London's best restaurants
Out on the town
London’s dining scene has reached Olympic proportions. Whether you’re after a great gastropub meal, a good (Aussie) coffee or an extravagant big night out, we bring you the capital’s best and fairest, just in time for the Games.
London’s bells are ringing out. Not only are the elite athletes from some 200 nations ready to give their best at the Olympic Games, but the British capital’s restaurants and bars are also preparing to perform, many arming themselves with extra staff and late licences in anticipation of the influx of visitors come July.
Measure London against any of the great world cities – New York, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris – and it’s up there on the winners’ dais in nearly every cuisine or style of eating out. It offers a genuinely cosmopolitan dining experience, mixed with British ingredients and approaches. Layered on top of this diversity is a fascination with the latest and greatest, so whether it’s “serious” cafés, underground restaurants or speakeasy-style cocktail bars, London has the new new thing in abundance. Recent trends showing resilience include no-booking restaurants, burger joints, Southern-style barbecue pits, upmarket steakhouses, small-plates menus, and craft beers.
And let’s not discount the fact that the Australian dollar now buys more than double what it did a decade ago, meaning big nights out at some of the British capital’s best restaurants are now within reach for more travellers.
If you’re after dinner by Blumenthal, a pre-theatre meal in Covent Garden, or lunch with a distinctively British vibe that you’re just not going to find in Woolloongabba, Brunswick or Surry Hills, then our definitive London dining guide will ensure that you’ll have a gold-medal experience of your own.
BEST BREAKFASTS AND BRUNCHES
Chef-proprietor Yotam Ottolenghi is a champion of innovative vegetarian cooking, partly inspired by his Israeli childhood and the diverse cooking of the Jewish diaspora. But there’s nothing kosher about the food here at his flagship café in Islington, a pick-and-mix of colour and flavour set against a modern, sleek interior. Breakfast dishes include bean stew with chorizo and bacon. His all-day restaurant in Soho, called Nopi, is more upmarket and also worth a detour. Ottolenghi, 287 Upper St, Islington, +44 20 7288 1454; Nopi, 21-22 Warwick St, Soho, +44 20 7494 9584.
If there’s something familiar about the laid-back feel of this Clerkenwell café, with its terrific flat whites and tasty friands, it might be because it’s run by three Kiwis. Cornbread French toast topped with bacon, avocado, rocket and paprika maple syrup, and grilled coconut bread with poached rhubarb and lemon-curd cream cheese are just two of the brunch dishes on offer. The coffee beans are roasted on the premises, and the outside tables on pedestrianised Exmouth Market are a prime spot on sunny days. 11-13 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, +44 20 7833 8115.
Roast has a location that’s the envy of every other London restaurant: it’s perched right above Borough Market, with views over the melee below. This is a linen and folded-napkin sort of place, with impeccable sourcing of all its British produce: black pudding from Ayrshire and Scottish kippers from Orkney. This is the place for a proper fry-up to fortify yourself before hitting the Thursday-Saturday market. The Floral Hall, Borough Market, Stoney St, +44 845 034 7300.
The service can be brusque at busy times, but the breakfasts and brunches at this Aussie-run place in Fitzrovia are worth minor inconveniences such as the wait for a table. The menu changes regularly but staples include the sweetcorn fritters with slow-roast tomatoes, crisp bacon, rocket, crème fraîche and chilli jam. The coffees are excellent, and if you’re in a hurry, there’s a takeaway counter next door selling tarts, salads, sandwiches and cakes. A few months ago they opened a new 65-seat sister restaurant called Salvation Jane in Shoreditch. 13 Charlotte Pl, Fitzrovia, +44 20 7637 3347.
