Our pick of the season’s best new restaurants for group dining and private events
Words: Russell Cook, Damien Gabet, Tobias Gourlay, Millie Milliken + Heather Steele
Michelin-starred chef Vivek Singh brings style and small plates to Covent Garden
This is the fourth restaurant in the Cinnamon Collection and now, perhaps, our favourite. Inside, a subtle green and light-wood finish runs throughout and extends to a deceptively spacious private dining room upstairs. That’s where we find exec head chef Vivek Singh, who’s in the middle of tending to a lively party. He tells us he wanted the space to be a ‘stylish and fun spot for an event.’ Looking around at the decor and sensing the atmosphere, he seems to have nailed it. Back at our table in the main restaurant downstairs, we order drinks from a menu designed by award-winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana (the Masala Cola Float goes down a treat) and a selection of small plate-dishes that bring together the best of Singh’s take on Indian cuisine. Our pick? The crab and beetroot bonda.
Private dining: 30
28 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7JS | 020 7395 1400
THE IVY CHELSEA GARDEN
The Ivy Collection adds a seriously impressive PDR to its portfolio
The clue’s in the name when it comes to the aesthetic of this eponymous newcomer
. Hanging baskets, rattan chairs and indoor plants dress the main restaurant which extends outdoors year-round. Food is of the style and standard we’ve come to expect from any of The Ivy Collection’s kitchens – think truffle arancini, the signature shepherd’s pie and grilled whole lobster – but it’s the private dining room that really made an impression. Long or round tables – surrounded by boldly patterned chairs – sit under a gold ceiling, while the walls are lined with vintage botanical prints and, of course, plenty of foliage. The private bar is a bonus too – although a venture outside will undoubtedly result in a celebrity spot.
Private dining: 30
195-197 King’s Road, SW3 5EQ | 020 3727 6540
After 30 years gathering accolades in midtown Manhattan, Aquavit brings its refined Nordic style to uptown London
In newly spruced St James’s Market, Aquavit London is more laid-back than its Michelin-bothering big sister across the pond, but the overall effect is still highly polished. Swedish-born Martin Brudnizki has delivered a marble and chrome-inflected mise-en-scene, with Olafur Eliasson, the man whose weather project once lit up the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, contributing some showpiece wall-hangings. Beneath them, diners choose between the delicate (and often raw) small plates of the smorgasbord and some meatier mains (veal cheek, dill and salt-baked onions was our pick). Upstairs, there are two spaces for groups: the commodious Stockholm room comes with a separate lounge area for drinks; the Copenhagen room puts smaller parties around a single, round table. In both, set menus go from £50pp. But the precision-tooled kitchen’s best work is in the smorgasbord – many dishes of which can be replicated as canapés at standing receptions (scallops, kohlrabi and lovage, say, or mackerel tartar, sorrel and lumpfish roe). Be generous, though, because each of them is best accompanied by a hit of the life-enhancing spirit for which the whole place is named.
Private dining: 14, 60
St James’s Market, SW1Y 4QQ | 020 7024 9848
BONNIE GULL SEAFOOD SHACK SOHO
The seafood specialists open a smart second site
The word ‘shack’ doesn’t quite do this new Bateman Street restaurant justice. Its interiors are far from the shabby-chic whitewashed walls we expected: instead imagine a minimalist marble-topped dining counter with eight navy leather stools. There are a few rustic touches – light fittings have been fashioned from creelers and ingredients are stored on high above the hobs. It all comes together to create a cosy, inviting atmosphere, as do the chefs and maître d’, who chat warmly throughout service. While the hospitality alone would encourage us to return, it’s the food that we remember most. Small plates of simple sounding, but extremely well executed fish dishes come thick and fast: most memorably the crab panna cotta with crab bisque, grilled Scottish langoustines with garlic butter and the smoked mackerel pate. While this second site remains no-bookings only, groups of up to 10 can jump the queue by booking out the pretty semi-private dining space at the back of the restaurant.
Semi-private dining: 10
22 Bateman Street, W1D 3AN | 020 7436 0921
This brand-new museum has designs on business lunches
It was lunchtime when we sat down to eat at Sir Terence Conran’s new digs in Kensington, the £83m Design Museum. This is the best time to visit, mainly because there are people still buzzing around its exhibitions, lending their energy to a dining room that does spare with a big S. The aesthetic is sympathetic to the squeaky clean lines of the museum, though, and big windows are always a plus. Named after the building’s hyperbolic paraboloid roof, the restaurant quietly serves plates pretty enough to be on show a floor up. Starting with head chef Graham Blower’s delicate cured salmon is a good idea, and staying fishy with his poached trout is an even better one. Private dining is delivered in the nearby Members Room.
Private dining: 20
Design Museum, W8 6AG | 020 7940 8795
India’s luxury Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts group opens its first outpost outside the subcontinent
Mayfair’s not short of fine-dining Indian restaurants, but we’re glad that this one has been added to the pot. Spread over two floors, Jamavar mixes vivid colours and detailed engravings with dark-wood panels and wicker-backed chairs. We liked the gentleman’s club feel downstairs where semi-exclusive dos are serviced by a private bar. Upstairs the royal blue private dining room is the spot for serious entertaining. Inspired by both the street markets and royal households of India, exec chef Rohit Ghai (formerly of Michelin-starred Gymkhana and Benares) is responsible for what comes out of the kitchen. Dainty small plates are matched with surprising, deftly-spiced curries and biryanis. For us, the lobster nerulli is the jewel in the crown.
