Fodor's London (2015)
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Restaurant by Neighborhood
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Updated by Alex Wijeratna
Henry James was scathing about London’s restaurants, “whose badness is literally fabulous,” he declared. But not so now! London has zoomed up the global gastro charts, and can seriously mix it now with the world’s top culinary heavyweights. Standards have rocketed at all price points and, dare we ask, might the London restaurant scene be in the most robust health it’s ever been in?
A bottom-up local foodie revolution and a top-down cascade of City lucre and hot global monnay has juiced things up fabulously. Feel like the most-tender Wagyu beef steak on planet Earth? Yours for £92 at CUT at 45 Park Lane. You wanna try ultra-modern old English gastronomy from the time of Henry VIII? Ashley Palmer-Watts is your man at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. You only eat hot dogs and Champagne? No worries, we’ve got just the thing: try Bubbledogs in Fitzrovia for … hot dogs and Champagne, at £8 a pop. Can’t stand any more snobby culinary stuff? The low-key British wild game’s so good at The Harwood Arms that they’ve bagged London’s first gastropub-based Michelin star.
Everyone’s a foodie here now, and it seems everyone’s blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, Snapchatting, Pinteresting, and Instagraming their way through the latest and greatest openings. One week chef Karem Sethi’s flavor of the month at ace curry den Gymkhana in Mayfair, the next it’s Daniel Doherty ripping it up at Duck & Waffle, 40 floors up the Heron Tower. Thankfully, pride in the best of British food—local, seasonal, foraged, and wild—is witnessing a genuine resurgence. And you, too, will be smitten, because you’ll be spending, on average, 25% of your travel budget on eating out. Dig in. Fork up. Enjoy.
These days, standards are a million times higher and poor-quality shepherd’s pie has been largely replaced by the city’s unofficial dish, the ubiquitous Indian curry. London’s restaurant revolution is built on its extraordinary ethnic diversity, and you’ll find the quality of other international cuisines has also grown immeasurably in recent years, with London becoming known for its Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Spanish, Italian, French, Peruvian, and North African restaurants. With all of the choices, traditional British food, when you track it down, appears as just one more exotic cuisine in the pantheon.
EATING OUT STRATEGY
Where should you eat? With thousands of London eateries competing for your attention, it may seem like a daunting question. But fret not—our expert writers and editors have done most of the legwork. The selections here represent the best this city has to offer—from haute cuisine to humble dude food.
Plan ahead if you’re determined to snag a sought-after reservation. Some renowned restaurants like Berners Tavern, Dabbous, or Restaurant Story are booked weeks or even months in advance. It’s always a good idea to book as far ahead as you can and reconfirm when you arrive in London. Note that some top restaurants also now take credit card details and charge a penalty fee if you’re a no-show. In the reviews, we mention reservations only when they’re essential or not accepted.
WHAT TO WEAR
When in England’s style capital, do as the natives do: dress up to eat out. Whatever your style, dial it up a notch. Have some fun while you’re at it. Pull out the clothes you’ve been saving for a special occasion and get a little glamorous. As unfair as it seems, the way you look can influence how you’re treated—and where you’re seated. Generally speaking, jeans and a button-down shirt will suffice at most table-service restaurants in the budget to moderate range. Moving up from there, many pricier restaurants require jackets, and some like the Ritz insist on ties. Shorts, sweatpants, and sports jerseys are rarely appropriate. Note that in reviews we mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket, or a jacket and tie.
TIPPING AND TAXES
Do not tip bar staff in pubs and bars—though you can always offer to buy them a drink. In restaurants, tip 12.5% of the check for full meals if service is not already included; tip a small token if you’re just having coffee or tea. If paying by credit card, double-check that a tip has not already been included in the bill.
Unless your children behave impeccably, it’s best to swerve the haute cuisine establishments, although many top places like The Wolseley are surprisingly child-friendly. London’s many burger and rib joints, pizzerias, and Italian restaurants are popular with kids. Other family-friendly establishments include chains like Bill’s, Byron, Côte, Carluccio’s, Pizza Express, Busaba Eathai, and Wagamama.
In London you can find breakfast all day, but it’s generally served between 7 am and noon. Lunch is between noon and 3 pm, and brunch between 11 am and 3 pm. Tea, often a meal in itself, is taken between 1 pm and 6 pm, and dinner is typically eaten between 7 pm and 11 pm, though it can be taken earlier. Many ethnic restaurants, especially Indian, serve food until midnight. Sunday is a proper lunch day, and some restaurants are open for lunch only. Over the Christmas period, London has a reputation for shutting down, but a growing number of hotels and other brave bastions are prepared to feed travelers.
London is an awfully pricey city by global standards. A modest meal for two can easily cost £50, and the £100-a-head meal is not unknown. Damage-control strategies include making lunch your main meal—the top places have bargain midday menus—going for early- or late-evening deals, or sharing an à la carte entrée and ordering a second appetizer instead. Seek out fixed-price menus, and watch for hidden extras on the check, that is, bread, vegetables, or a cover charged separately.
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Westminster, St. James’s, and Royal London | Mayfair and Marylebone | Soho and Covent Garden | Bloomsbury, Holborn, and Fitzrovia | Clerkenwell and The City | East London | South of the Thames | Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, and Belgravia | Notting Hill and Bayswater | Regent’s Park, Hampstead, and Islington | The Thames Upstream
Prices in the reviews are the average cost of a main course at dinner or, if dinner is not served, at lunch.
WESTMINSTER, ST. JAMES’S, AND ROYAL LONDON
St. James’s—home to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, where Prince Charles and Camilla live—has a magnificent olde-world, royal feel. Appropriately, most of the restaurants here are fit for a future king. This is where you’ll find London’s top-end restaurants—dining experiences that are geared toward a well-heeled, deep-pocketed clientele. Mere mortals should make reservations well in advance to dine at any of these restaurants for dinner (and reserve for the earlier or later shanks of the evening, when demand is less). Keep in mind that no-shows mean last-minute tables often crop up, and lunching here can be a great money-saving strategy.
FAMILY | Le Caprice.
MODERN EUROPEAN | Celebville grande dame Le Caprice commands the deepest loyalty of any restaurant in London. Why? Because it gets practically everything right—every time. It’s the 30-odd-year celebrity history—think Liz Taylor, Joan Collins, and Lady Di—the updated monochrome decor, the haunting David Bailey black-and-white portraits, charming Bolivian-born Jesus Adorno as the veteran maître d’, the perfect service, and the long-standing menu that sits somewhere between Euro peasant and trendy fashion plate. Sit at the raised counter or at a coveted corner table and enjoy calves’ liver with crispy bacon, pheasant with caramelized quince, John Dory with wild mushrooms, and signature Scandinavian iced berries with a theatrical swirl of hot white-chocolate sauce. | Average main: £23 | Arlington House, Arlington St., St. James’s | 020/7629-2239 | www.caprice-holdings.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Green Park.
Fodor’s Choice | The Ritz Restaurant.
BRITISH | Europe’s most beautiful dining room at The Ritz would moisten the eye of Louis XVI with its sumptuous Belle Epoque-inspired trompe d’oeil, rococo gilt chandeliers, fairy tale drapery, marble statues, and mirrored wall. A cavalry of liveried waiters glide across the carpeted salon, and gentlemen diners are expected to wear jacket and tie at all times. Sit at the late Baroness Thatcher’s favorite seat overlooking Green Park (Table 1) and enjoy British haute cuisine. A Bresse chicken with black Périgord truffle stuffed under its skin arrives in a pig’s bladder and is carved table-side and served with sauce suprême. Set and “surprise” menus at ducal prices (£95) might captivate with delicate turbot with cèpe and celeriac or veal with Madeira sauce, and don’t miss the crêpes suzette, which are flambéed table-side by the maître d’. | Average main: £38 | The Ritz,150 Piccadilly, St. James’s | 020/7300-2370 | www.theritzlondon.com | Reservations essential | Jacket and tie | Station: Green Park.
