Insight Guides: Pocket London - APA (2016)

EATING OUT

Although London’s restaurants are expensive by many people’s standards, reflecting the high cost of living here, eating out in the British capital has never been so good. The city has around 12,000 restaurants, covering every cuisine imaginable. At the top end of the range there are some world-class restaurants, charging commensurately high prices, some with multiple Michelin stars; at the lower end, there are places that offer very good value without compromising on the food. On the whole, London is also an excellent place to eat out as a vegetarian, with its varied restaurants offering a much better choice of non-meat foods than most European cities.

The main concentration of restaurants is in the West End, with the biggest variety in Soho; many restaurants in Covent Garden offer good-value, pre-show suppers, due to the concentration of theatres in that area. Upmarket Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill are home to numerous designer restaurants, while the City has many oyster bars and big-budget restaurants, aimed at the business luncher, and East London offers a combination of hip eateries across all budgets, some serious foodie places and a concentration of ethnic restaurants.

The rebirth of British cuisine

Not so long ago, British food had a very bad reputation. Lack of imagination, lack of taste and overcooked vegetables were often cited, and the cuisine was internationally derided, with the French President Jacques Chirac famously saying ‘you can’t trust people who cook as badly as that’. But how things have changed – the last few decades have seen a remarkable transformation in London’s restaurant scene and a resurgence of interest in Britain’s indigenous cuisine. There is also an emphasis on high-quality locally sourced, organic ingredients, so one can now feast on Cromer crab, Cornish sprats, Gressingham duck, juicy Herdwick lamb or Galloway beef, served with seasonal organic vegetables.

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A Shoreditch café table

Lydia Evans/Apa Publications

The rebirth of British cuisine is due to a large degree to a new generation of chefs, many of whom have achieved celebrity status, featuring on television and in the weekend sections of newspapers. The outspoken chef Gordon Ramsay was one of the first of several London-based restaurateurs who raised expectations of what should be on offer, garnering Michelin stars along the way. Fortunately for those who wish to avoid forward planning (high-end destination restaurants often need reserving well in advance) and excessive bills, this culinary zeal has also filtered down to more modest restaurants and even the local pub. A major component of the city’s social history, London has around 7,000 public houses. Several of these date from as long ago as the 17th century, and many retain the atmosphere of that era, with cosy decor and traditional oak-panelled walls. Encouraged by the 2007 smoking ban, many pubs concentrated on food as much as drinks, serving updated versions of traditional ‘pub grub’, such as bangers and mash, a Ploughman’s lunch, steak and kidney pie and the traditional Sunday roast. ‘Gastropubs’ – light, airy, fashionably furnished bars that serve a more adventurous range of dishes – are now peppered across almost all areas of the capital.

Traditional British food

The somewhat nostalgic return to ‘old-fashioned’ food means that excellent versions of the following traditional British dishes are easier than ever to find.

Full English breakfast. This hearty meal consists of fried eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, black pudding and perhaps toast, all on one plate, served with a cup of tea or coffee. At traditional establishments kippers and porridge may also be on the menu.

Afternoon tea. This highly traditional and genteel event takes place in some of the grander hotels at around 3.30pm and consists of thinly cut sandwiches (often cucumber), scones with clotted cream and jam, a variety of cakes and a pot of tea. The brew varies from classic Indian teas such as Assam and Darjeeling to the more flowery Earl Grey. Venues include the Waldorf Hilton (Aldwych; tel: 020-7759 4091), the Ritz (for more information, click here), and the Dorchester (Park Lane; tel: 020-7629 8888).

Roast beef. The Sunday roast remains one of Britain’s favourite dishes. At its best, succulent pink topside of beef is served together with Yorkshire pudding and a selection roast vegetables, accompanied by gravy and horseradish sauce or mustard.

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Fish and chips

Lydia Evans/Apa Publications

Fish and chips. It can be surprisingly hard to find this nutritious British dish, traditionally served with mushy peas, cooked freshly to order, but the real thing can be found at Rock & Sole Plaice (47 Endell Street, Covent Garden), Sea Shell (49–51 Lisson Grove, Marylebone) and Geales (2 Farmer Street, Notting Hill).