Private dining: 8 | Semi-private dining: 32
8 Mount Street, W1K 3NF | 020 7499 1800
BAR + BLOCK
A big new steakhouse brings casual group dining to King’s Cross
Having enjoyed the success of its Brum branch, the Whitbread group has opened the flagship of its Bar + Block steakhouse enterprise on a sprawling site in N1. The beef is British (but reared in the Pampas) and the beer local, with a focus on craft brands for more erudite drinkers. There’s no private dining room, but the marble topped Chef’s Table sits far enough from the hubbub and close enough to the kitchen for lively group get-togethers. We think the sharing dishes would work well for casual dining – don’t miss the chicken wings with raspberry and Tabasco sauce – while steaks are perfectly cooked and come with beef dripping chips and left-field sauces (lobster and prawn is a surprise favourite). Check out the £10pp express menu too – ideal for a quick, working lunch.
Semi-private dining: 16
26-30 York Way, N1 9AA | 020 3889 8888
Salt Yard Group opens its fifth outpost
The team behind Salt Yard and Ember Yard launched this Venetian restaurant in the brand-new St James’ Market development in December 2016. This shiny, expensive-looking part of town might have drawn comparisons to soulless high-end shopping centres, but Veneta is a beacon of aquamarine hues within glass surroundings. The stylish interior, already impressive from the outside, is no less so once you’re seated. A lot of thought has been put into the design – think seashell lamps in the bathrooms and blue-glass panels separating banquettes. This eye for detail trickles into everything: on the night we visit the service is flawless, the cocktails are exceptional and the food presentation is highly stylised: the Cornish crab with spiced mayonnaise from the restaurant’s raw bar is served in a conch. The focus here is on small plates designed for dividing, such as goat ragu, rose shrimps marinated in lardo and grilled octopus. For groups, these can be shared on the 40-seater mezzanine level that overlooks the buzz of the main space. The best way to end an evening? A slice or two of oro rosso and brunet cheese from the restaurant’s impressively stocked trolley.
Semi-private dining: 40
St James’ Market, SW1Y 4RJ | 020 3874 9100
THE KITTY HAWK
This multifaceted City restaurant has plenty of space for events
There’s something about the choice of lighting that gives away a Russell Sage Studios restaurant design: squirrel-cage bulbs, low tungsten glow, some sort of ‘feature’. In the case of Kitty Hawk’s private dining room, the latter is satisfied with thick ropes around a beam of oak. That and the room’s Aubusson blue walls (hot right now) offer a loose nautical theme that we’re assuming nods to its seafood (and steak) menu. The finished product is undeniably attractive, and practical too: AV and a huge hidden flat-screen make it work for work. Two doors separate it from the lower-ground-floor restaurant, which marries the aforementioned space with a plush neo-deco look. There are a variety of options for curtained-off semi-private dining and groups can head up to the clubby ground floor when it’s time for cocktails.
Private dining: 12 | Semi-private dining: 8, 12, 14
11-14 South Place, EC2M 7EB | 020 3319 9199
THE HOLY BIRDS
A poultry specialist touches down in Spitalfields
The Calabrese boys (Hoxton Pony, Wringer & Mangle) have narrowed the focus for their latest opening. The decor is strictly swinging 60s; the menu’s firmly avian. Group options, however, are extensive and – overseen by dad Salvatore – so is the cocktail list. At ground level, large rotisseries dominate an open kitchen. Downstairs, the Mule Bar is a carefully soundproofed live-music destination, off which there are a couple of private rooms. More grown up, and less garish, than the orange main restaurant, these are the standout spaces: the Negroni for private dinners; the Manhattan for drinks receptions.
Private dining: 12, 45
94 Middlesex Street, E1 7EZ | 020 3610 0185
Best of the rest
Across the Thames from Tate Modern, glass-fronted Northbank
(020 7329 9299) offers up-close river views from every corner of its 175-capacity dining room. Just in time for its 10th anniversary, the restaurant reopened in January with a new chef at the helm. John Harrison’s menu still focuses on West Country produce, so expect to sample potted kipper parfait, followed by braised lamb neck and baked chocolate pudding with Cornish clotted cream. In summer, the 100-capacity terrace becomes a sought-after riverside entertaining space.
On the edge of Clerkenwell Green, The Crown Tavern (020 7253 4973) has recently been given a refresh, with two of its spaces now available for private hire. The upstairs Apollo Lounge combines a new bar with period features, and is filled with plenty of natural daylight: up to 45 seated guests can be hosted here. Downstairs, The Clock Room is more intimate, with room for around 28 diners. This is a pub, so expect classics such as fish and chips, chicken pot pie and sausage and mash on the menu, plus an impressive selection of seasonal ales on tap.
The latest in Camm & Hooper’s stable of quirky venues, Six Storeys on Soho
(020 3869 7009) is a private dining/party destination to suit an array of tastes. Each floor has a different theme, though a shabby Victoriana (not dissimilar from Mr Foggs) threads them together. We sat in the second-floor Parlour and received excellent service on a modish (read: dress-down) British menu. Vintage-themed ‘libations’ are a big focus.
This article was first published in Squaremeal Venues + Events, Spring 2017