BRITISH | Blue bloods and minor royalty blow the family bank at this old-fashioned bastion of English fine dining on Jermyn Street (the place first opened on the Haymarket as a shellfish stall in 1742). Invariably fresh from a little snooze in their nearby St. James’s gentlemen’s clubs, gentleman diners are required to wear jackets at all times at this linen-covered clubby time capsule and frightfully snooty ode to all things English. Golden signet ring-wearing patrons like to take half a dozen of the finest Colchester oysters, followed by grilled Dover sole on the bone, or fabulous native game in season, such as grouse, woodcock, partridge, or teal. There are antediluvian savories like anchovies or mushrooms on toast, plus desserts like sherry trifle or bread-and-butter pudding. The use of mobile phones is prohibited, the wine’s weighed heavily towards Bordeaux and Burgundy, and the service, naturally, would put Jeeves to shame. | Average main: £32 | 55 Jermyn St., St. James’s | 020/7629-9955 | www.wiltons.co.uk | Reservations essential | Jacket required | Closed weekends | Station: Green Park.
FAMILY | The Wolseley.
AUSTRIAN | A camel train of stars come for the always-on show spectacle and soaring elegance at this bustling Viennese-style grand café on Piccadilly. Framed with 1920s black laquerware, this all-day brasserie, a few doors down from The Ritz, begins its long decadent days with breakfast at 7 am and serves highly dependable Dual Monarchy delights until midnight. Don’t be shy to turn up on spec (they hold seats back for walk-ins) to enjoy such highlights as Hungarian goulash, Austrian pork belly, chicken soup with a salt-beef sandwich, eggs Benedict, kedgeree, or breaded Wiener schnitzel. For dessert, go for luscious kaiserschmarren—caramelized pancakes with stewed fruit and raisins—and don’t forget to book a return table to savor the Viennoiserie pastries at one of their classy £10.75 to £23.75 Afternoon Teas. Reservations are recommended. | Average main: £18 | 160 Piccadilly, St. James’s | 020/7499-6996 | www.thewolseley.com | Station: Green Park.
MAYFAIR AND MARYLEBONE
If you’re looking for something more wallet-friendly, head north to Marylebone, formerly dowdy but now prized for its chic, village-like feel. Here are an array of low-key little cafés, boîtes, and tapas bars, Champagne-and-hot-dog joints, and the odd world-class sizzler, offering everything from Moroccan and Spanish to Thai and Japanese.
MODERN ITALIAN | Spot the odd A-lister and wallow in glamorous all-day buzz at this upscale Italian brasserie wedged serenely between Old Bond Street, Cork Street, and Savile Row, and across from the Royal Academy of Arts. The jet set spill out onto pavement tables for breakfast, brunch, and cicchetti (Italian tapas), and return later in the day for something more substantial. À la mode English designer Ilse Crawford’s luxe green-and-brown interior is a stylish backdrop for classics like stuffed baby squid, Umbrian sausages, lobster spaghetti, pappardelle pasta with Chianti ragù, and a flavorsome pick-me-up tiramisu. It’s just the place for a high-end pit stop during a West End shopping spree or after art buying at the nearby Mayfair auction houses. | Average main: £23 | 5A Burlington Gardens, Mayfair | 020/7434-1500 | www.cecconis.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Green Park, Piccadilly Circus.
PERUVIAN | London’s beautiful and the damned binge on Coya’s electrifying array of top-end Peruvian dishes and sizzily Josper chargrilled offerings, all boogaloo-ed by star Indian chef Sanjay Dwivedi in a throbbing Inca-inspired, terra-cotta-floored party zone. London Fashion Week models, buyers, and bookers devour low-carb diced and marinated yellowfin tuna or sea bass and white corn ceviches and go cuckcoo over the sliced raw-fish tiraditos—try salmon and quinoa or scallops and Peruvian chili peppers. Baby squid with rare Peruvian marigold or grilled asparagus spears are hardly going to pile on the pounds, nor will the anticuchos grilled skewers—look for tiger prawns or monkfish—which join the party when they’re ready. Afterwards, the svelte ones slink off to the Pisco Bar and its lethal collection of 35 nefarious pisco sours. | Average main: £19 | 118 Piccadilly, Mayfair | 020/7042-7118 | www.coyarestaurant.com | Reservations essential | Station:Green Park or Hyde Park Corner.
CUT at 45 Park Lane.
STEAKHOUSE | U.S.-based Austrian star chef Wolfgang Puck amps up the steak stakes at this ultra-expensive, high-end steak emporium on Park Lane. Against a luxe backdrop of Damien Hirst paintings, globe lights, and an ’80s sound track of T’Pau and Bon Jovi, an army of hedge fund suits go gangbusters for perfectly seared prime cuts from the United States, England, and Australia. Grilled over charcoal and hardwood, and finished under a 650°C broiler, there’s awesome Arkansas Creekstone filet mignon for £34 and 8-ounce rib-eye of Wagyu beef from Darling Downs in Australia for £92. Add bone marrow, French fries, béarnaise sauce, or creamed spinach with a fried egg on top for the whole nine yards. | Average main: £40 | 45 Park La., Mayfair | 020/7493-4554 | www.dorchestercollection.com | Reservations essential | Station: Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner.
STEAKHOUSE | This Manhattan-themed, Mayfair-based upmarket steakhouse, named after Chicago jazz legend Benny Goodman, has everyone in agreement—these are some of the best steaks in town. There’s token Russian sweet herring, lobster bisque, beef carpaccio, and Caesar salad, but everyone here’s got only one thing on their mind: the sizzling 8-14 ounce charcoal Josper grilled steaks, which come with lobster tails or fried foie gras, truffles, or chips and creamed spinach, plus pepper, béarnaise, or Stilton sauces. | Average main: £31 | 24-26 Maddox St., Mayfair | 020/7499-3776 | www.goodmanrestaurants.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. | Station: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus.
FRENCH | Discreetly tucked away amid imposing redbrick Mayfair mansions and approached through a sumptuous tree-lined, spotlighted garden, this elegant ground-floor dining salon attracts well-heeled aficionados of top-class French haute cuisine. Feast on intricately arranged foie gras with fennel pollen, wild turbot with braised carrot and ginger, or Galloway beef with garlic and mange tout. A suave crowd comes for the attentive and achingly smooth service, the soft lighting, the glassed-off private dining room, and the legendary 110-page wine list with over 2,000 bottles in all, including a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1929 from Burgundy (a cool £18,000) and a Château Lafite Rothschild 1870 1er Grand Cru Classé at a piffling £29,500. | Average main: £33 | 27A Hay’s Mews, Mayfair | 020/7499-3331 | www.greenhouserestaurant.co.uk | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. | Station: Green Park.
Fodor’s Choice | Gymkhana.
MODERN INDIAN | Indian curry virtuoso Karam Sethi invokes the last days of the Raj at London’s finest top-end curry emporium in Mayfair. Inspired by the Colonial-era Indian sporting clubs and high-society mustering points of yesteryear, you’ll be charmed by the ceiling fans, rattan chairs, lacquered oak floors, and chocolate leather banquettes. Try the golden crispy pancake-like dosa with fennel-rich Chettinad duck and coconut chutney, Kasoori chicken tikka, or wild Muntjac rice with pomegranate and mint yogurt sauce. There’s also well-spiced game—like achari wild roe deer with keema naan bread. | Average main: £26 | 42 Albemarle St., Mayfair | www.gymkhanalondon.com | Reservations essential.
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught.
FRENCH | La crème de la crème flock to French virtuoso Hélène Darroze’s restaurant at the Connaught for her dazzling regional French haute cuisine, served up in an impressive Edwardian dark wood paneled dining salon. Darroze sallies forth with a procession of magnificent dishes. Caviar d’Acquitaine might wow with oyster tartare in a sleek martini glass, topped with caviar jelly and white haricot bean velouté. Spit-roasted and flambéed pigeon is served gloriously pink, with duck foie gras and mini Brussels sprouts. Darroze is perfect for important celebrations, but beware the high prices: £35 for lunch, £55 for brunch, and £85-£120 for set dinner. | Average main: £36 | The Connaught, Carlos Pl., Mayfair | 020/7107-8880 | www.the-connaught.co.uk | Reservations essential | Jacket required | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Green Park.
MODERN FRENCH | Two-starred French chef Claude Bosi bosses the scene at this Mayfair gastro mecca with nouvelle Modern French dishes, like carpaccio of hand-dived Isle of Skye scallops with delicate blobs of truffle and pickled radish, or Cornish John Dory with Morteau sausage and girolles mushrooms. The desserts are as complex as his mains, with an unlikely sounding but wickedly flavorsome sweet cèpe mushroom tart standing out. The brilliant bespoke wine list features a 40-odd selection of rare but top-rank “orange” biodynamic, organic, heirloom, grape variety fine wines. | Average main: £35 | 29 Maddox St., Mayfair | 020/7629-2999 | www.hibiscusrestaurant.co.uk | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus.
