11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JJ
The original Hawksmoor in Spitalfields is a great bar and grill – but this newer branch is a truly sensational one. The entrance is a bit hidden, despite the Covent Garden location, but once inside it’s a real beauty of a basement which looks as if it’s been there a century – in fact, it only opened as a restaurant at the end of 2010. The meat’s better quality, and better cooked, than at many more expensive Mayfair steak restaurants. Hawksmoor’s not cheap, though – you’ll easily part with more than £50 per head, but dining here’s quite an experience, and very ‘now’.
When to go: When your carnal urges will only be satisfied by something big and bloody.
What to have: A small steak – because the large ones would feed a family of bears. Read more
3 Hereford Road, W2 4AB
When it opened in 2007, the trend for bold, British cooking wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. Tom Pemberton, who cut his teeth at St John and St John Bread & Wine, was one chef who helped propel British cuisine into the limelight. The menu continues to change daily (it’s updated online diligently), and common ingredients include plenty of offal (calves’ brains and kidneys, lamb’s sweetbreads) and classic British puddings (vanilla rice pudding, apple crumble). Hereford Road may no longer seem as revolutionary as it did back then, but the food still has the power to wow.
When to go: When you want solid British cooking on the west side of town.
What to have: Hone in on the mains made for sharing – whole lamb shoulder or oxtail, say. Read more
66-70 Brewer Street, W1F 9UP
Given Mark Hix’s kitchen pedigree and status among the fashionable, it was clear his Soho bar and restaurant would be a huge hit when it opened in late 2009. For those of us not on the A-list, Hix is just as welcome and sums up what Soho dining should be all about. It’s permanently buzzing, the design’s cutting edge and the clubby bar downstairs is exceptional and worth a visit on its own merit. Mark Hix’s hand is clear in the boisterously British menu, which pairs prime ingredients with confidence. A special occasion place (although maybe a bit exuberant and loud for a first date).
When to go: For an uproarious and memorable Soho meal with pals.
What to have: The roast chicken with garlic sauce to share is hard to beat. Read more
26 St John Street, EC1M 4AY
As ‘British cuisine’ continues to establish its own identity, it becomes clearer how groundbreaking Fergus Henderson’s Smithfield restaurant really was. It’s far from faddy, and St John’s commitment to well-sourced, simply cooked traditional food has stood the test of time: it’s still one of the most reliably exciting places to eat in London. Forgotten cuts and obscure ingredients grace the twice-daily-changing menu, and while this stripped-down luxe doesn’t come cheap, St John remains a model other restaurants aspire to.
When to go: When entertaining serious food lovers.
What to have: Something you’ve never heard of or wouldn’t normally try. It will be great. Read more
168 Highgate Road, NW5 1QS
Locals are spoiled with this gastropub on their doorstep, though good luck to them on a weekend – the food is certainly worth travelling for, and people do. The attraction is a combination of chummy pub service (dog- and child-friendly), well-kept ales and a menu that keeps on giving. Own-made charcuterie is definitely a draw, while British produce is championed relentlessly – an impressive roster of local suppliers is clearly visible. Adventurous eaters can go for duck hearts sautéed with sherry, crispy pigs’ ears or trotter wontons. The menu is typically meaty, featuring great slabs of local beef and venison cooked with skill.
When to go: When you’re overdue a meat-up with friends.
What to have: The ‘boards’ (charcuterie or fish) are must-have for starters. Read more
Corner of Walham Grove and Farm Lane, SW6 1QP
This is the sort of place that would make one proud to be British. While a wee bit posh with its thick hessian napkins and bread in linen bags (and one Michelin star), its heart is still firmly set in the gastropub tradition. Owners Mike Robinson and Brett Graham (head chef of The Ledbury) have put in a lot of effort, heavily promoting the ethos of using seasonal, local and natural produce. The ‘pub’ part is not forgotten either, with the bar dispensing fashionably good British ales. Chef Stephen Williams, who has been leading the kitchen ever since its inception, will be moving on to pastures new, but we’re confident that the quality will be upheld.
When to go: When you’ve got a visitor who still remains sceptical about the concept of ‘great British food’.