Kiwi chef and cookbook author Peter Gordon also runs Providores and Tapa Room, but Kopapa’s Covent Garden location and relaxed atmosphere make this newer branch the better option. The spiced banana French toast with orange-blossom labne, the ricotta fritters with avocado and roast grape salad, and the Turkish eggs – poached with whipped yoghurt and hot chilli butter – are just some of the exciting breakfast dishes on offer. The coffee is also exemplary. 32-34 Monmouth St, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, +44 20 7240 6076.
Monmouth Coffee Company
There are three branches of Monmouth: the original is the busy, tiny coffee shop in Covent Garden, the second is the bigger, even busier branch on the edge of Borough Market, while the third branch, their production and training site in Bermondsey, is open only on Saturday mornings. The open-fronted Borough café has become part of the ritual of a Borough Market visit, with shoppers cheerfully queuing for excellent single-origin drip-filter coffee. (The house espresso is good too.) 27 Monmouth St, Covent Garden; 2 Park St, Borough; 34 Maltby St, Bermondsey, +44 20 7232 3010.
Tapped and Packed
These twin Fitzrovia coffee bars make good places to experiment with a range of coffees brewed by filter, siphon or Aeropress. The staff take their coffee-making seriously, and the espresso is from a La Marzocco machine. There’s a limited range of nibbles, but it’s the brews that are the main attraction. 26 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia; 114 Tottenham Court Rd, Fitzrovia, +44 20 7580 2163.
Princi, a branch of a Milanese café and bakery, is Italian to the core, from the sleek polished sandstone and marble space to the extensive selection of hot snacks, pizza and salads. But the best way to take advantage of one of Soho’s most appealing cafés is to order a latte, perch at one of the high stools, and participate in this particularly London form of passeggiata. 135 Wardour St, Soho, +44 20 7478 8888.
This flagship branch of Prufrock is for the hard-core coffee geek who already owns an Aeropress and wants to know the latest thinking on equipment and barista technique. Their classes cover latte art, brewing methods and espresso making. Former world barista champion Gwilym Davies may be there in person, or you may find him at the smaller branch, which is little more than a counter at 140 Shoreditch High Street, Hackney. 23-25 Leather La, Clerkenwell, +44 20 7242 0467.
Redchurch Street in London has more small art galleries and designer stalls than Auckland has pohutukawas, so it was a clever area for Antipodean roasters Allpress Espresso to build their impressive roastery – a really likeable place for shoppers to while away an hour or two. The espresso-based drinks are excellent and the sandwiches and cakes are topnotch too. 58 Redchurch St, Shoreditch, +44 20 7749 1780.
CUTTING-EDGE COCKTAIL BARS
To get past the bouncer at the dodgy-looking Chinatown entrance, this cocktail bar (part of the Experimental Cocktail Group) recommends you email in advance to make a reservation, because this is the most sought-after speakeasy-style bar in the West End. Why? Its creatively crafted cocktails cost just a little more than a tenner each. Note: not all seats are equal; insist on a good one. 13a Gerrard St, Chinatown.
Worship Street Whistling Shop
Just a short stroll from Liverpool Street Station is the Whistling Shop, one of a new wave of bars playing heavily on the history of cocktails; in this case, the Victorian era, and the bar is complete with a Jekyll-and-Hyde-style laboratory at the back. They make their own mad-professor concoctions, and great care goes into the drinks, less into the service. If you’re with a large group, book in advance online. 63 Worship St, Shoreditch, +44 20 7247 0015.
The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge
Supervising the drinks list at this hotel bar is Tony Conigliaro, one of London’s leading cocktail maestros, renowned for his use of tinctures, bitters and herbal remedies. This cocktail lounge has been stuffed with curios, taxidermy, ironmongery and all the intriguing tat you might find in an antique shop. The bar service is smooth, the drinks are impressive, and it’s not as pretentious as it might sound. 49-50 St John’s Sq, Clerkenwell, +44 20 7324 4545.