FAMILY | La Petite Maison.
FRENCH | Tucked in an alleyway off New Bond Street, the delightful La Petite Maison boasts an impressively well-sourced French Mediterranean, Côte d’Azur, Liguria, and Provençale menu. Try figure-friendly broad bean and Pecorino salad, soft burrata cheese with sweet Datterini-tomato-and-basil spread, or aromatic baked turbot with artichokes, chorizo, five spices, and goopy white wine sauce. Based on the Southern Med style of the original La Petite Maison in Nice in the south of France, dishes come to the table as they’re ready. More rosé, anyone? | Average main: £26 | 53-54 Brook’s Mews, Mayfair | 020/7495-4774 | www.lpmlondon.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Bond St., Oxford Circus.
FRENCH | MasterChef judge Michel Roux Jr. works the floor in the old-fashioned proprietorial way at this clubby basement institution in Mayfair—established by his father and uncle in 1967—and which many still rate to this day as the best formal dining in London. With magnificent shiny silver domes and unpriced ladies’ menus, Roux’s mastery of classical French haute cuisine hypnotizes all comers with signatures like foie gras with cinnamon-scented crispy duck pancake, soufflé Suissesse, roast venison with red wine jus, or saddle of rabbit with Parmesan cheese. Desserts like Roux’s famous chocolate omelet soufflé or upside-down apple tart are unswervingly accomplished. Notable three-course set lunches (£54) are the sanest way to experience Le Gavroche. | Average main: £41 | 43 Upper Brook St., Mayfair | 020/7408-0881 | www.le-gavroche.co.uk | Reservations essential | Jacket required | Closed Sun. and bank holiday Mon. | Station: Marble Arch, Bond St.
British Food Decoder
For pure Britishness, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding tops the list. If you want the best, go to a foodie-mad local gastropub. Here the Sunday roasts will be cooked with passion, and crucially with top-quality, organic, or free-range ingredients. The beef is served slightly pink with goose-fat roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and peas, and of course Yorkshire puddings, a savory batter baked until crisp. A dark meaty gravy is poured on top, and there’s horseradish sauce on the side.
Other top tummy liners include shepherd’s pie: made with minced lamb, topped with mashed potato, and baked until lightly brown. Cottage pie is similar, but made with minced beef instead of lamb. Traditional steak-and-kidney pie is made with chunky diced beef and ox kidneys, braised with onions and mushrooms in a thick, brown gravy, and encased with shortcrust pastry.
Fish-and-chips, usually deep-fried battered cod, haddock, or plaice, comes with hand-cut chips that are sprinkled with salt and vinegar. A “ploughman’s lunch” is usually served in pubs and consists of “bloomer” crusty white bread, a strong English cheese (Cheddar, Cheshire, or red Leicester), with a side-salad garnish and tangy onion pickle on the side.
For a hot dessert, seek out bread-and-butter pudding if you can, made with overlapping layers of buttered bread scattered with raisins, and baked in egg, cream, and nutmeg until crisp.
Fodor’s Choice | Little Social.
MODERN FRENCH | There’s always a hubbub at Jason Atherton’s knock-’em-dead French bistro and Mayfair hideaway. Ease into a Burgundy leather banquette booth and admire the hardwood chairs, elm tables, and assorted Michelin road maps before diving into an artfully classic-with-a-twist menu. The crab-salad appetizer comes on a round of tomato with miso dressing and disks of beetroot and radish, while braised Irish ox cheeks with chunky roast bone marrow and horseradish mash is top-end comfort food of the highest order. There’s always aged Scottish-beef cheeseburger on the menu (£15), plus a side of unusual Québécois poutine—a bowl of fries piled high with cheese, gravy, chorizo, and jalapeños. Finally, the £7.50 hot chocolate moelleux with a dollop of almond ice cream is near perfection. | Average main: £18 | 5 Pollen St., Mayfair | 020/7290-7600 | www.littlesocial.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus.
Nobu Berkeley Street.
JAPANESE | Premier League soccer stars and supermodels converge here for new-style Japanese sashimi with a Peruvian flair at this so-hip-it-hurts Nobu spin-off near Piccadilly. Louder and more fashion-forward than nearby flagship Nobu on Park Lane, this younger sibling cleans up nicely with a combined ground-floor scene bar, a first-floor restaurant, and a West End nightclub vibe. The beautiful people go bananas for miso black cod, California sushi rolls, yellowtail sashimi, Bento boxes, chargrilled peppers, and Wagyu beef. | Average main: £30 | 15 Berkeley St., Mayfair | 020/7290-9222 | www.noburestaurants.com | Reservations essential | Station: Green Park.
Fodor’s Choice | Pollen Street Social.
MODERN EUROPEAN | Jason Atherton (of el Bulli fame) knocks the London dining scene for a loop at his smash-hit flagship found in a cute alleyway off Regent Street. Fans enjoy refined small and large dishes ranging from a full “English breakfast” appetizer—a cute miniature of poached egg on tomato compote, with parsley-flecked bacon, morels, and croutons—to sublime Scottish ox cheek with 50-day Black Angus rib-eye beef, or wild sea bass with squid and langoustine minestrone. Diners might get up from their tables to sit and perch at the dessert bar to watch staff as they chop, slice, and fiddle away to prepare immaculate Eton Mess with wild strawberries and basil-ash meringue or sashimi-like pressed watermelon with an unlikely basil sorbet. | Average main: £28 | 8-10 Pollen St., Mayfair | 020/7290-7600 | www.pollenstreetsocial.com | Reservations essential | Station: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus.
FAMILY | The Riding House Café.
BURGER | Hipster-chic London diners flock to this NYC-style small-plates-and-luxe-burgers all-day brasserie behind Oxford Circus in NOHO (North of Soho). Everything’s appropriately salvaged, reclaimed, or bespoke here so you’ll find stuffed birds and other taxidermy dotted around, reclaimed blue leather theater seats at the long bar, bright orange leather banquettes, or old snooker table legs holding up your dining table. Opt for bargain £5 small plates of sea bass ceviche with lime and chili or Waldorf salad starters, and then head for poached egg chorizo hash browns, salt marsh lamb broth, cheeseburger with chips—a steal at £12.50—or their famed lobster lasagna (£25). | Average main: £14 | 43-51 Great Titchfield St., Noho | 020/7927-0840 | www.ridinghousecafe.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Oxford Circus.
SEAFOOD | Liveried doormen greet the A-list with a nod at this fashionable seafood haven on Mount Street in Mayfair. Originally founded in 1851, and a former haunt of James Bond author Ian Fleming (he liked the potted shrimps, apparently), these days you’re more likely to see Bill Clinton in one corner, Kate Winslet in another, and Brit-pack artists Damien Hirst or Tracy Emin joshing around on a banquette nearby. Scott’s draws London’s movers and shakers who enjoy day-boat-fresh Lindisfarne oysters, baked crab, cod cheeks, and shrimp burgers. Glorious standouts like sautéed razor clams with wild boar sausages or sole Colbert are divine. Prices could make a Saudi sheikh blanch, but fear not: this really is the hottest joint in town. | Average main: £31 | 20 Mount St., Mayfair | 020/7495-7309 | www.scotts-restaurant.com | Reservations essential | Station: Bond St., Green Park.
MODERN FRENCH | Located off beautiful Berkeley Square, this restaurant is a long-standing haven for the titans of business who come for the showy wine list, the well-spaced linen-covered tables, and chef Philip Howard’s sophisticated French haute cuisine. In season, you may find marvelously balanced wonders like Dorset crab lasagna with shellfish cappuccino, guinea fowl with truffles and Parmesan, or Lincolnshire hare with beetroot and creamed polenta. Impeccable desserts like fig soufflé with fig leaf ice cream are so good that you’re sure to return. | Average main: £33 | 6-10 Bruton St., Mayfair | 020/7495-7100 | www.squarerestaurant.com | Reservations essential | No lunch Sun. | Station: Green Park, Bond St.
INTERNATIONAL | Megawatt celebs from Sandra Bullock to Stella McCartney head straight for 34 in Mayfair because … all the other stars go there, too! It must be the plush English Edwardian and art deco-inspired dining salon, the swank burnt-orange banquettes, the nightly live jazz, the interesting fish, game, steak, and seafood grill-focused menu, the copious starched white table linens, and the Upper Manhattan-style service. Appetizers like salt-baked beetroot with soft burrata cheese or Dorset crab and gazpacho jelly square off against chunkier delights from the Argentinian parrilla charcoal grill—think 28-day Scottish Red Angus sirloin steaks and Creekstone T-bones. Top crowd pleasers include meatball spaghetti, cod and shallots, or Cornish lamb with pumpkin pesto, while game goes down well, too, with roast wood pigeon and damsons standing out. | Average main: £27 | 34 Grosvenor Sq., Mayfair | 020/3350-3434 | www.34-restaurant.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Marble Arch.