What to have: You’ve got to be game for game. And what could be more English than earl grey baked custard? Read more
Best Indian restaurants
Halkin Arcade, Motcomb Street, SW1X 8JT
Much of the menu at this chic bar and grill is grilled on the tawa (a thick iron plate), sigri (coal grill) or in the more familiar tandoor (hot clay oven) right in front of diners, which adds a great sense of theatre to the sparkling surrounds. The biryanis are light and aromatic; and if you’ve ever wanted to try proper ‘Awadhi’ dishes, from Lucknow at the height of the Moghul empire, this is the place to go.
When to go: When you crave Indian food but are tired of ‘curry’.
What to have: Biryanis, kebabs, or ask for any of the Awadhi dishes. Read more
12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, WC2H 9FB
This modern homage to the historic ‘Irani cafés’ of Bombay was pretty good when it opened, and has got better as the kitchen fine-tuned the dishes. It’s a no-booking, fast turnover place with low prices, so don’t expect to dawdle – but do come here for small dishes such as the pau bhaji, the Bombay street snack that combines a toasted Portuguese-style bread roll (pão) with a filling of spiced vegetable stew (bhaji). The biryanis, not a high point when Dishoom opened, have been hugely improved and are now as good as the Mumbai versions.
When to go: When you need a spontaneous feed near Leicester Square.
What to have: Pau bhaji, keema pau, chicken berry biryani. Read more
45 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AA
Its Covent Garden location and lots of online offers means a regular flow of slightly more adventurous tourists and theatregoers populate the room, but serious Indian food fans shouldn’t turn their noses up. While lacking the glam factor of other top-end Indian restaurants, the room is smart enough and the refined new-wave cooking more than makes up for the bland interiors. Careful spicing and flashes of creativity means the menu is peppered with classic dishes (a ‘pickling spice’ lamb curry) to please conservative diners, as well as more inspired interpretations of well-known recipes. The prices on the à la carte are not too kind, but we’d dare you find a menu more vibrant and wondrous than this in theatreland.
When to go: When the idea of a budget Ruby Murray has lost its sheen.
What to have: Skip the online set menu meal deals, which are cheaper, but they’re also duller; go à la carte. Read more
Victory House, 99 Regent Street, W1B 4RS
We’re often asked what we think is ‘a really good Indian’. Veeraswamy ticks all the boxes, not least because the historical and regional dishes are made with the kind of attention to detail you’d expect at a nawab’s wedding. Spices are ground daily, the Indian chefs are among the best in London. The result is pricy-but-extraordinary Indian food which faithfully captures the sub-continent’s impressive and diverse culinary traditions. The room’s a looker too; this is one for special occasions.
When to go: When chicken tikka masala won’t cut the mustard.
What to have: The Lucknowi dishes are among the best. Read more
Best Oriental restaurants
28 Frith Street, W1D 5LF
Since opening in 2006, Barshu has done much to popularise Sichuan cuisine in London. The strong flavours of slow-cooked dong po pork knuckle in chilli oil is typical of the dishes that give your taste buds an invigorating whack. Spice lovers we may be, but we still recommend avoiding the dishes marked as hot, because here they really mean it. Barshu remains an exceedingly charming venue, its decor modelled on that of an old Beijing teahouse, complete with elaborate wood carvings and tasselled lanterns. Its owners also now run two other restaurants nearby, Ba Shan which champions northern dishes, and the cheap Baozi Inn café.
When to go: If you know your way around a Cantonese menu, and want something with more kick.
What to have: Classic Sichuan dishes such as fish-fragrant aubergines or dong po pork. Read more
22 Store Street, WC1E 7DS
Alan Yau founded this Thai fast food restaurant in 1998, yet it’s kept up with the times remarkably. In 2008 Yau sold it to an investor, which has resulted in new branches popping up in prime sites such as Hoxton, Leicester Square and next to Selfridges, yet we’re pleased to report that standards have not dropped at the two original branches (Bloomsbury and Soho). What has ensured Busaba’s longevity are the more unusual dishes which you won’t find on the usual roll-call of the Thai top 50.
When to go: With a friend or two for for an off-peak lunch/dinner.