The City of London, being the financial district, isn’t the most obvious hunting ground for a highly original bar where you can kick back and think creatively, but Hawksmoor Guildhall (one of three Hawksmoors; see also page 162) has a basement bar with a faux-Victorian look, a terrific drinks list, and attentive staff who put you right at ease. 10 Basinghall St, City of London, +44 20 7397 8120.
Milk & Honey
This private members’ club admits ordinary mortals for two-hour visits on the condition they book in advance and leave before 11pm. Not the speakeasy for spontaneity then, but a great place for expertly made drinks from some of the top mixers and shakers in the business. 61 Poland St, Soho, +44 20 7065 6840.
As one of the first places in London to serve natural wines, Terroirs initially gained attention for its 200-plus list of organic and biodynamic wines, but the real strength of this place is the food. The country-style dishes of charcuterie, pork belly and beans, braised rabbit leg, bone marrow and truffle on toast make this one of the best French menus in London. Terroirs is owned by Ed Wilson, Oli Barker and Eric Narioo (director of natural-wine-importing group Les Caves de Pyrene), the same team who run wine bar Soif in Battersea and bistro Brawn in Bethnal Green. 5 William IV St, Charing Cross, +44 20 7036 0660.
Notting Hill is full of bars, but there are precious few where you can get a great glass of wine. Negozio Classica ticks that box with an Italian list, great service, terrific nibbles and some of Portobello Market’s best people- watching. Tuscany and Piedmont dominate the list, though there are forays further afield, even to Slovenia. They also have a newly opened branch at 154 Regents Park Road, Primrose Hill. 283 Westbourne Gr, Notting Hill, +44 20 7034 0005.
Vinoteca in Farringdon offers exactly what you would expect of a fabulous wine bar: a well-chosen, diverse range of beautifully made wines by the glass served by knowledgeable and helpful staff. The food’s decent too, but the wines are the real draw. There’s a newer branch in Marylebone, and a brand spanking new one in Soho. 7 St John St, Farringdon, +44 20 7253 8786.
It used to be that the smallest measure of table wine that could be sold in the UK was 125ml. But recently, thanks to the pioneering work of sommelier Dawn Davies at Selfridges’ Wonder Bar, this legislation has changed, and you can now try 25ml sips dispensed from the Wonder Bar’s wine-preservation system before committing to buying a bottle. Or pop in and enjoy tasting a selection of very smart wines just for the hell of it. Ground floor, Selfridges, 400 Oxford St, Marylebone, +44 20 7318 2476.
The Kensington Wine Rooms
This Notting Hill wine bar (in the borough of Kensington) has adopted a clever wine-preservation system for the 40 excellent drops it sells by the glass. The bar is small and bright, and serves a straightforward tapas-style menu – think foie gras, whitebait, and Sicilian green olives. There’s a sister bar in Fulham. 127-129 Kensington Church St, Notting Hill, +44 20 7727 8142.
The Old Brewery occupies one of the grandiose Georgian buildings of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, and operates as a flagship pub for the Meantime Brewing Company, one of London’s leading brewers. You can sit indoors at the café-restaurant or small bar, but when the sun shines, the large courtyard is the place to be. The pub-grub is good, but it’s the craft ales that deserve special attention. The Pepys Building, The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, +44 20 3327 1280.
The Bull & Last
Although it looks exactly like a pub, you need to book well in advance for tables at this hugely popular gastropub. One part of the appeal is the location, facing Hampstead Heath with its constant stream of strollers; another is the excellence of the sophisticated British cooking, from the ox-cheek pie served with bone marrow, to the house-made charcuterie selection. The takeaway counter serving 12 house-made ice-creams is popular in summer. 168 Highgate Rd, Highgate, +44 20 7267 3641.
The Princess of Shoreditch
There aren’t many gastropubs in the Shoreditch and Hoxton area, but this one’s a princess among a plethora of lager-swilling bars. The ground floor of the ancient premises is a proper pub with proper English ales, plus a good bar-food menu. The first floor is reserved for the dining room, and has restaurant-style service and prices. 76 Paul St, Shoreditch, +44 20 7729 9270.