Galvin Bistrot de Luxe.
BRASSERIE | The masterful Galvin brothers, Chris and Jeff, blaze a spectacular trail for the French bistrot de luxe formula on a fast-moving stretch of Baker Street in Marylebone. Seasoned fans return time and again for the impeccable food, smart service, Bentwood chairs, and mahogany-paneled Parisian-style salon. There’s no finer Dorset crab lasagna in town, and mains consistently punch above their weight: Cornish brill, calves liver with Alsace bacon, classic stuffed pig’s trotter, and a sumptuous daube of venison with chestnuts are all devilishly tasty, each one a superbly executed gastro triumph. The £19.50 three-course set lunches or £21.50 early evening dinners (6-7 pm) are top value, and look out for live Sunday-afternoon jazz. | Average main: £20 | 66 Baker St., Marylebone | 020/7935-4007 | www.galvinrestaurants.com | Reservations essential | Station: Baker St.
FAMILY | The Golden Hind.
SEAFOOD | You’ll land some of the best fish-and-chips in London at this great British “chippy” in a retro 1914 art deco café off Marylebone High Street. Gaggles of tourists and hungry Marylebone village locals and workers alike hunker down for the homemade cod fish cakes, skate wings, feta cheese fritters, and breaded scampi tails at simple dark-wood tables, but it’s the neatly prepared and decidedly non-greasy deep-fried or steamed cod, plaice, and haddock from Grimsby (£6-£7.80), the classic hand-cut Maris Piper chips, and the traditional mushy peas that are the big draw. It’s BYO (£1 corkage) and take away, but note it’s only open for lunch on weekdays and dinner every day but Sunday. | Average main: £7 | 73 Marylebone La., Marylebone | 020/7486-3644 | Reservations not accepted | Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. | Station: Bond St.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Tommi’s Burger Joint.
BURGER | “Be Nice or Leave” and “Sharing is Caring” are a few choice aphorisms found on cardboard signs at this cult Icelandic-run burger boîte in Marylebone. The decor includes overhead fairy lights, chicken wire framing the grill station, and a Chewbacca the Wookiee surfer poster. Everyone here seems to love the cool tunes (from Johnny Cash to Talking Heads), the edgy DIY vibe, and the £9.90 burger, fries, and soda at this hamburger heaven. Aside from beef from top butcher HG Walter, you’ll also find grilled cheese sandwiches and veggie burgers, plus a voguish steak burger made with fillet, rump, and rib-eye. All come in awesome fist-size brioche buns with tomato, lettuce, onion, ketchup, and mustard, and help yourself from the estimable condiments bar. | Average main: £10 | 30 Thayer St., Marylebone | 0782/355-7945 | www.burgerjoint.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Bond St.
MODERN ARGENTINE | Sit at the basement kitchen counter at London’s top Argentinian tapas joint near Selfridges, where you can watch chef Diego Jacquet work Latin American miracles at the roaring charcoal grill. Swirl a juicy red Finca Perdriel ’08 Malbec from Mendoza and watch Jacquet tweak, twerk, and slice away as he conjures dishes of invariable brilliance. Delving into a bubbling oven-hot pan of classic roast Provoleta cheese, almonds, and honey is a gooey must, as is trying the deconstructed chicken matambre with quails egg and green peas, or the popular asado flank steak, piled high with celeriac and bone marrow. Everyone naturally loves the authentic rib-eye beef with chimichurri. The other chargrilled dishes are sizzling taste bombs, too—try octopus, rump of lamb with quinoa, or garlicky prawns with pork belly and chorizo. Note the £9.95 set lunch with a glass of wine, an excellent value. | Average main: £12 | 9 Duke St., Marylebone | 020/7486-9699 | www.zoilo.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Bond St.
SOHO AND COVENT GARDEN
Soho and Covent Garden are the city’s playground and pleasure zone, an all-day, all-night jostling neon wonderland of glitz, glamour, grit, and greasepaint. This area is London’s cultural heart, with old and new media companies, late-night dive bars, cabaret, street performers, West End musicals, and world-class theater, ballet, and opera houses. High rents have recently forced out many of Soho’s seedier red-light businesses and ushered in more edgy and top-notch restaurants. Just follow your nose in Covent Garden and Theatreland to find copious options for pretheater dining.
MEDITERRANEAN | Candlelit at night and with a haunting Dickensian vibe, Andrew Edmunds is a permanently packed, deeply romantic old-world Soho institution—though it could be larger, less creaky underfoot, and the reclaimed church-pew wooden bench seats more forgiving. Tucked away behind Carnaby Street in a dark and atmospheric 18th-century Soho town house, it’s a cozy favorite with the Soho media elite that come for the hand-scribbled, fixed-price lunch menus and the historic vibe. Keenly priced starters and mains draw on the tastes of Ireland, the Med, and Middle East. Harissa-spiced mackerel, woodcock on toast, seafood paella, and Herdwick lamb shanks with mash and broccoli are hale and hearty. Desserts like warm treacle tart or bread-and-butter pudding offer few surprises, but the wine’s superb and the markups reasonable. | Average main: £17 | 46 Lexington St., Soho | 020/7437-5708 | www.andrewedmunds.com | Reservations essential | Station: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus.
CAFÉ | This legendary Italian coffee bar on Frith Street is Soho’s unofficial beating heart and a 22-hour-a-day Soho institution. Established in 1949 during the Italian coffee bar craze and still run by the founding Polledri family, it’s now positively football crazy and a honey-pot for an assortment of weird and wondrous Soho-ites—from clubbers and cabbies to stars like Jude Law. Most regulars grab a frothy cappuccino made from the 50-year-old Gaggia coffee machine and wolf down a slice of pizza, panettone, or chocolate cake at one of the mirrored bar counters (or pavement seat out front). The walls are plastered with Italian flags and black-and-white photos of Italian singers, movie legends, and ’50s boxing champs, and it’s the spot in London to watch Italy play in the soccer World Cup. | Average main: £6 | 22 Frith St., Soho | 020/7437-4520 | www.baritaliasoho.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | No credit cards | Station: Leicester Sq.
TAPAS | London’s top Spanish tapas bar is modeled on Cal Pep in old-town Barcelona, and similarly has only a few—23 in total—raised counter stools. It’s no-reservations but the tapas is well worth the wait. Their motto is “Sourcing Not Saucing,” so get ready to nosh on brilliant small plates prepared in front of you: garlic prawns, ham croquetas, salt cod fritters, rare Galician percebes (“goose barnacles”) crustaceans, baby squid and octopus with capers, plus obvious classics like Spanish torilla, spicy chorizo, and cured Montanera ham. There’s a crack selection of Spanish reds, whites, sherries, and sparkling Cavas, and leave room for desserts like crèma Catalana or almond-based Santiago tart. | Average main: £13 | 54 Frith St., Soho | 020/7813-8016 | www.barrafina.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
Bocca di Lupo.
ITALIAN | The place is always packed and the tables jammed too close together, but everyone still comes for the buzz and chef Jacob Kenedy’s unusual rustic Italian regional fare. Located off Theatreland’s Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho, this redbrick, popular family-run place offers a triumphant procession of small and large plates and peasant-based dishes from Piedmont to Emilia, Lombardy to Campania. Try drop-dead offerings like buffalo mozzarella, suckling pig, and Sicilian lobster spaghetti. Limber up with a Aperol spritz before plunging into the regional Italian-focused wine list, which weaves from Super Tuscans to rare Barolos. There’s also an intriguing marsala and a range of punchy aged grappas, plus desserts like milk-free espresso ice cream. | Average main: £16 | 12 Archer St., Soho | 020/7734-2223 | www.boccadilupo.com | Reservations essential | Station: Piccadilly Circus.
FAMILY | Busaba Eathai.