What to have: It’s hard to wrong here, but we especially rate the betel-leaf wraps, the som tam and both versions of the pad thai. Read more
34 Durham Road, SW20 0TW
This original branch of Cah Chi in Raynes Park has long been one of our favourite Korean restaurants. You won’t find watered-down Korean food – all the dishes we’ve tried here have been confidently rendered with no compromise on flavour. Crisp pa jeon (a sort of pancake) filled with fresh seafood and spring onions, or strips of raw beef sizzling in a stone bowl (dolsot) with rice, pickles and vegetables, being just two of many great examples. There are plenty of more esoteric dishes for the adventurous, such as pigs’ ears casseroles, pig’s liver dishes and blood pudding.
When to go: For Korean food without the clichéd barbecue-side theatrics.
What to have: Fill up on the panchan (small side dishes) and move swiftly on to the grilled marinated meats. Read more
22 Harcourt Street, W1H 4HH
This tiny Japanese restaurant, set in a beautiful Georgian townhouse, is a place we recommend for a treat. The contemporary take on Japanese cuisine means small plates are rechristened as ‘Japanese hot tapas’ and nigiri are topped with salsas, truffle and jelly cubes of ponzu (a citrus-tinged soy sauce) – to delicious effect. Dishes are immaculately styled, yet presentation is always trumped by flavour; slivers of lightly seared rosy duck breast served with a shiso salsa and ponzu sauce looks as divine as it tastes. It’s no surprise, then, that a meal here doesn’t come cheap.
When to go: With some fashionable friends in tow – these plates were meant for grazing.
What to have: Tickle your tastebuds with the delightful ‘tar tar’ chips – like mini tacos filled with crabmeat or scallop, salmon and tuna tartare. Read more
49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG
The Japanese ethos of devoting a restaurant to one dish or ingredient is admirable, yet rarely seen in this city. The fact that Soho would become home to a highly authentic udon-ya (a place specialising in udon – a thick, springy wheat noodle) was perhaps unthinkable even a year ago. The noodles are freshly made daily, utilising a traditional foot-kneading method to achieve that desirable chewy texture, and the broths are deeply flavoured with three types of dried fish. Udon dominates the menu, but the small plates (such as slow-cooked pork belly, or lotus root salad) are excellent as side orders, too. Chilled tap water is free, the staff are sweet and while seating might be cramped and the queues inevitable, a bowl of these noodles is always worth the wait.
When to go: All year round – opt for cold noodles in a chilled dipping sauce in hot weather, or a bowl of piping hot udon in broth when you’re chilled to the bone. Always go off-peak.
What to have: All variations are excellent, but none are complete without that silky smooth slow-cooked egg (onsen tamago) to go on top. Read more
12 Macclesfield Street, W1D 5BP
Sichuan is so over. With regional Chinese cuisines in Chinatown sprouting like bamboo in a rainstorm, there’s no need to limit yourself to just Cantonese or Sichuan dishes any more. For culinary adventurers with chopsticks at the ready, Dongbei food is a blast of fresh air from north-eastern China, a surprise even if you think you know Chinese food. When to go: This is the ideal place for the coming cooler month, with a menu of warming spiced dishes.
What to have: The meaty skewers are the highlights, particularly the chilli-dusted lamb and cumin-spiced chicken wings. Read more
5 Halkin Street, SW1X 7DJ
Nahm’s fronted by the world’s most acclaimed Thai chef, Australian David Thompson – although he spends most of his time in Bangkok. Despite this, standards remain high even in his absence. The Thai dishes are imaginative and unusual ingredients abound; shards of banana blossom, logans and grilled chilli jam can appear in unexpected places. Despite this, the balance of flavours – salt, sweet, bitter, chilli heat – is always correct, in the Thai way. Don’t expect a tropical interior though, because – like a Lib-Dem frontbencher – the room is smart, but a bit dull.
When to go: Lunch is great value.
What to have: Go vegetarian. Read more
134 Kingsland Road, E2 8DY
The over-enthusiastically long menu at this Kingsland Road stalwart might not suggest anything special is going on in the kitchen, but the nightly queues out the door dispel all doubts. While neighbouring restaurants have chased the trendy Shoreditch pound by tarting up their interiors, Song Que remains resolutely perfunctory in design (although the toilets have been seriously spruced up – not before time). The draw is the low prices and the fairly high standards of the food. Almost all dishes on offer are good, but the perfectly balanced broth in the pho is a work of art.