The Harwood Arms
The Harwood Arms, more neighbourhood restaurant than pub, maintains its cosy, local feel despite being awarded a Michelin star. The British-leaning, seasonal menu is particularly strong on game; one of the signature dishes is venison Scotch eggs. We’ve invariably been wowed by the precision of the cooking, whether it’s pan-fried fish or slow-cooked pork. The only problem is getting a table; it’s advisable to book a fortnight ahead. Walham Gr, Fulham, +44 20 7386 1847.
This Covent Garden pub has been sensitively renovated and the menu entirely revamped. The first-floor dining room requires bookings, but the ground-floor bar takes walk-ins and is the perfect spot to graze the Iberian-accented plates of charcuterie, cheese, and meats fresh from the grill. The bar serves beer, but you’ll do better ordering the Sherries and table wines by the glass. 23 Catherine St, Covent Garden, +44 20 7836 3680.
BIG NIGHTS OUT
Pollen Street Social
Jason Atherton is one of the most lauded chefs in Britain right now. His restaurant, Pollen Street Social, which opened in 2011, has been wowing the critics with its small plates of vibrant tastes and startling presentation: think scallop ceviche, cucumber, radish, yuzu soy dressing and apple, or fallow deer tartare with pickled beetroot and broken egg sauce. The dining room is oddly bland, but the dishes and the warm service easily compensate. To see the chefs in action, order afters – cherry jam with creamed rice crispie, or black olive sorbet – at the dedicated dessert bar. 8/10 Pollen St, Mayfair, +44 20 7290 7600.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
This five-star hotel restaurant, opened just last year by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, has already leapt into ninth place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. As a result you need to book at least a month in advance, and even then it’s a lottery. But if you do manage to nab a table, you’ll be rewarded with an unusual, thought-provoking menu that’s loosely inspired by historical themes but composed using ultra-modern techniques. The “meat fruit” is a signature dish – it looks like a citrus fruit but contains poultry parfait. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge Rd, Knightsbridge, +44 20 7201 3833.
Not all Aussies in the UK come to work in bars. Chef Brett Graham cooked in a succession of top London restaurants before opening his own, which now holds two Michelin stars and sits at number 14 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It’s very smooth, surprisingly French, and quite haute-cuisine in style (think Pyrenean milk-fed lamb, and confit leg of pigeon with foie gras and cherries). It’s expensive, of course, but it’s also a lovely surprise to find a restaurant of such calibre in too-cool-for-school Notting Hill. 127 Ledbury Rd, Notting Hill, +44 20 7792 9090.
Chef Nuno Mendes, one of the new wave of gastronomic experimentalists, isn’t scared to take risks – even opening his high-priced restaurant in the unlikely setting of the old town hall in Bethnal Green, one of the lowest-rent neighbourhoods of East London. Diners who tire of the usual modern European canon will be thrilled by his use of cod tripe, raw mackerel and pine shoots. Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Sq, Bethnal Green, +44 20 7871 0461.
Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie
Oxo Tower has had as many noughts as crosses since it was built as a power station at the end of the 19th century, and it was very nearly demolished in the ’70s and ’80s. But since the opening of the tower’s destination bar, restaurant and brasserie in 1996, it’s been on the up, and is currently performing very well. The bar has been moved to give drinkers a better look at the spectacular views up and down the Thames, and the standards of both the modern European cooking and the service have improved, making the smart restaurant and the buzzier brasserie thrilling places to eat with a tremendous view of the London skyline. Level 8, Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House St, South Bank, +44 20 7803 3888.