THAI | It’s top Thai nosh at this sleek and sultry modern canteen in the beating heart of Soho. Fitted with dark-wood bench seats and hardwood tables, this flagship restaurant has communal dining, rapid service, low-lighting, and fast-moving line ups out front. Pour yourself a lemongrass tea, then try ginger beef with Thai pepper, classic crunchy green papaya salad, Thai calamari, massaman duck curry, or myriad other tasty winners. You’ll escape well fed for about £17 a head, and, all in all, this makes for a top-value tummy-filler and a fail-safe pit stop during a West End shopping spree. | Average main: £10 | 106-110 Wardour St., Soho | 020/7255-8686 | busaba.com | Reservations not accepted | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
FAMILY | Dean Street Townhouse.
BRITISH | Soho media peeps sink into comfy velvet chairs with frilly cushions for hearty English Afternoon Tea (3-6 pm) at the cozy Parlour anteroom at this elegant boutique hotel. Besides fine finger sandwiches and scones and jam, traditional three-tiered Townhouse Teas (£17.50) served on nostalgic Victorian crockery include extras like buttered crumpets and poppy seed cake. You’ll soon find it makes perfect sense to sink down a little further and segue into High Tea with sturdy standbys like Welsh rarebit, Scotch eggs, or fish fingers with tartar sauce. | Average main: £17 | 69-71 Dean St., Soho | 020/7434-1775 | www.deanstreetownhouse.com | Reservations essential | Station: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.
FAMILY | Flat Iron.
STEAKHOUSE | Premium steaks priced at £10 are the only mains on the printed menu at this bustling hipster canteen on Beak Street in Soho. The chargrilled “flat iron” shoulder cuts of beef arrive already sliced on wooden blocks with watercress and mini meat cleavers. This three-story, no-reservations steak den and craft-beer basement bar is decked out in exposed brick walls, enamel lights, and shared wooden tables. Sides include beef-dripping chips, creamed spinach, and roasted eggplant with Parmesan, while sauces range from béarnaise to French horseradish cream. Shared seating is first-come, first-served, and at peak times you’ll need to leave a cell number and hang downstairs sipping a vintage cocktail or rare beer while you wait. Check Twitter for daily specials like chargrilled Irish belly steak or 48-hour slow-cooked short ribs, and try the salted chocolate orange mousse for dessert. | Average main: £10 | 17 Beak St., Soho | flatironsteak.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus.
JAPANESE | Is it all the hypnotic kneading that makes the hand-pulled Sanuki udon noodles here so maddeningly addictive? Ever-present lines of polite Japanese diners and hip Soho-ites are a testament to the pull of the mega-tasty steaming dishes served at this tiny stripped-back cult noodle house on Frith Street in Soho. Once inside, start with cold udon on a bamboo basket with pungent miso and pickled pork, and then—if you’re up for it—slurp hot udon with smoked mackerel and Japanese green leaves, or fried tofu and green onions. There’s pickled plums, prawn tempura, duck-and-rice-in-a-bowl, slow-cooked onsen tamago poached eggs, and braised pork belly dishes, but it’s the mighty udon noodle that ultimately prevails. | Average main: £12 | 49 Frith St., Soho | 020/7434-4463 | www.koya.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
CAFÉ | Die-hard romantics and Francophiles cherish this quirky, two-story 1871 French patisserie, vintage tea parlor, and occasional pop-up art space, where happily nothing seems to have changed since the 1940s. Framed with classic blue-and-white striped awnings, and decked out in cake stands, antique mirrors, drapes, and fairy lights, the pastries, tarts, and sweet cakes at this time-warp Soho institution are renowned, well loved, and baked on-site. The chocolate and fruit éclairs, Saint-Honoré and Black Forest gâteaux, colorful marzipan figs, Mont Blancs, strawberry fancies, and flaky almond croissants never fail to delight. Maison Bertaux also hosts a cheery retro tea service, which comes with tasty savories, like broccoli quiche or Dijon slice, with cheese, peppers, and mustard. | Average main: £7 | 28 Greek St., Soho | 020/7437-6007 | www.maisonbertaux.com | Reservations not accepted | No credit cards | Station: Leicester Sq.
Pitt Cue Co.
BARBECUE | Everyone’s gone bonkers for the American BBQ beef ribs and pulled pork at this Soho trendsetter. A tiny, no reservations joint, Pitt Cue has only 18 basement seats and eight counter stools in the ground-floor bourbon-and-rye crush bar—little wonder line ups snake down the street. Most order the £10-£12.50 finger-lickin’ spreads, which come with slaw and house pickles. Charred rib-tips, pig’s head sausages, smoked jowl, brisket burgers, and bone-marrow mash sides are other temptations, but the devout devour the sloppy sliders and sticky ribs with their mucky paws. The secret to Pitt Cue’s famous BBQ pork and beef ribs? A coal-and-wood-chip smoker, free-range Tamworth, Middle White, and Mangalitsa pork prime cuts from Cornwall. Dry rubs and marinades include smoked paprika, Sriracha chili sauce, blackstrap molasses, and apricot preserve. | Average main: £12 | 1 Newburgh St., Soho | 020/7787-5578 | www.pittcue.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | No dinner Sun. | Station: Oxford Circus.
DINER | Moody tin tile ceilings, dangly filament lights, tattooed waitstaff, bluegrass tunes, and only 27 raised counter stools at this pewter-topped rectangular-shaped bar and Lower East Side-inspired diner makes this one of the most unimaginably cool gigs in town. Naturally, there’s no phone, no reservations, and minimal signage, but that only adds to the hush-hush speakeasy vibe. Once seated after a wait, strike up a conversation with the friendly bar staff and settle in with a whisky-based Brooklyn Manhattan cocktail. Then dive into famed truffled egg toast before moving on to deep-fried grits, soft-shell crab, or three-bites-and-they’re-gone Yankee sliders—try beef and bone marrow. Don’t overlook the glorious mac ’n’ cheese. For dessert, try a PB&J sandwich, and chase it down with a slug or two of Elijah Craig or Knob Creek bourbon. | Average main: £12 | 61 Rupert St., Soho | www.spuntino.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Piccadilly Circus.
10 Greek Street.
MODERN EUROPEAN | There may only be 37 seats at this stripped-back Modern European Soho humdinger, but Aussie chef Cameron Emirali and wine guy Luke Wilson have seriously got their schtick together. Great food? Tick. Cheap wine? Tick. Excellent service? Tick. Good prices? Tick. Buzz? Tick. The only negative is the evenings-only no-reservations policy, but most happily saunter off for a quick shifty in the pub two doors down and wait to be called back on their cell phones. Once seated, expect simple interchangeable starters and mains like butternut ravioli with sage, or pancetta sardines with watercress and fennel. Gutsy meats like Welsh Black short rib, Tamworth pork with apple chutney, or venison with potato galette are big and bold, and swing with the seasons. Top-value £4-£7 desserts, like plum-and-apple crumble, provide a nice finish. | Average main: £17 | 10 Greek St., Soho | 020/7734-4677 | www.10greekstreet.com | Reservations not accepted | Closed Sun. | Station: Tottenham Court Rd.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Tonkotsu.
RAMEN | Bowls of steaming Japanese ramen with gloopy pork-bone broth and wheat-and-egg-based noodles are the raison d’être at this modern restaurant. Ravenous punters line up on the street and peer into the glass-fronted open-kitchen to ogle steel cauldrons of pork bones bubbling away. Garnish your soup with fatty braised pork belly, wakame seaweed, menma bamboo shoots, soft-boiled egg, and a slick of black garlic oil. This meal cries out to be lifted up to your mouth and slurped, Japanese-style, with your wooden ladle. There are three ramen soups to chose from and starters like spinach-and-sesame salad, deep-fried karaage chicken, or crispy-edged dumplings with house-made chili oil. | Average main: £11 | 63 Dean St., Soho | 020/7437-0071 | www.tonkotsu.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Tottenham Court Rd., Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus.
BRASSERIE | Prodigal Brit restaurateur Keith McNally re-creates his famed New York all-day brasserie at a winning spot right off the piazza in Covent Garden. The decor of brass-studded red leather banquettes, distressed mirrors, illuminated columns, pewter bar tops, and intricate mosaic floors creates a sparkly, soft patina, and enchanting backdrop in which to enjoy a classic all-day French menu of few surprises. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and pre- and post-theater meals are all well catered for at this buzzy and notably well-serviced 175-seat venue. Pick out flavor-packed dishes like duck shepherd’s pie or ox cheek bourguignonne, and kick back and linger over the diverting all-French wine list, which carries everything from a modest Chablis Colombier 2011 (£10 per glass) to a grand Pauillac Château Mouton Rothschild ’89 from Bordeaux, at £800 a pop. | Average main: £23 | 4-7 Russell St., Covent Garden | 020/3301-1155 | www.balthazarlondon.com | Reservations essential | Station: Covent Garden, Charing Cross.