When to go: When you need a cheap, large, appetising meal in Shoreditch.
What to have: It’s got to be the pho. Read more
1a Argyll Rd, W8 7DB
London may not be lacking high-end sushi restaurants, but Yashin’s offerings manage to bridge a gap between quality and creativity. Like some sushi bars in Japan, soy sauce and wasabi are not offered at the table for diners to use as they please; instead, the itamae (sushi chef) crafts and seasons each piece differently, to bring out certain qualities of every (shell)fish. Here, a fatty piece of salmon nigiri may be lightly blowtorched to bring out its flavoursome oils, which is then cut through with cubes of tangy, citruous ponzu jelly. Or a sweet milky scallop may benefit from the gentle heat of a jalapeño salsa. The combinations are exciting (tuna and gorgonzola, anyone?), but never reckless. This is the place to truly experience omakase – that is, to leave everything in the chef’s (very capable) hands.
When to go: When you can’t take another day of fridge-cold supermarket sushi.
What to have: Sushi, naturally, but don’t miss its brilliant own-made silken tofu. Read more
Best French restaurants
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA
It pains us to rate a US import so highly – Bar Boulud’s a branch of the original in New York. But the fact is, this is a seamless dining experience, with faultless service and exquisite French food in a smart Knightsbridge hotel – and all at prices which seem like a bargain for this standard of restaurant. Charcuterie takes centre stage, with an array of terrines, pâtés, hams and sausages. Mains run from classic croque monsieur to coq au vin and steak frites. To finish, there are cheeses divided by type (‘stinky’, ‘old and hard’) and classic puddings. So how does Bar Boulud make any money? The wine list is the answer – go easy on the delightful, but pricey wine list if you want to keep the bill below three figures for two.
When to go: When you want to show someone you really love them.
What to have: The charcuterie is a must; the set-price meals a steal. Read more
St John’s Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ
Chef Bruno Loubet has a short menu of Modern European dishes that reads like a dream. Beetroot ravioli, fried breadcrumbs and sage with rocket salad could be followed by a course of braised beef with mango and herb salad. This restaurant initially seems to lack the ‘wow’ factor of some of our other top-rated restaurants, but once you’ve tried the dishes, then you’ll understand why we rate it as one of the capital’s best – and most enjoyable – meals out.
When to go: For an understated meal out with exceptionally well-rendered dishes.
What to have: Whatever Bruno suggests – he’s a celebrity chef who’s always there, visible in the open kitchen. Read more
42-44 William IV Street, WC2N 4DD
The team behind Arbutus and Wild Honey have gone full circle from creating cutting-edge Modern French food to recreating classic French brasserie fare. This belle epoque setting is perfectly recreated, from the polished brass to the clenched-buttock, formal service. The cooking’s classic and very accomplished, and reminds you why the French have their reputation as culinary masters. Simple dishes such as steak bavette are perfectly cooked, and even desserts such as the rum baba are a delight.
When to go: ‘Pre-theatre’, ie between 5-6.30pm, when in the West End.
What to have: The pre-theatre prix fixe, £15.50 for three courses. Read more
Best Italian restaurants
1 Snowden Street, Broadgate West, EC2A 2DQ
Francesco Mazzei’s City Italian has its fair share of rapturous fans. Despite the corporate location and buttoned-up decor (which is saved somewhat by glorious natural lighting by way of floor to ceiling windows), the kitchen’s flawless interpretations of classic Italian cuisine is reason enough to book yourself in. The focus is on dishes from in and around Calabria, Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily, so you’ll find ingredients such as n’duja (a spicy, spreadable salami) and a good range of Sardinian cheeses. The set lunch is a bargain, but the real treats are to be discovered on the à la carte.
When to go: To eat Italy without leaving central London.
What to have: Bookend your meal with the feather-light fritto misto and cloud-like liquorice zabaglione. Read more
12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB
It’s not so much a lone wolf: this Soho trattoria has garnered quite a following. Jacob Kenedy is a skilled hand when it comes to executing the treasured dishes of Italy, and most dishes are offered in small or large sizes – very conducive to sharing. Every dish is annotated with its region of origin (cheekily, house creations are marked as ‘BDL’), pleasing food nerds everywhere. Sit at the bar for the best experience.