BEST OF BRITISH
Hawksmoor Seven Dials
If you thought the British didn’t know how to handle steak, you’d better visit this branch of the Hawksmoor trio for some re-education. Top-quality, dry-aged British steaks are grilled to give a blackened exterior but tender centre. The chips are also faultless, either triple-fried or cooked in beef dripping. The Covent Garden basement dining room is always buzzy; take advantage of the lovely cocktail bar while you’re here too. 11 Langley St, Covent Garden, +44 20 7420 9390.
Notting Hill is often more style than substance, but this British restaurant has a good pedigree: chef Tom Pemberton was head chef at St John Bread and Wine before setting up his own place in 2007. Like St John, the style is pared-down, with plenty of lamb’s kidneys, venison haunch, foraged vegetables and boarding-school puddings. 3 Hereford Rd, Notting Hill, +44 20 7727 1144.
St John now has branches in other areas of London, but it’s this austere Smithfield original, inside a former smokehouse, that remains the crusader. When it opened in 1994 it was the first in London to serve such daringly sparse dishes as grilled ox tongue, or bone marrow with parsley salad – now, of course, dozens do. Other chefs of the British revival school owe much to chef Fergus Henderson’s innovation. 26 St John St, Clerkenwell, +44 20 3301 8069.
Rhodes Twenty Four
Twenty-four, as in the 24th floor of a huge City of London skyscraper, offers very impressive views across London, especially east towards the Stratford Olympics site. Equally impressive is the refined modern British cooking from chef Gary Rhodes’s team. Smart, suity, expensive – it’s the city. Level 24, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad St, City of London, +44 20 7877 7703.
Dean Street Townhouse
It’s a favourite with “meedja” types and other luvvies, but don’t let the brash, attention-seeking Soho clientele put you off. Dean Street Townhouse does many things very well indeed – even British school-dinner classics such as mince and tatties are elevated to fine-dining status here. The bar, needless to say, is always heaving with men wearing expensive watches and women in heels. 69-71 Dean St, Soho, +44 20 7434 1775.
For many years Hakkasan was the most acclaimed Chinese restaurant in London. Innovator Alan Yau no longer owns it, but it has kept its sleek, startling subterranean looks and modern Cantonese kitchen. The à la carte prices are high, but visit at lunchtime, ask for the dim-sum menu, and the selection of yum cha – fried, steamed, baked – should set you back no more than $50 per head, as long as you’re not tempted by the exotic and very expensive teas on the impressive list. There’s also a newer branch in Mayfair. 8 Hanway Pl, Fitzrovia, +44 20 7927 7000.
One of the hottest new restaurants of 2012 is a modest-looking place, distressed and casual. Ollie Dabbous has borrowed heavily from his work experience in San Sebastián and from the new-Nordic kitchen, resulting in a small-plates menu that’s strikingly modern and full of surprises: coddled egg served in a hay nest, roast goose with quince, or barley flour sponge soaked in red tea, for example. The four-course $38 set lunch is great value. 39 Whitfield St, Fitzrovia, +44 20 7323 1544.
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
This is the top restaurant in the Gordon Ramsay Holdings fold, run by chef Clare Smyth. It’s smart, it’s lined with linen, and it has more polish than the Chelsea Pensioners home nearby. The $71 set lunch menu shows the same level of technique as the à la carte dinner, but uses the craft on humbler ingredients: no caviar or Champagne sauces, then, but plenty of dishes that wow. As you might expect with the name of one of the world’s best-known chefs above the door, it’s difficult to get a table, so book ahead. 68 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, +44 20 7352 4441.
The Roux brothers were French chefs who, in the 1970s, led the way in haute cuisine in the UK. Now it’s Michel Roux Jr who holds the Tricolore for this old-school, synchronised-cloche-lifting, utterly delightful fine-dining restaurant. The $82 set lunch includes half a bottle of wine and all the extras (coffee, petits fours) you might want to go with your sumptuous sauces, perfect pâtisserie and dainty desserts. Book well ahead. 43 Upper Brook St, Mayfair, +44 20 7408 0881.
