the-plate good’ Matt P

‘The service was impeccable with staff being attentive and all chipping in without hovering’ The Discerning Pig

‘It’s smaller and less formal but the food is just as good’ HMJ

Another triumph from Corbin & King, packed with diners from day one

‘The food is good and fits with expectations, particularly if you're in a rush’ Neil M

The Delaunay The_Delaunay_2012_-_The_Delaunay_Restaurant_RESIZED.jpgThe Delaunay (pictured, right)
Yet another Corbin & King offering, this time in the vein of The Wolseley

‘It is such a wonderful room, with an atmosphere to savour, and the most unobtrusive but attentive staff’ Luncheon Vulture

‘Dining at The Delaunay is a bit like going to the theatre. It is something of an event’ NardiniNick

The Garnier brothers replicate the success of Racine and Le Colombier

‘On both visits, the restaurant exceeded my expectations in regard to the quality of the food, the wine and of course the splendid and unobtrusive service’ Mark C A

‘Spot on! Impeccable, simple French cuisine at the right price’ Marwan K

Quo Vadis
The Hart brothers – and chef Jeremy Lee – reboot this Soho stalwart for the modern diner

‘Jeremy Lee's cooking has really moved up a few levels and a great team has put Quo Vadis firmly back on the map’ Chris J

‘Prices are sensible for this part of town, service is good, and it has the right balance between buzz and privacy. It's not hard to see why it is such a hot ticket’ The Diner

South American stunners

The tail-end of 2011 was awash with rumours of a planned South American invasion by food insiders, including Square Meal – and we weren’t wrong. The cuisines of this continent – in particular that of Peru – blend a combination of largely unexplored ingredients with culinary influences borne of centuries of immigration and integration and a dedication to the enjoyment of eating and drinking with friends and family.

In London, these traditions translated equally successfully to high-end dining establishments such as Arjun Waney’s Coya and Virgilio Martinez’s Lima – sibling to Peruvian favourite Astrid & Gastón – as it did to vibrant, cheerful restaurants such as Ceviche, and confident fusion offerings such as Brazilian-Japanese fusion hit Sushisamba. Despite the influx of so many South American newcomers in a short space of time, London has found space – and provided customers – for each of them, disproving some sceptics who predicted at least one of them would be a flop.

ceviche - Ceviche_2012_-_sakaru_Maru.jpgCeviche (pictured, left)
The first Peruvian restaurant to hit town is fun, friendly and full of beans

‘I am half-Peruvian and I have to say that the guys at Ceviche do Peruvian food justice’ Alex C

‘A great addition to the London scene!’ Silvina P

‘Ceviche is a brilliant restaurant bustling with fun and people doing nothing other than really enjoying themselves’ What! More food

Arjun Waney joined the South American melée with this stylish Mayfair offering

‘Coya comes from a good family, including Zuma and Roka, among others. And like them, the food is fantastic. Fantastic’ La Gringa

Another high-class Peruvian hit, this time in Fitzrovia

‘10 out of 10 for presentation: definitely the best-looking food I’ve seen in this category of restaurant’ Matt P

‘The cooking at Lima is stunningly good… I predict very good things for the restaurant’ Terence N

‘Definitely going back’ Gillian G

Shrimpy's - 1_web.jpgShrimpy’s (pictured, right)
This cool, bijou joint from the Bistrothèque team does a good line in South American staples

‘Trendy destination eatery of decent quality’ L.D.

‘Very friendly place – just the right vibe for its location’ Deborah A

‘Very cool setting, great atmosphere, relaxed, excellent service, quality food…our visit was faultless’ Polly R

Incredible views and quality food were once hard to find in London – not any more

‘Let's start with the obvious…the location is absolutely amazing. But the real surprise was that the marriage of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian foods really works’ Continental Diner

‘If you like Zuma or Roka, you'll love this’ Neil M

‘Jaw-droppingly glam and the views are the best in town’ Bill P

This feature was published in January 2013.