Pie and mash. For a taste of the old East End look for a Pie and Mash Shop, where you’ll get minced beef pie and mashed potatoes with a unique green sauce called liquor, made from parsley. Eels may also be on the menu. Most are in the East End – an authentic one is Manze’s at 87 Tower Bridge Road.

Puddings. Although not great for slimmers, traditional English desserts – ‘puddings’ – have a certain charm. Most are filling affairs, such as rib-sticking, steamed jam roly-poly or treacle (molasses) pudding. Slightly lighter are fruit pies and crumbles, with a top crust of crumbly pastry. Puddings are traditionally smothered in custard, a sweet, hot, vanilla-flavoured milky sauce.

International cuisine

Many fans of eating out in London say that what they enjoy most is the incredible variety of cuisines on offer in the capital. London’s status as an international city attracts fine cooks from every part of the world to work here. Over 50 major country styles are represented, from Afghan to Italian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese. The top end is still dominated by French cuisine, though ethnic food is no longer just a cheap option – London has some of the finest Indian, Japanese and Chinese restaurants in the world.

What to drink

Traditionally, beer was to Britain what wine was to France. It comes in various forms, from lager (now the most popular form in Britain) to ale (brewed using only top-fermenting yeasts; sweeter and fuller bodied) to stout (creamy, almost coffee-like beer made from roasted malts or roast barley), of which the most famous brand is probably Guinness.

Pubs generally serve beer either ‘draught’ or from the cask. In the case of the former, a keg is pressurised with carbon-dioxide gas, which drives the beer to the dispensing tap. For the latter, beer is pulled from the cask via a beer line with a hand pump at the bar. This method is generally used for what is often termed ‘real ale’: unfiltered and unpasteurised beer, which, unlike industrially produced lagers, requires careful storage at the correct temperature.

The popularity of wine in Britain has increased dramatically in the last 25 years, and every pub or restaurant will have a wide selection available. English wines, especially whites, are becoming more popular, and can be found in specialist shops and farmers’ markets, though you rarely see them on restaurant menus. Kent-produced Chapel Down is worth looking out for.

A longer-established English tipple is cider, produced in the Southwest since before the Romans arrived. Made from the fermented juice of apples, it is also known as ‘scrumpy’ (windfalls are ‘scrumps’). The pear equivalent is called ‘perry’. Fruit-flavoured cider is fashionable in some gastropubs.

Another speciality is whisky, produced in Scotland and Ireland. This is available as ‘single malt’ (malt whisky from a single distillery), as well as ‘blended’. Most pubs in central London will offer a small selection of both, though aficionados may consider joining the Whisky Society, which has its members’ rooms above the Bleeding Heart Restaurant in Hatton Garden, Clerkenwell (Bleeding Heart Yard; www.smws.co.uk).

Eating and drinking hours

In general, breakfast is served 7–noon, lunch from noon–3pm, afternoon tea 3–5pm, and dinner 6–11pm. In practice, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, if you know where to look – Soho and Covent Garden have the most options for round-the-clock dining. Although pubs can now apply for 24-hour licenses, most are only open Mon–Sat 11am–11pm (though many stay open a couple of hours later on Fri and Sat) and Sun noon–10.30pm. Many restaurants close on Sunday evenings, so it’s often sensible to check by phoning or looking on their website beforehand.

RESTAURANTS

We have used the following symbols to give an idea of the price for a three-course meal for one, including wine and service:

££££ £55 and over ££ £25–35

£££ £35–55 £ below £25

WESTMINSTER

Gordon’s Wine Bar ££ 47 Villiers Street, WC2, tel: 020-7930 1408, www.gordonswinebar.com. Located just north of Embankment tube is this favourite London watering hole, where drinkers sit under the arches on chilly nights (though keep an eye on your bag) and out on the terrace in summer. Sherry and port are specialities here.