FRENCH | Bag a seat in the low-lighted conservatory at this seriously romantic Provençal country inn-style bolt hole in the heart of Covent Garden. A bouquet’s throw away from the Royal Opera House, and once a favorite with amorous heir to the throne Prince Harry, service is pretty formal and the warren of candlelit, wood-panel rooms, open fires, old-master oil paintings, and convex mirrors never fails to enchant. Meal deals and theater specials (£15.50-£23.50) are a cute way in, where you’ll be wooed by old-fashioned and refined French cuisine, such as Loire Valley rabbit ballotine, Weymouth sea bass, or Charolais beef cheeks with fine French beans. | Average main: £24 | 33 King St., Covent Garden | 020/7379-9696 | www.closmaggiore.com | Reservations essential | Station: Covent Garden.
FAMILY | Côte.
BISTRO | Where else can you find a cracking two-course French meal in Covent Garden for £9.95? The Côte brasserie chain—softly lighted and decked out with gray-and-white striped awnings, banquettes, and Parisian-style café tables—does the trick, and offers popular meal deals weekdays from noon until 7 pm, weekends from noon until 6 pm. With four choices per course, you’ll find all your French brasserie favorites: crêpes with mushrooms and Gruyère cheese, boeuf bourguignonne, chargrilled Breton chicken, moules marinières (mussels with white wine), steak haché, and iced berries and white-chocolate sauce. Service is brisk and friendly, and if you’re lucky enough to be attending the nearby Royal Opera House, this is perfect for pretheater, or post-theater come to think of it. | Average main: £10 | 17-21 Tavistock St., Covent Garden | 020/7379-9991 | www.cote-restaurants.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Covent Garden.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Dishoom.
MODERN INDIAN | Whirring ceiling fans, Indian film posters, checkerboard tiles, oak panels, and old Indian cola bottles create an evocative Bombay backdrop for this inexpensive all-day Indian café off Covent Garden. Try the naan bread with keema minced lamb and peas, or classic handkerchief-thin spicy charred chicken tikka roomali roti rolls (£6.90). A succulent lamb raan bun comes on a wooden block with slow-cooked pulled lamb in a sourdough bun with pomegranate slaw, sali chips, and fried green chilies, while gorgeous creamy black dahl is simmered for 24 hours. Drinks range from a Bollybellini to Limca lemonade or a grenadine-rich lassi. | Average main: £8 | 12 Upper St. Martin’s La., Covent Garden | 020/7420-9320 | www.dishoom.com | Station: Leicester Sq.
FAMILY | Food for Thought.
VEGETARIAN | Covent Garden’s throwback 1970s-style subterranean vegetarian café has a cult vegan following, so be prepared to line up down the stairs onto Neal Street. You’ll find cramped communal tables and a zingy daily changing menu of wholesome soups, salads, pulses, dhals, stews, quiches, stir fries, bakes, and casseroles—from mushroom Stroganoff to Rajistani red lentil curry. Wheat-free, gluten-free, nut-free, GM-free, free range, Fair Trade, vegan, and organic options are all usually available. Leave room for such desserts as their famous oat-based strawberry and banana “Scrunch.” There’s take-away and it’s BYO, but note it’s cash only and only open from noon until 8:30 pm Monday through Saturday, and from noon until 5:30 pm on Sunday. | Average main: £9 | 31 Neal St., Covent Garden | 020/7836-9072 | foodforthought-london.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | No credit cards | Station: Covent Garden.
Great Queen Street.
MODERN BRITISH | Expect a boisterous best-of-British foodie crowd at one of Covent Garden’s leading gastropubs, one that showcases retro-British dishes. Not far from the Royal Opera House, the ground-floor open-kitchen eatery is done up with burgundy walls and bare-oak floors and tables. Unadulterated wine-fueled diners dive into nostalgic offerings like pressed tongue, pickled herrings, chicken pie, or smoked mackerel with rhubarb. You’ll find other vintage British dishes from a bygone age, like brown crab on toast, plus great roasts for the table—think seven-hour shoulder of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes (£68 for four). Salads and green veggies are few and far between. | Average main: £19 | 32 Great Queen St., Covent Garden | 020/7242-0622 | Reservations essential | No dinner Sun. | Station: Covent Garden, Holborn.
FAMILY | The Ivy.
BRITISH | The triple A list spurns The Ivy for its upstairs private members’ club (and other luxe spots like Scott’s, 34, and Berners Tavern) but, nonetheless, this venerable landmark still receives a thousand calls a day! A mesmerizing mix of daytime TV stars, gawkers, day-trippers, and out-of-towners dine on salt-beef hash, squash risotto, Thai-baked sea bass, salmon fish cakes, eggs Benedict, and good ol’ English classics like shepherd’s pie or kedgeree (curried rice with smoked haddock, egg, and parsley) in a handsome mullioned stained-glass and oak-paneled dining salon. Desserts are standards like Baked Alaska or sticky toffee pudding, service is unfailingly professional, and for low-to-mid wattage West End star-spotting this is still a happy hunting ground. TIP If you can’t snag a table by phone or online, try walking in on spec—it’s been known to work. | Average main: £22 | 1-5 West St., Covent Garden | 020/7836-4751 | www.the-ivy.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Covent Garden.
SEAFOOD | The A-list sneak into this classy 1896 side-alley seafood haven, a discreet alternative to the more overtly celeb-central Scott’s, 34, Berners Tavern, or The Delaunay. Linked with the surrounding Theatreland district, J Sheekey is one of Londoners’ all-time favorite West End haunts. Beautifully orchestrated by maître d’ John Andrews, Sheekey charms with warm wood paneling, vintage showbiz black-and-white portraits, a warren of alcoves, and twinkly lava-rock bar tops. Opt for snappingly fresh Atlantic prawns, pickled Arctic herrings, scallop, shrimp, and salmon burgers, or the famous Sheekey fish pie. Better still, sip Gaston Chiquet Champagne and sluice down half a dozen Jersey rock oysters at the mirrored bar for the ultimate in true romance. Alternatively, enjoy the £26.50 weekend three-course set lunch deals. | Average main: £24 | 28-35 St. Martin’s Ct., Covent Garden | 020/7240-2565 | www.j-sheekey.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Leicester Sq.
TAPAS | Ibérico pig’s head terrine and foie gras and Manchego cheeseburgers are just a few of the outstanding Spanish and Italian tapas dishes found at the Opera Tavern, opposite historic Drury Lane Theatre. Clamber in at the overcrowded ground-floor tapas bar (avoiding the acoustically challenged second-floor dining salon if possible) and, after enjoying a snack of crispy pig’s ears or guindilla peppers, opt for rich empanadas of venison, Italian Scotch eggs, braised cuttlefish, wood pigeon with scarmorza cheese, or chargrilled Venetian-style sardines. Desserts like dulche de leche panna cotta hit the spot, and watch out for the £35 or £40 tapas set meals for groups of seven and up. | Average main: £12 | 23 Catherine St., Covent Garden | 020/7836-3680 | www.operatavern.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Covent Garden, Holborn.
Fodor’s Choice | Rules.
BRITISH | Come, escape the 21st century. Opened in 1798, London’s oldest restaurant is, according to some, still London’s most beautiful. The main dining salons are, indeed, an old-world wonderland, what Maxim’s is to Paris. The decor begins with plush red banquettes, lacquered yellow walls, and spectacular etched-glass skylights. Then, in High Victorian fashion, every cranny is covered with vintage needlepoint, Regency oil paintings, figurines, antlers, antique clocks, stuffed pheasants, and endless framed prints. Little wonder Rules has been a stage across which everyone from Charles Dickens to Laurence Olivier has pranced. For your shining day—be sure to ask for a table in one of the “glass house” skylight rooms, the bar area, or the Margaret Thatcher corner—dig into the menu’s historic British dishes like steak-and-kidney pie, jugged hare, partridge, or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. For a taste of the 18th century, you can choose game specials from the restaurant’s Teesdale estate, including grouse, woodcock, snipe, and ptarmigan. | Average main: £28 | 35 Maiden La., Covent Garden | 020/7836-5314 | www.rules.co.uk | Reservations essential | Jacket required | Station: Covent Garden.
FAMILY | The Savoy Grill.