Galvin La Chapelle
Sitting between Liverpool Street Station and Old Spitalfields Market is Galvin La Chapelle, occupying a very grand former parish hall. The modern French menu is smart and good value if you stick to the $88 three-course set lunch option, with dishes such as duck liver parfait, roast rump of lamb, or salmon with braised endive and poached pear. St Botolph’s Hall, 35 Spital Sq, Spitalfields, +44 20 7299 0400.
This opulent Chelsea diner has been one of the leading Indian restaurants in London for two decades, but it shows no signs of complacency – the service is always sunny, the menu imaginative, the quality of the cooking second to none. The regional Indian dishes are particularly outstanding, from Calcutta malai prawn curry to southern vegetarian dishes such as stir-fried asparagus with Jerusalem artichoke. 535 King’s Rd, Chelsea, +44 20 7351 3113.
Southall, near Heathrow Airport, is home to one of the largest Punjabi populations in Europe and a visit is a must for any Indian-food enthusiast. While you’re there, try the Brilliant, where the glam interior and Kenyan-Punjabi cooking live up to the restaurant’s name. Stick to the East African or Punjabi dishes such as the methi chicken, though be warned that the fenugreek fragrance really lingers, especially if you’re about to board a plane. 72-76 Western Rd, Southall, Middlesex, +44 20 8574 1928.
The Red Fort
Liking The Red Fort is a bit like being a Kylie Minogue fan: every few years there’s a new look, a new sound, and – in the case of the Red Fort – a new menu, staff and kitchen. Fortunately, it’s currently on excellent form, dishing up refined Indian dishes to the Soho suits who take their ties off to tuck in. The grills and birianis are particularly good. 77 Dean St, Soho, +44 20 7437 2525.
The Cinnamon Club
Once upon a time, a quarter of the world map was pink and India was British. This former library in Westminster still manages to evoke something of the Raj, with its high ceilings and plummy-voiced Whitehall mandarins conducting meetings over dinner. Vivek Singh is a chef of genuine talent who successfully combines real Indian flavours with appealing, European-style presentation. Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith St, Westminster, +44 20 7222 2555.
Despite the name, this “Pearl Palace” in Covent Garden looks positively vanilla. Don’t let that put you off, because the thrills are all in the cooking. Steer away from the set-menu tourist fodder and instead explore the regional and historically inspired dishes, with the north-west of India and the Punjab particularly well represented in meaty, rich plates with complex, layered spicing. 45 Great Queen St, Covent Garden, +44 20 7240 9329.
Australian chef and Thai cuisine expert David Thompson originally consulted on the menu here, and although he’s no longer involved, his influence still looms large on a menu of thrilling, unusual Thai dishes. This original Soho branch of what is now a small chain often has queues out the door for its low-lit shared tables. 106-110 Wardour St, Soho, +44 20 7255 8686.
It comes as a surprise to many London visitors that the city does Japanese food so well. Koya is a case in point: an udon specialist that compares favourably to many of the best in Tokyo. The noodles are kneaded by foot (in the traditional way) on the premises, and then served hot in hot broth, cold in hot broth, or cold with no broth but a dipping sauce. It’s easy to spot in its prime Soho location: look for the fast-moving queue of diners. 49 Frith St, Soho, +44 20 7434 4463.
London’s Chinatown used to be a monoculture of Cantonese people and restaurants, but in the past few years there’s been a steady influx of mainland Chinese, increasingly reflected in the variety of places to eat. Manchurian Legends faithfully recreates the less-familiar Dongbei (north-east) dishes such as grilled lamb skewers, red-braised pork belly with glass noodles, or wok-fried potato, eggplant and capsicum. 12 Macclesfield St, Chinatown, +44 20 7437 8785.