The Portrait ££ National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, WC2, tel: 020-7312 2490, www.npg.org.uk/portraitrestaurantWhen it comes to location, few can beat the National Portrait Gallery’s top-floor restaurant with its wonderful views of Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and the London Eye. Above-average gallery food and a good-value pre-theatre menu (5.30–6.30pm), offering three courses and a cocktail for £25.50).

Rex Whistler Restaurant £££ Tate Britain, Millbank, SW1, tel: 020-7887 8825, www.tate.org.uk. Beautifully decorated with Rex Whistler’s mural, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, this fine restaurant (reopened in 2013 after complete refurbishment) in the basement of Tate Britain serves modern British food and has an excellent wine list.

SOHO AND CHINATOWN

Andrew Edmunds £££ 46 Lexington Street, W1, tel: 020-7437 5708, www.andrewedmunds.com. A lack of signage out front gives a secretive feel to this cosy Soho hideaway. Inside, the wood-panelled walls are lit by candlelight. Dishes are simple but varied, ranging from rabbit to pasta.

Bar Italia £ 22 Frith Street, W1, tel: 020-7437 4520, www.baritaliasoho.co.uk. Retaining its genuine 1950s feel, this is London’s most famous Italian bar. No hype, just excellent coffee and an arty, predominately gay crowd. Stays open 24 hours and has a late drinks licence.

Bar du Marché £ 19 Berwick Street, W1, tel: 020-7734 4606. Tucked behind Berwick Street Market, this is a surprisingly unpretentious Soho hangout. Serves a mix of French brasserie-style food, salads and a decent selection of seafood.

Bocca di Lupo £££ 12 Archer Street, W1, tel: 020-7734 2223, www.boccadilupo.comBuzzy Italian restaurant serving a range of regional dishes such as courgette flower risotto and Florentine steaks.

Barrafina ££ 54 Frith Street, W1, tel: 020-7813 8016, www.barrafina.co.uk. Delicious Spanish tapas served as you sit at the counter in stylish surroundings. All dishes are for sharing, and the produce is of the highest quality. Extensive list of Spanish wines; no reservations.

Dean Street Townhouse ££££ 69–71 Dean Street, W1, tel: 020-7434 1775, www.deanstreettownhouse.com. The restaurant of this stylish Soho hotel manages to combine the style of a French brasserie with the delights of simple English food – the fish and chips are particularly good. The ambience is hip, and the service is attentive.

Mildred’s ££ 45 Lexington Street, W1, tel: 020-7494 1634, www.mildreds.co.uk. Imaginative vegetarian cooking served in retro, café-style surroundings. Vegan options are also available.

Randall & Aubin £££ 16 Brewer Street, W1, tel: 020-7287 4447, www.randallandaubin.comNamed after the old delicatessen that inhabited this spot from 1904 to the late 1990s, Randall & Aubin is a buzzy, romantic place doing champagne, seafood and succulent roasts. Piles of lobster, crab and oysters greet you as you enter, the music is frenetic and the tables close to each other. Also does classic French and British dishes.

Spuntino ££ 61 Rupert Street, W1, no tel, www.spuntino.co.uk. With no telephone, no reservations, a pretentiously minimalist website, a barely-there sign above the window and a self-consciously distressed interior, Brooklyn-style diner Spuntino could be accused of being a little too cool for its own good. But the small plates of American comfort food (mini sliders, shoestring fries, truffled egg toast, salt beef and pickle, and mac ‘n’ cheese) are so tasty that you probably won’t want to share them.

COVENT GARDEN

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon ££££ 13–15 West Street, WC2, tel: 020-7010 8600; www.joelrobuchon.co.uk. French food with Spanish influences at this two Michelin-starred restaurant. Foie gras ravioli, free range quail, Scottish scallops, lobster and steak are just some of the offerings. Diners sit at a counter surrounding the kitchen so you can see the chefs at work.

Le Café Des Amis Du Vin ££ 11–14 Hanover Place, WC2, tel: 020-7379 3444. Always crowded, largely due to its location and its reliable French brasserie food with an international flavour. Efficient service. Downstairs is an atmospheric basement bar with good wines and decent French snacks.