When to go: For a pre- or post-theatre meal, with a few close friends who like to share.
What to have: Anything that fascinates you. Read more
184 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ
Years on, food bores will probably be waxing lyrical about how this modest Bermondsey restaurant started a movement for clean, simple modern Italian food at bargain prices – River Café lite. It wouldn’t be implausible, after all. Zucca is a brilliant newcomer, its food refreshingly simple yet achingly good, the prices decent and the design neat and unfussy. It’s a return to letting ingredients speak for themselves, in a time where fussy food seemed to have reached their zenith.
When to go: Date night. After all, great Italian food and wine, chilled out service and wallet friendly prices – that’s amore.
What to have: Everyone will tell you to have the eponymous zucca (pumpkin) fritters, but we have eyes only for the juicy, rosy grilled veal chop. Read more
Best restaurants serving vegetarian meals
65 Wigmore Street, W1U 1PZ
Despite having all the signs of ‘concept’ awaiting roll-out, this original branch of the Lebanese café continues to impress us with its fresh mezze, interesting soft drinks selection, snappy service, good looks and BYO policy. The place is open all day, so you can pick up a wrap (falafel, say) for lunch, pop by for mint tea and a rosewater macaron in the afternoon, or linger over an informal dinner with organic couscous or rice. Although not a vegetarian restaurant, the Lebanese Christan tradition ensures plenty of appealing vegetarian dishes.
When to go: When shopped out at Selfridges or St Christopher’s Place.
What to have: Mezze, breads, any of the sweets, mint tea. Read more
287 Upper Street, N1 2TZ
Yotam Ottolenghi’s flagship café is still a stand-out for showcasing dishes of explosive flavours and vibrant colours. Although not a vegetarian café, it does vegetarian food very well, as you might expect from the man who writes ‘The New Vegetarian’ column in The Guardian. Expect plenty of bold ingredients with an Israeli slant – pomegranates, lemon, pistachio – used to great, and often surprising, effect. Ottolenghi-watchers are also following Nopi, the restaurant from the same people, in Warwick Street in Soho; a grander, all-day brasserie mixing Mediterranean and Asian flavours.
When to go: Whenever you want a special treat in Islington.
What to have: Anything that catches your eye from the colourful array. Read more
5 Charlotte Street, W1T 1RE
The Rasa chain had humble beginnings as a South Indian vegetarian restaurant in Stoke Newington, but has grown to 11 branches, with this as the West End flagship. Unusually, this Rasa in not 100 per cent vegetarian, but also serves seafood dishes from the southern coastal state of Kerala. The vegetarian feast is alluring, with nutty stir-fried thorans (shredded cabbage is recommended) providing textural counterpoints to the curries. But the seafood feast is the best and simplest way of sampling the non-veg range. Begin a meal with Rasa’s crispy snacks, served with mouthwatering own-made chutneys, before starters such as meen porichathu (fried, marinated kingfish).
When to go: If you like Indian food, but don’t eat red meat.
What to have: Any of the veggie dishes; or if you eat seafood, the prawn dishes are special. Read more
12 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR
There’s a new branch of this Thai bistro in Soho now, but we still think this Spitalfields original is the best. The funky red decor is matched by an almost homely atmosphere, although some sophistication goes into food presentation. Although not a vegetarian restaurant, we’ve found the vegetarian dishes consistently good. Prices are decent given the quality of the cooking.
When to go: It’s one of the best places to eat around Brick Lane.
What to have: A classic curry (try the red pumpkin one) or veer off-piste. Read more
157 King Street, W6 9JT
This modest Indian vegetarian restaurant in Hammersmith has low prices and good cooking. It showcases the dishes of the southern state of Karnataka, and the coastal, temple town of Udipi in particular. It cleverly recreates the layered, delicate flavours of the area from the excellent, crisp dosais which are ideal for dipping into soupy sambar (made from lentils sharpened with perky tamarind and softened aubergine). Be warned that the newer branches are not as good as this original.
When to go: After visiting The Lyric.