You have to look hard in the Brick Lane area to find any vestiges of proper cockney London, at least in the Mary Poppins sense. But Poppies fish and chip shop, although a recent construct (it opened in 2011), is faithful to the old traditions in look, feel, and of course the excellent hand-cut chips and fish fresh from Billingsgate Market. Open all day every day, and licensed too. 6-8 Hanbury St, Spitalfields, +44 20 7247 0892.
Dishoom has taken the post-independence Irani cafés of Bombay as inspiration for its look, then modernised the menus to create an Indian fast-food brasserie that’s great fun to visit. The pukka Indian street food dishes are the best: perhaps the keema pau (a Bombay snack of spicy minced lamb in a Portuguese-style bread roll), or the dhaba chicken (a chicken curry with bold spicing). 12 Upper St Martin’s La, Covent Garden, +44 20 7420 9320.
NO RESERVATIONS FOR DINNER
No-reservations restaurants are one of the biggest London dining trends of the past couple of years. Spuntino in Soho wasn’t the first in 2011, but it marked a turning point. Ferociously hip, always packed, and as much a bar as a place to eat, it’s heavily inspired in both menu and look by the fashionable café-bars of New York’s Lower East Side. Visit off-peak if you can. 61 Rupert St, Soho.
Moro is famous for its cookbooks and its groundbreaking Moorish restaurant, but its smaller, less expensive tapas bar next door is still relatively unknown. Dishes take inspiration from the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Iberia – think ajo blanco with sultana grapes, or fried chickpeas, pumpkin and coriander with tahini sauce. Reservations at lunch only. 32 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, +44 20 7278 7007.
If you don’t want to pay $250 per person at Viajante, but you still want a taste of Nuno Mendes’s experimental dishes, then Corner Room – Mendes’s no-bookings bistro next door to his famous restaurant (see page 161) – might be a better choice. The fancy, overworked plates might not be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s no question that dishes such as blueberries with goat’s cheese caramel, brioche and shiso are interesting. Bookings can be made at lunchtime. Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Sq, Bethnal Green.
This is what happens when an acclaimed food truck grows up: you get a sit-down burger joint with queues out the door, loud “rawk” music, and an interior that looks as if it’s been painted by a teenager who’s just had his first beer. Still, people love it for the sloppy, flavour-packed big burgers, the calorific desserts, and the scene. 74 Welbeck St, Marylebone.
Bermondsey, in south-east London, has a bar scene and cool factor that’s more appealing and grown-up than areas such as Shoreditch. The tiny tapas bar José is one of the area’s best, but it’s invariably a scrum to get in. A more civilised option is its nearby offshoot, Pizarro, which has plenty of tables and seats, a brilliant small-plates menu of Spanish-style dishes, and a wait for a table that is usually less than an hour, even mid-evening. Weekday lunchtime bookings are also available. 194 Bermondsey St, Bermondsey, +44 20 7407 7339.
The Lobby Lounge
The Corinthia is London’s newest five-star hotel, redeveloped on a grand scale inside a Victorian building. The Lobby Lounge not only does an excellent afternoon tea, it’s also relatively undiscovered, which makes booking much easier – other venues need to be booked weeks in advance. The special Queen’s Jubilee afternoon tea (until 7 June) features such fitting sweets as the peach Melba, an Earl Grey summer berry trifle, and a “horse-drawn carriage” chocolate confection. The Lobby Lounge at the Corinthia Hotel, Whitehall Pl, Whitehall, +44 20 7321 3150.
The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair is famous among London visitors and it’s easy to see why: it’s a smooth operation that rarely puts a step wrong. A proper, full afternoon tea is served, with sharp-edged sandwiches and scones with clotted cream. The only downsides are the $62 per head price tag, the two-week wait for a table, and the absence of any Londoners in this London landmark. Albemarle St, Mayfair, +44 20 7518 4155.
Tea Smith is a specialist in teas from China, Taiwan and Japan. You can sit at the counter and try before you buy, or if you’re visiting at the weekend, try a paired food and tea tasting with pâtisserie and chocolates provided by William Curley, one of London’s top chocolatiers. 6 Lamb St, Old Spitalfields Market, +44 20 7247 1333.