Cork & Bottle £ 44–6 Cranbourne Street, WC2, tel: 020-7734 7807, www.thecorkandbottle.co.uk. An excellent retreat from Leicester Square, this casual basement wine bar offers decent food and a notable selection of wines.

Food For Thought £ 31 Neal Street, WC2, tel: 020-7836 9072, http://foodforthought-london.co.uk. This pleasant eatery does an imaginative selection of dishes, with a daily changing menu. Tom-yam soup might be followed by gnocchi with gorgonzola and oyster mushrooms. A BYOB (no corkage) policy keeps the cost down. No credit cards.

The Ivy ££££ 1–5 West Street, WC2, tel: 020-7836 4751, www.the-ivy.co.uk. If you succeed in getting a reservation at this, one of London’s most famous haunts (reserve months, rather than days, ahead, although you may have more luck at lunchtime), you’ll enjoy a surprisingly unaffected atmosphere, friendly service, a familiar menu (predominantly English with international favourites), a strong wine list – and some surreptitious star-spotting.

Rules £££ 35 Maiden Lane, WC2, tel: 020-7836 5314, www.rules.co.ukLondon’s oldest restaurant (est. 1798), Rules has a traditional menu and beautifully decorated, old-fashioned dining room with wood panelling and Art Nouveau stained glass. The robust food is very English, with beef from Rules’ own estate in the Pennines plus lamb and a variety of game.

Sarastro £££ 126 Drury Lane, WC2, tel: 020-7836 0101, www.sarastro-restaurant.comThis restaurant makes for unusual dining with its extraordinary lavish decor and live entertainment (puppet shows and opera). The house slogan is ‘the show after the show’. The food is rather more straightforward, although it has a Turkish slant. Value lunch/pre-matinée menus.

MAYFAIR AND ST JAMES’S

L’Autre ££ 5b Shepherd Street, W1, tel: 020-7499 4680. Tucked away in the heart of Shepherd Market (for more information, click here), this quaint half-timbered restaurant offers an odd combination of Polish and Mexican food that works surprisingly well. Romantic atmosphere.

Criterion Grill £££ 224 Piccadilly, W1, tel: 020-7930 0488, www.criterionrestaurant.com. Possibly the most beautiful restaurant in London, with a gorgeous, high-ceilinged hall decorated with neo-Byzantine mosaics, mirrors and drapes. Chef Artan Hasa’s food is modern European/contemporary English.

Fortnum and Mason £££ The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, 4th floor, 181 Piccadilly, W1, tel: 020-7734 8040, www.fortnumandmason.com. The renovated restaurant in this famous food emporium serves excellent roast lunches, as well as its famous afternoon teas.

Le Gavroche ££££ 43 Upper Brook Street, W1, tel: 020-7408 0881, www.le-gavroche.co.uk. Consistently regarded as one of England’s top restaurants, and holder of two Michelin stars. The food is a light, modern take on classic French cuisine.

Maze ££££, £££ set lunch 10–13 Grosvenor Square, W1, tel: 020-7107 0000, www.gordonramsay.com. Slick Gordon Ramsay-owned restaurant. At lunchtime guests in a hurry can enjoy a tasting selection of signature dishes.

Momo £££ 25 Heddon St, W1, tel: 020-7434 4040, www.momoresto.com. Tucked away behind Regent Street, Momo combines opulent decor with tasty Moroccan cuisine. It has a real party feel in the evening when candles are lit, and the music is upbeat. Also does fabulous cocktails.

Veeraswamy ££££ Victory House, 99–101 Regent St, W1, tel: 020-7734 1401, www.veeraswamy.com. London’s oldest Indian restaurant is brought up-to-date with an adventurous menu combining North and South Indian cooking.

The Wolseley ££££ 160 Piccadilly, W1, tel: 020-7499 6996; www.thewolseley.com. Always busy, always glamorous, The Wolseley is the place to come for breakfast, afternoon tea and pre-theatre light meals as well as lunch or dinner.