What to have: The thali set meals, or the dosais are all reliably good. Read more
Best Modern European Restaurants
63-64 Frith Street, W1D 3JW
The phrase ‘making a silk purse from a sow’s ear’ sums up the cooking style at Arbutus. Since opening in 2006, chef and co-owner Anthony Demetre (who has since opened Les Deux Salons) has kept the kitchen consistent, in line with his ethos of taking unloved, thrifty ingredients (such as pig’s head, tripe and trotter) and transforming it into fine dining delights. Not that it’s all odds-and-ends served here; rather, the overarching theme is taking fantastic British ingredients and executing with Modern European flair. The à la carte will have you reaching for the credit card, but the set lunches offer great value – ditto the well-priced wines, available in 250ml carafes.
When to go: For a posh mid-week lunch and cheeky carafe of wine.
What to have: A meal is not complete without Arbutus’s divine île flottante (floating island) with cloud-like meringue and silky custard. Read more
5-7 Blandford Street, W1U 3DB
This Pied à Terre offshoot positively purrs with the pleasure and efficiency of a restaurant at the top of its game. Marcus Eaves’s Modern European cooking is accomplished and precise, with imaginative yet well-considered flavours. They look good too: try translucent poached egg sat upon a vibrant green bed of crushed peas and broad beans. The surroundings are like a French take on an Oriental theme, with screens and dark wood; all that’s missing is Kato springing out of a cupboard.
When to go: With friends who admire both style and substance.
What to have: The lunch and pre-theatre menus (6-7pm) are particularly good value at £20.95 for three courses. Read more
1A Launceston Place, W8 5RL
Chef Tristan Welch’s unpretentious attitude in the kitchen is a refreshing contrast to the smoothed-down elegance of his Kensington restaurant. Despite the fripperies, polished staff, glasses and cutlery, a meal here leaves you with a sense of fun and satisfaction. Welch’s speciality is using the best of British produce in a way that results in refined dishes that are as astounding for their simplicity as their complexity of flavour. The menu keeps pace with the seasons and many ingredients are sourced locally, so diners can expect to enjoy British delights such as brown shrimps, West Coast scallops and Herdwick lamb.
When to go: The set lunch, at £22 for three courses, is astounding value and features all the usual fancy tidbits in between courses.
What to have: Apple tart and clotted cream ice-cream makes a regular appearance on the dessert menu. Serves two, but is delicious enough for one… Read more
Best Spanish restaurants
33 Charlotte Street, entrance on Rathbone Street, W1T 1RR
Sam and Eddie Hart have pioneered a wave of top-class Spanish eateries in Fitzrovia, first with Fino, then with Barrafina. Over the last year or two we’ve noticed Fino edging ahead of the more casual Barrafina for service and food – the menu’s far more extensive at Fino, and the prices appreciably higher too.Main courses change twice daily, although you’ll find that signature dishes such as pork belly are a fixture. Fino offers a modern take on classic Spanish flavours – morcilla iberica with quail eggs, seared tuna on a piquillo pepper salad. Fino’s the smartest option of the Hart brothers empire, in every sense (they also own Quo Vadis,which is not Spanish).
When to go: For a smart night out; book well ahead.
What to have: A glass of sherry or two, some jamón, the day’s specials. Read more
78 Northcote Road, SW11 6QL
This Battersea tapas bar also has a branch in Fulham, but the original remains the better. Okay, so it can be cramped and service rushed, but this isn’t your average tapas bar: there’s a strong Catalan influence on the remarkably contemporary creations. Favourite dishes include little gem with herbs and own-made tuna pickle; chorizo lollipops with quince aïoli; spinach and goat’s cheese rice (rice dishes tend to be excellent); and the signature white chocolate soup with thyme toffee and mango ice cream. Touches of nueva cucina are apparent, especially in the immaculate presentation of dishes, echoed in the clean, modernist decor.
When to go: On a warm, sunny weekend when market-browsing.
What to have: Any of the tapas that sound inventive. Read more
Best restaurants to impress with
25-27 Heddon Street, W1B 4BH
North African food in a very atmospheric setting, immediately evocative of fantasy casbahs. The sour-sweet flavours of the meat and fruit tagines are pleasures fit for a king and the grainy couscous is a good foil to the watery sauces. But while the cooking’s good, it’s not why most people come here: the atmosphere, the drop-dead gorgeous staff, and the buzz are just as much of an attraction.