BRITISH | You can feel the history in the room at this glamorous 1889 art deco hotel-dining powerhouse, which has hosted everyone from Oscar Wilde and Frank Sinatra to Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Nowadays—buffed up with Swarovski chandeliers, velvet coverings, gold leaf-backed tortoiseshell walls, and vintage pics and mirrors—it caters to business barons, top-end tourists, and nostalgia freaks who come for the Grill’s famed table-side trolley, which might trundle up laden with hulking great roasts like beef Wellington, rack of pork, or saddle of lamb. Savoy legends like omelet Arnold Bennett (with smoked haddock, Parmesan, and cream) or baked egg cocotte with smoked bacon, wild mushrooms, and red wine sauce are to the fore, plus there’s timeless standbys like T-bone and chateaubriand steaks, alongside Carlingford oysters and lobster Thermidor. For dessert, you can’t top the mandarin Baked Alaska. | Average main: £31 | The Savoy,100 The Strand,Covent Garden | 020/7592-1600 | www.gordonramsay.com/thesavoygrill | Reservations essential | Station: Charing Cross, Covent Garden.
FAMILY | Wahaca.
MEXICAN | Brace for line ups for the fab-value Mexican street food at former MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers’ brightly colored Covent Garden bolt hole. Concrete walls, shared wooden bench seats, and green ceiling slats make for brisk and breezy basement surrounds, but it’s the cheap-as-chips, ethically and sustainably sourced £3.95-£7.95 Mexican market-style tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, taquitos, and burritos that pull in the budget-conscious studenty and touristy crowds. A generous £19.95 spread for two hungry honchos to share will produce a feast of broad bean quesadillas, pork pibil tacos, slaw, chicken tinga taquitas with green rice, black bean tostadas, and guacamole, but note that the Mexican music can be a bit loud and the restaurant is often heaving by 6:30 pm. | Average main: £7 | 66 Chandos Pl., Covent Garden | 020/7240-1883 | www.wahaca.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Covent Garden.
BLOOMSBURY, HOLBORN, AND FITZROVIA
The literary giants of the Bloomsbury set—from Virginia Woolf to E.M. Forster—may be long gone but this bluestocking enclave (centered around the British Library and University of London) still excels at a cultured and a pleasure-loving dining scene. Holborn, bordering Covent Garden, has some of those big, old-establishment hotel dining rooms, and a big, bright elegant shining star in The Delaunay on the Aldwych.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Berners Tavern.
MODERN BRITISH | All the cool cats converge at this grand brasserie at Ian Schrager’s trendy London Edition hotel. It’s hard not to feel like a million dollars as you enter the triple-height all-day dining salon, crammed with 1835 ornate plasterwork, bronze chandeliers, candles, and 150-odd stately home-style paintings. Bag a half-moon banquette and start the day with an impeccable £13 Full English breakfast (with Stornaway black pudding) and return for a light lunch of crispy rock-shrimp roll or pulled Old Spot pork with chips and slaw for £12. Reemerge refreshed for dinner, and swoon over a deep-fried duck egg, Cumbrian ham, and pea appetizer, and then it’s a toss-up between Creedy caver duck, Cornish sea bass, or Buccleuch Estate bavette. You’ll find stunning dishes to share—like sous vide Romney Marsh lamb or whole Irish ox, tongue and cheek—and battered cod, chips, and mushy peas on Fish Fridays. | Average main: £15 | The London Edition,10 Berners St., Bloomsbury | 020/7908-7979 | www.bernerstavern.com | Reservations essential | Station: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Grain Store.
MODERN FRENCH | Vegetables take pride of place at French chef Bruno Loubet’s mega-hit 120-seat restaurant. Earthy beetroot, artichoke, corn, quinoa, butternut squash, onions, potatoes, and shiitake mushrooms take starring roles—and relegate proteins to the margins—on the menu at his quirky 1851 converted former grain warehouse, just behind King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations. Watch Loubet in the kitchen-cum-dining room as he concocts veg-centric surprises like spiced mash, pickled cucumber, snowball turnips, broad beans … and a little confit lamb. You’ll smirk at flourishes like a flowerpot of radishes that you roll in “olive soil” (dried black olives), a chilled tomato water lobster “Bloody Mary,” and desserts of goat’s milk panna cotta with candied tomato. And yet, there’s no denying the originality of Loubet’s signature butternut squash ravioli or the sheer brilliance of a humble vegetable “Scotch egg” with a wicked tangle of fennel and aioli sauce. | Average main: £12 | Granary Sq.,1-3 Stable St., King’s Cross | 020/7324-4466 | www.grainstore.com | Reservations essential | No dinner Sun. | Station: King’s Cross, St. Pancras.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | The Delaunay.
AUSTRIAN | It’s all fin de siècle Vienna at this magnificent art deco-style take on an all-day Viennese coffeehouse on the Aldwych. Dine like Emperor Franz Joseph I on a majestic 60-item menu that would do the dual-monarchy and Austro-Hungarian Empire proud. Dishes are von Trapp fabulous—think weiners, schnitzels, goulash, and Viennese hot dogs, served with sauerkraut and onions. There are other goodies like borscht and beef Stroganoff, kedgeree, and choucroute`a l’Alsacienne (sauerkraut with sausages). Desserts delight, too, including apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and an evocative three-peaked Salzburg soufflé, while the innocuous “Kinder” ice cream coupe bursts with meringue, marshmallows, and whipped cream. Classy Viennese breakfast, brunch, Viennoiserie pastries, and Afternoon Teas are also served. | Average main: £21 | 55 Aldwych, Holborn | 020/7499-8558 | www.thedelaunay.com | Station: Covent Garden, Charring Cross, Aldwych.
AMERICAN | Hot dogs and Champagne? Shucks! Why didn’t we think of that! Bubbledogs has come up with the most unlikely food combo this side of milk shakes and fries—and has hit the Willy Wonka jackpot. Husband-and-wife Sandia Chang and James Knappett combine their respective loves of New York hot dogs and independent grower Champagnes, and have gone back to bubbly basics with a bar menu that pays due homage to both. Classic all-British pork, beef, or vegetarian hot dogs cost around £8, while the single-estate and handcrafted Champagnes are some of the most reasonable around—think £7 for a glass of Gaston Chiquet. Sit at raised counters surrounded by brick walls, dog cartoons, and cozy log-cabin paneling, and choose hot dogs ranging from a Fourth of July (bacon wrapped with BBQ sauce), a New Yorker (with NY street-cart onions), or The Reuben (with sauerkraut and Russian dressing). There’s slaw and sweet-potato fries, but expect a wait; line ups form after 6 pm. | Average main: £8 | 70 Charlotte St., Fitzrovia | 020/7637-7770 | www.bubbledogs.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Goodge St.
Fodor’s Choice | Dabbous.
MODERN EUROPEAN | It’s a triumph of taste over technology at wunderkind Ollie Dabbous’s extraordinary game changer off Charlotte Street in Bloomsbury. Startlingly minimalist, pure, inventive, and seasonally based new-wave dishes elicit Oohs! Aahhs! and Oh-my-Goshes! in a flummery-free NYC-industrial chic setting of exposed concrete, overhead ducting, and heavy metal screens and cages. Phenomenal flavors abound. Ingredient-led dishes like a peas-and-mint appetizer ping your taste buds with frozen mint tea, edible violets, and broad bean flowers, and a coddled hen’s egg with smoked butter and woodland mushrooms sits handsomely in a slinky bowl of hay. Palette-popping barbecued Ibèrico pork with acorn praline, halibut with coastal herbs (sea aster and oyster leaf), and brittle chocolate ganache with green basil moss are instant classics, and set Dabbous apart as one of London’s most dazzling talents. TIP Book far in advance. | Average main: £21 | 39 Whitfield St., Fitzrovia | 020/7323-7323 | www.dabbous.co.uk | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Goodge St.
PERUVIAN | Biodiversity-driven cuisine has blasted Lima to the top rank of London’s new-wave Peruvian restaurants. Relax in an informal skylighted dining room scattered with cushions and Inca-style stitched banquettes, and put yourselves in the hands of the famously smiley staff, who’ll guide you first to frisky pisco sours, made with grape brandy, sugar syrup, bitters, and foamy egg white. Next has to be a killer raw-fish sea bream ceviche, doused in lime-flavored white tiger’s milk (leche de tigre), with sweet onion and inka corn. Charred chunks of braised octopus on white quinoa with purple botija olive blobs is as vibrant a dish as any, and mains like suckling pig with Amazonian cashews, or crab with purple corn and red kiwich (an Andean super grain) will blow your taste buds away. Finish with 75%-cacao Porcelana dessert with mango and mini blue potato chips. | Average main: £19 | 31 Rathbone Pl., Fitzrovia | www.limalondon.com | Reservations essential | Station: Tottenham Court Rd., Goodge St.