BLOOMSBURY AND MARYLEBONE

The Gilbert Scott, £££ St Pancras Hotel, Euston Road, NW1, tel: 020-7278 3888, www.thegilbertscott.co.uk. An elegant bar and brasserie run by Gordon Ramsey’s protégé Marcus Wareing in a spectacular gothic setting. Named in honour of the original architect, the building is magnificent, and the classic British food more than matches the location. The menu celebrates traditional dishes such as Dorset jugged steak, lemon sole, Cornish hake and Yorkshire fishcakes.

Locanda Locatelli ££££ Churchill Intercontinental, 8 Seymour Street, W1, tel: 7935 9088, www.locandalocatelli.com. Tucked away off Regent Street is this Michelin-starred restaurant, where Giorgio Locatelli conjures up magical Italian dishes.

Orrery ££££ 55 Marylebone High Street, W1, tel: 020-7616 8000, www.orrery-restaurant.co.uk. This beautiful dining room with Art Deco lines above the Marylebone Conran Shop is a mecca for foodies. Stunning, intensely flavoured mains, prize-winning cheese trolley, memorable soufflés and a definitive wine list. Rooftop terrace too.

Oscar Bar and Restaurant £££ Charlotte Street Hotel, 15–17 Charlotte Street, W1, tel: 020-7980 1007, www.firmdalehotels.com. Behind an elegant façade of Georgian townhouses is the Charlotte Street Hotel, whose restaurant takes up the ground floor. It is a busy, vibrant place, with walls brightly painted with scenes of 21st-century London. This is a great place to come for breakfast, but it is also popular for lunch with the media crowd who work round here.

Pied a Terre ££££, £££ set lunch 34 Charlotte Street, W1, tel: 020-7636 1178, www.pied-a-terre.co.uk. Michelin-starred cuisine offering dishes such as roast pigeon with red chard and cherry and thyme sauce. Vegetarian tasting menu too.

Rasa W1 ££ 6 Dering Street, W1, tel: 020-7629 1346, www.rasarestaurants.com. Easily recognisable by its signature bubblegum pink frontage, the flagship branch in the Rasa chain of Indian restaurants produces quality, spicy Keralan seafood and vegetarian dishes. There is another branch (the original) at 55 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16.

Salt Yard ££ 54 Goodge Street, W1, tel: 020-7637 0657, www.saltyard.co.uk. Bar and restaurant serving tapas inspired by the flavours of Spain and Italy, with inventive options such as courgette flowers stuffed with goats’ cheese. Charcuterie and bar snacks available too.

THE SOUTH BANK

Cantina Vinopolis £££ 1 Bank End, SE1, tel: 020-7940 8333, www.cantinavinopolis.com. Not surprisingly, the restaurant in London’s only wine museum has a stunning wine list, with over 150 choices. The food is good, and the soaring cathedral-style arches of pale, polished brick are impressive.

fish! £££ Cathedral Street, SE1, tel: 020-7407 3803, www.fishkitchen.com. Located in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral – much to the annoyance of the clergy there – this all-glass restaurant serves a great range of fresh and simple dishes. Great fish and chips from here and the takeaway kiosk just outside.

Mesón Don Felipe ££ 53 The Cut, SE1, tel: 020-7928 3237, www.mesondonfelipe.com. Londoners in the know flock to this excellent tapas bar. Tables fill up fast, but there’s often room at the bar. A guitarist performs from a raised alcove.

Oblix ££££ Level 32, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1, tel: 020-7268 6700, www.oblixrestaurant.com. There are several upscale restaurants inside The Shard, all in the eye-wateringly expensive category (although dining in the building will save you the tower’s standard £30 entrance fee). This one, the latest venture from German restaurateur Rainer Becker (of Zuma and Roka fame), is on the 32nd floor, so the views are spectacular. The food is New York Grill-style (rather than Becker’s usual high-end Japanese cuisine). For a cheaper alternative, go for an express breakfast (Mon–Fri 7–10.30am, Sat, Sun 9–10am, £9 for juice, coffee or tea and a selection of pastries) or a set lunch (£34 for three courses) at the Aqua Shard (tel: 020-3011 1256; www.aquashard.co.uk), a contemporary British restaurant, on level 31.