When to go: For escapism and North African romance.
What to have: A couscous dish and some of the aromatic teas. Read more
Patriot Square, E2 9NF
Everything about Nuno Mendes’s restaurant is hip – the name (‘traveller’ in Portuguese), the location (in ‘up-and-coming’ Bethnal Green, the Nordic-meets-Tate Modern decor). But pretentious it isn’t, even when you’re presented with an amuse-bouche titled ‘Thai Explosion II’ and the chefs plate up using tweezers. There’s a sense of fun here, in part due to Mendes’s infectious enthusiasm (he often serves some of the dishes to diners himself) and the food is genuinely creative and accomplished. It’s quite unlike anything else in this city. Prices are, of course, among the highest in east London – pay £100 or so per head for dinner (yes, really).
When to go: When you want your tastebuds to do the travelling.
What to have: No choices here, just pick a number – three, six, nine or 12 courses?
160 Piccadilly, W1J 9EB
It looks like it’s been there forever, and the polished service seems to be from another era too. However, The Wolseley only opened in 2003 and painstakingly recreates the fin-de-siècle brasserie of popular imagination. It’s open for early breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea, and while the food won’t get the pulse racing (it’s largely European classics with some decadent touches – oysters, game, caviar – thrown in), the strikingly opulent interior and film-star treatment won’t fail to impress. Oh, and famous people go there, apparently.
When to go: Breakfast at The Wolseley should be on everyone’s London must-do list.
What to have: Cream tea, for the luxe experience at a friendlier price, although nothing’s extortionate. Read more
Best restaurants offering something different
32-34 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9HA
The team behind Providores and Tapa Room – you might have heard of chef Peter Gordon – have just opened this upscale café/wine bar/bistro with shared tables on Seven Dials in Covent Garden. What makes it special are the extraordinary dishes – you’ll not find this sort of thing in Chelmsford. For example, inari pockets – Japanese fried tofu envelopes – are filled with spicy, clove-flavoured dahl, then deep-fried in tempura batter, and served with deep-fried plantain. Blimey.
When to go: When your palate’s jaded by every other cuisine.
What to have: Order a few dishes to share, because they tend to be small. Read more
32 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL
This offshoot of the equally excellent Moro (which is next door) is a no-bookings tapas bar with attitude. Sam(uel) and Sam(antha) Clark’s Moro restaurant has been one of London’s must-visit restaurants for more than a decade now, and Morito follows suit – but is cheaper. The ever-changing, always challenging menu isn’t afraid to incorporate flavours from all around the Mediterranean – (Mr) Sam has been edging towards Turkey and Syria and away from the ‘Moorish’ food that made their name. An exciting place to eat, drink and be very merry indeed.
When to go: On a quiet night early in the week.
What to have: The Turkish-style dishes are the ones currently tickling Mr Sam’s fancy, so let them tickle yours. Read more
10 Arcola Street, E8 2DJ
Stoke Newington is Turkish territory and a fine place to eat, but kebab connoisseurs know to head down a quiet side street to this longstanding ocakbasi favourite. The in-out service and occasionally raucous atmosphere doesn’t make it a place for relaxed dining, but as an informal dinner stop-off it’s perfect and still brilliantly cheap. Choose one of the juicy skewered meats on display, enjoy the anticipation as the dextrous grillsmith chars it to perfection, then tuck into one of the best meaty meals in the city.
When to go: Only when seriously hungry. Far more than just a ‘kebab shop’.
What to have: Lamb shish. Read more
47-48 St John’s Square, EC1V 4JJ
Chef Anna Hansen used to work with Peter Gordon at Providores, and stylistically, her eclectic cooking reflects this shared heritage. A signature dish of sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette with spring onion, coriander and smoked chilli sambal is a winner, and we love the ambition and invention in the likes of Vietnamese-style braised pigs’ cheeks with pickles, Thai basil and deep-fried chilli; or tonka bean shortbread with lemon custard, gooseberry compote and prosecco jelly. Modern Pantry’s particularly appealing in the summer, when you can sit outdoors in a quiet square.
When to go: It’s the best place in London for alfresco dining.
What to have: Breakfast and brunch are just as appealing as the dinner menu. Read more