Fashionista alert: you’d better wear your best threads before stepping out to the Caramel Room at The Berkeley hotel, as this is the choice of fashion editors, stylists and wannabes. Oh, and they give good cake: this month there’s a praline profiterole decorated with a sugar version of the notorious Philip Treacy hat worn by Princess Beatrice at the 2011 royal wedding, and a vanilla biscuit in the form of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation crown, replete with sugar diamonds. You couldn’t make it up. Wilton Pl, Knightsbridge, +44 20 7107 8866.
The Modern Pantry
The afternoon tea at this Clerkenwell restaurant might be the antidote if you’re bored with cucumber sandwiches and sultana scones. Chef Anna Hansen likes to mix things up a bit – maybe green-tea scones with gooseberry and vanilla compote and clotted cream, sandwiches of slow-roasted tomato, marinated feta, pea shoots and eggplant nam prik, and spiced beetroot cake with pomegranate molasses and roast grapes. At $23 per person, it’s about half the price of many five-star-hotel afternoon teas. 47-48 St John’s Sq, Clerkenwell, +44 20 7553 9210.
SEE AND BE-SEEN SPOTS
At the time Sketch was built, its fitout was the most expensive for a restaurant in London, ever. Against the expectations of soothsayers, the complex is still in business, and has not dumbed down – though the hysterical fashionista crowd has moved on. What you now find is less attitude with the door policy, but three very striking restaurants (The Gallery would be our top recommendation) and a couple of bars that are popular with peacocks. This is more of a fun palace than an earnest dining destination, so treat it accordingly, and make sure you visit the pod-like loos. 9 Conduit St, Mayfair, +44 20 7659 4500.
Brixton Village market has become one of the hipster hangouts of choice, particularly on Thursday nights when bands busk in the covered market’s aisles, and dining tables spill out across the passageways. A score of new café-restaurants, of variable quality, have popped up there, and they all share low prices and an inclusive vibe. One of the more established is the Thai café KaoSarn, right at the entrance to the market, which has authentic Thai cooking and a grandstand view of Brixton life if you sit outside on the forecourt. Brixton Village, Coldharbour La, Brixton, +44 20 7095 8922.
The Delaunay, owned by lauded restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, is the newer (2011) sibling of The Wolseley, and much the same in spirit: an all-day brasserie with a real sense of occasion. It attracts many London intellectuals and intelligentsia, particularly from the media and arts, and the menu offers the likes of crumpets and fruit scones for breakfast, or kedgeree or char-grilled calf ’s livers for lunch. It has an advantage over The Wolseley in that you can still get a reservation at relatively short notice. 55 Aldwych, Covent Garden, +44 20 7499 8558.
Until recently, Borough Market offered nowhere nice to sit down for a casual lunch, leaving you to eat on the hoof. That changed when Elliot’s opened in 2011, with its “market-sourced” ethos and colourful, creative dishes. In warm weather the glass frontage folds away, making you feel as if you’re part of the market. It’s been a huge hit with market traders, food buyers, and the many food-lovers who visit Borough Market from Thursday to Saturday. Be sure to book ahead. 12 Stoney St, Borough Market, +44 20 7403 7436.
The French House
You don’t visit The French to eat, though there’s a restaurant upstairs. You come here to drink, and to meet people – the sort of people you thought only existed in Ealing Comedies and Pathé newsreels. The beer (a house lager) is sold in half pints, and being a French bar, it has wines by the glass. It’s populated by bohemians, thespians, dandies, rakes and ne’er-do-wells, and it’s refreshing to find that bars like this still exist in a Soho besieged by chains. 49 Dean St, Soho, +44 20 7437 2799.
WORDS GUY DIMOND PHOTOGRAPHY GETTY IMAGES
This article is from the June 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.