Le Pont de la Tour ££££ Butlers Wharf Building, SE1, tel: 020-7403 8403, www.lepontdelatour.co.uk. Butlers Wharf is Terence Conran land, par excellence, and the chic Pont de la Tour restaurant does fine French food such as steamed sea bass in Matelot sauce. The less formal Bar & Grill downstairs has a Thameside terrace and specialises in seafood.

Tapas Brindisa £££ 18–20 Southwark Street, SE1, tel: 020-7357 8880, www.brindisa.com. Connected to one of the most popular stalls in Borough market, this restaurant is usually packed. Authentic tapas and a buzzing ambience. Some outside tables. No reservations taken. Also a branch near South Kensington tube.

Tate Modern Restaurant 7 £££ Level 7, Bankside, SE1, tel: 020-7887 8888, www.tate.org.ukThe modern European food, the views and arty, good-looking crowd make dining on the top floor of London’s trendiest national institution lots of fun. Level 1 Café is good for lunch, too, but lacks the views. For each adult who buys a main lunch course at either eatery, an accompanying child under-12 can eat for free.

The Anchor and Hope ££ 36 The Cut, SE1, tel: 020-7928 9898, www.anchorandhopepub.co.uk. Meat and offal feature strongly on the menu of this popular gastropub. Reasonable prices, hefty portions and friendly staff. The no-booking policy can mean long queues, so arrive before the rush, if you can.

THE CITY AND EAST LONDON

Eagle ££ 159 Farringdon Road, EC1, tel: 020-7837 1353, www.theeaglefarringdon.co.uk. This was the pub that launched a thousand gastropubs with its pioneering menu of inventive dishes. The food has a Mediterranean bias and there is a good choice of European beers.

Hix Oyster and Chop House £££ 36–37 Greenhill Rents, off Cowcross Street, EC1, tel: 020-7017 1930; www.hixoysterandchophouse.co.uk. Chef Mark Hix (formerly of The Ivy, Scott’s and the Rivington Grill) showcases his modern British cooking. Dishes, which vary with the seasons, might include beef and oyster pie, Porterhouse steaks and grilled fish.

Madison Restaurant ££ One New Change, EC4, tel: 020-3693 5160, www.onenewchange.com. The One New Change shopping centre opened in late 2010 in the heart of the City. In addition to upmarket stores, the complex houses a cluster of bars and restaurants, including this one, which is impressively set on the rooftop, with great views of St Paul’s. Open long hours (Mon–Sat 10am–midnight, Sun until 8pm), it’s as good for breakfast as for tapas and cocktails.

Moro £££ 34–6 Exmouth Market, EC1, tel: 020-7833 8336, www.moro.co.uk. Located on the shabby-chic Exmouth Market, this laid-back restaurant serves Moorish cuisine, where lamb is charcoal grilled, tuna is wind-dried, monkfish wood-roasted, and manzanilla sherry partners prawns and garlic. Tapas available all day.

Pizza East ££ 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1, tel: 020-7729 1888, www.pizzaeast.com. Set in a former factory opposite Boxpark Shoreditch (by the Overground station), this large industrial chic restaurant is always packed with the local hip crowd who come here for the excellent market-fresh fare – pizzas, of course, but also meat and cheese deli boards and wood-fired mains including mac ‘n’ cheese and a super-rich pork belly. There is also a deli, where you can shop or just have a coffee.

St John Bread & Wine ££94–96 Commercial Street, E1, tel: 020-7251 0848, www.stjohngroup.uk.com. Located opposite Spitalfield’s Market, this foodie favourite is celebrated for its ‘nose-to-tail’ eating. Fergus Henderson’s kitchen offers simple, bold, often quirky dishes such as Middle White belly and dandelion. For a bargain (good if you’re on a budget but still want great quality), go for breakfast (9–11am), for the Gloucestershire Old Spot bacon butty. The more expensive sister restaurant, St John Bar & Restaurant, is a stone’s throw from Smithfield’s meat market (26 St John Street, EC1, same tel. as above).

Smiths of Smithfield £££ 67–77 Charterhouse Street, EC1, tel: 020-7251 7950, www.smithsofsmithfield.co.uk. Brunch on a Saturday or Sunday is really good fun in John Torode’s post-industrial complex. Upstairs, a more refined experience is on offer in the restaurant along with views over Smithfield Market.

Tayyabs £ 83–9 Fieldgate Street, E1, tel: 020-7247 6400, www.tayyabs.co.uk. There’s frequently a queue outside this family-run Pakistani restaurant, and once you sample the mouthwatering authentic cuisine you’ll understand why. The atmosphere is lively, the decor attractive and the prices a steal. The karahi lamb is a particular highlight. No alcohol.

The Cafe Below £ St Mary le Bow, Cheapside, EC2, tel: 020-7329 0789, www.cafebelow.co.uk. Situated in the atmospheric crypt of St Mary le Bow church is this excellent café/restaurant, offering a delicious range of dishes from MonFri. Vegetarian choices always available.

Vinoteca ££ 7 St John Street, EC1, tel: 020-7253 8786, www.vinoteca.co.uk. This fashionable little wine bar and shop is the original in a small chain (the other branches are in Marylebone’s Seymore Place, Soho’s Beak Street and Chiswick). It offers excellent, fresh, seasonal food in a daily changing menu with recommended wines by the glass.

KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA

Bibendum ££££ Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3, tel: 020-7581 5817, www.bibendum.co.uk. Design guru Terence Conran made his name by buying and restoring buildings of architectural interest, including Michelin House, the former London headquarters of the French tyre company. Bibendum remains one of his finest creations – if possible, visit on a sunny day, when the light streams through the stained-glass windows. Dishes, which are modern European, are faultless, the vast wine list impressive, and the service excellent. There’s a posh oyster bar downstairs, if your budget isn’t quite up to Bibendum.

Bluebird ££ 350 King’s Road, SW3, tel: 020-7559 1000, www.bluebird-restaurant.co.uk. Conran’s European/Pacific Rim restaurant in a former Chelsea garage is noisy but glamorous, with innovative food. Downstairs is a posh food shop.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal ££££ Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1, tel: 020-7201 3833. Bespectacled scientist-superchef Heston Blumenthal (with head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts) works his usual eye-popping magic at his first London restaurant with experimental takes on historic British dishes from the 14th to the 19th centuries – an approach he followed in his Channel 4 series Heston’s Feasts. The ‘meat fruit’ (chicken mousse fashioned like a fruit) is of particular note. All in all, it’s so extraordinary that despite the Dinner only opening in 2011, by 2012 it had a Michelin star and by 2014 it had two. For those on a more modest budget, the weekday set lunch costs £38 for three courses.

Fifth Floor, Harvey Nichols £££ 109–25 Knightsbridge, SW1, tel: 020-7235 5250, www.harveynichols.comThis elegant restaurant at the top of the department store has an excellent reputation and is surprisingly child-friendly. Patisseries and puddings are made on the day, and starters and main courses are always enticing.

Hereford Road ££ 3 Hereford Road, Notting Hill Gate, W2, tel: 020-7727 1144, www.herefordroad.org. Splendid British cooking enthusiastically served at this former butcher’s. Try duck hearts, calf’s brains and braised rabbits, or a whole oxtail to share between two.

Ottolenghi ££ 63 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, W11, tel: 020-7727 1121. Also at 50 Artillery Lane, Spitalfields, E1, tel: 020-7247 1999. Fabulous fresh food made on the premises – sit at the communal table or take away.

Vingt-Quatre ££ 325 Fulham Road, SW10, tel: 020-7376 7224, www.vingtquatre.co.uk. As its name implies, this restaurant serves good hot meals 24 hours a day, with a licence to serve alcohol until midnight. It’s particularly popular among the trendy, well-heeled Kensington locals.