CLERKENWELL AND THE CITY
Historic and just beyond The City limits, chef-centric Clerkenwell is one of the most cutting-edge, radical, and trendy quarters for London gastro-dining, which sets it in marked contrast to the adjacent City, which caters overwhelmingly to business-focused conservative dining. In Clerkenwell, the starchiness of The City fades into relaxed artiness: a fertile ground for avant-garde chefs and restaurants.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet.
FRENCH | French chef Bruno Loubet rules the roost at this slick hotel dining room and upscale bistro at the Zetter in historic-yet-cutting-edge Clerkenwell. Loubet tinkers and crafts away and creates so many must-try regional French dishes it’s genuinely hard to choose: deliciously pink quail comes with prune, Roquefort, and sautéed wild mushrooms, while guinea fowl boudin blanc sausages sit perfectly with delicate leeks and chervil sauce, to name a couple of winners. You’ll find fleshy sea bream with Pernod beurre blanc, yummy Mauricette snails and meatballs, and soothing hare royale, followed by tarragon poached pear, or classic crêpes Suzette (served with a touch of cardamom in a copper pan). The bustling ground-floor bistro is kitted with retro lamps, earthenware jars, coat hooks, and artifacts, and overlooks St. John’s Square and the crenellated 14th-century St. John’s Gate. | Average main: £18 | The Zetter,86-88 Clerkenwell Rd., Clerkenwell | 020/7324-4455 | www.bistrotbrunoloubet.com | Reservations essential | Station: Farringdon St., Barbican.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Duck & Waffle.
MODERN BRITISH | Zoom up to the 40th floor of the Heron Tower near Liverpool Street, and head straight for the cult signature dish of crispy confit duck leg, fried duck egg, Belgium waffle, and mustard maple syrup for a taste of awesomeness from rising Brit chef Daniel Doherty. Eclectic flourishes abound amid spectacular views that take in the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the Gherkin. A mysterious wax-sealed brown paper bag contains spiced pigs ears, and battered cod tongues have a seafront feel as they come in a faux polystyrene tray with chippy paper and a wooden fork. Handily open 24/7, you might sample an all-day foie gras breakfast, with streaky bacon and homemade Nutella, or share tender octopus with lemon and capers, bacon-wrapped dates, and pollack “meatballs.” A stunning vanilla ice cream Baked Alaska with strawberry and mint oil is the ultimate finale. | Average main: £19 | Heron Tower,110 Bishopsgate, The City | 020/3640-7310 | www.duckandwaffle.com | Reservations essential | Station: Liverpool St.
FAMILY | E Pellicci.
CAFÉ | It’s all Cockney banter and all-day full English breakfasts at this tiny Grade II-listed 1900 family-run greasy spoon near the East End’s great Brick Lane and Columbia Road street markets. With atmospheric stained glass, Formica tables, art deco marquetry, and signed pics of East Enders TV soap stars, it’s a rowdy hole-in-the-wall for the greasy “fry-ups” that the British adore: eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, toast, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, tea, and bubble-and-squeak (cabbage and mashed potatoes). Matriarch “Mama” Maria also rustles up Toscana spaghetti and lasagna, plus steamed sponge and bread pudding. Your arteries may clog up, but at least the wallet survives. Everything’s less than £8.90, but remember this is the East End, and hence it’s “Cash only, Mate!!” | Average main: £8 | 332 Bethnal Green Rd., Bethnal Green | 020/7739-4873 | Reservations not accepted | No credit cards | Closed Sun. | Station: Bethnal Green.
ITALIAN | Top-notch southern Italian cuisine in a modern glass-sided shoe box of a restaurant characterizes the lively business-heavy dining scene here near Bishopsgate. Wavy-haired Italian chef Francesco Mazzei draws inspiration from Sicily, Puglia, Sardinia, and Calabria and prowls the modern high-ceilinged bar, floor, and clear-fronted kitchen like the proud owner he is. With its clean lines, soft music, and distinctive white leather seats, you’ll find fresh, simple, and restrained Italian dishes like wild mushroom and black truffle tagliolini and Sardinian fish stew, or incredible crispy fish strips that have been soaked in milk and dipped in double-zero flour. The baccalà salt cod with n’duja crimson-colored Calabrian sausage is awesome, too. Well-crafted desserts, like ricotta mousse with spicy figs, are bellissimo, and the winning wine list is mostly Italian. | Average main: £26 | 1 Snowden St., The City | 020/7422-7000 | www.lanima.co.uk | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. | Station: Liverpool St.
FAMILY | Moro.
MEDITERRANEAN | Up from The City, near Clerkenwell and Sadler’s Wells contemporary dance theater, is Exmouth Market, a cluster of cute indie shops, bookstores, vinyl stores, artisan bakeries, an Italian church, and more fine indie-spirited restaurants like Moro. Lovingly nurtured for over a decade by husband-and-wife chefs Sam and Sam Clark, the menu includes an expansive mélange of Spanish, Moroccan, and Moorish North African flavors. Flavor-packed and rustic tapas—like baba ghanoush, Syrian lentils, baby squid with harissa, or ox heart tabouleh—compete with spiced meats, Serrano ham, salt cod, and chargrilled offerings. Wood-fired sea bass with hispi cabbage, grilled lamb with eggplant, or sea bream with chickpea salad are among the standout mains. Sidle up to the long zinc bar, or squeeze into a tiny table and lean in—it’s noisy here, but then again that’s all part of the buzz. | Average main: £18 | 34-36 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell | 020/7833-8336 | www.moro.co.uk | Reservations essential | No dinner Sun. | Station: Farringdon, Angel.
FAMILY | Simpson’s Tavern.
BRITISH | The City of London’s oldest chophouse and tavern was founded by Thomas Simpson in 1757 (during the reign of George II) and is undoubtedly as raucous now as the day it opened. Approached via a tiny cobbled Dickensian alley off Cornhill, it draws ruddy-faced pin-striped City folk who revel in the old boarding school surrounds and down oodles of claret and rustic old English tavern-style grub: pork belly crackling, potted shrimps, steak-and-kidney pie, grilled chump chops, and “stewed cheese” (the house special of cheese on toast with béchamel sauce). Desserts are public school faves, like spotted dick and custard, and antique six-seater shared oak bench stalls with overhead brass coat racks, House of Commons green cushions, and magnificently merry service only seem to add to the charm. This was once a favorite with Victorian novelists Charles Dickens and William Thackeray. Note it’s only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm. | Average main: £10 | Ball Court,38½ Cornhill, The City | 020/7626-9985 | www.simpsonstavern.co.uk | Reservations essential | Closed weekends. No dinner | Station: Bank.
MODERN BRITISH | Gastronauts travel the globe for pioneering Brit-chef Fergus Henderson’s nose-to-tail cuisine at this puritan stark-white converted former ham-and-bacon smokehouse near historic Smithfield Market. Henderson famously uses all scraps of a carcass, and his waste not, want not chutzpah chimes increasingly with London’s age of austerity: one appetizer is pig’s skin and others like ox heart, rolled pig’s spleen, or calves’ brain and chicory are marginally less extreme. Open since 1994, long-standing St. John signatures like bone marrow and parsley salad, chitterlings with dandelion, or pheasant and pig’s trotter pie appear stark on the plate, but arrive with aplomb. Look out for a metropolitan art-and-designer crowd, who enjoy feasting meals for the table, like whole roast suckling pig or braised venison with red wine sauce. Finish with Eccles cakes, Lancashire cheese, or half a dozen golden madeleines. | Average main: £23 | 26 St. John St., Clerkenwell | 020/7251-0848 | www.stjohnrestaurant.com | Reservations essential | No dinner Sun. | Station: Farringdon, Barbican.
SEAFOOD | Sweetings was established in 1889 and little seems to have changed at this time warp since the last days of the British Empire. There are some things Sweetings doesn’t do: reservations, dinner, coffee, or weekends. It does, mercifully, do seafood—and rather well. Not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral, and kitted out with Victoriana, Colonel Blimp, and sporting cartoons, the restaurant is patronized by pin-striped City gents who down pewter tankards of Black Velvet (Guinness and Champagne) and love to eat potted shrimps, roe on toast, Dover sole, and skate wings with black butter sauce, all this perched on high stools at white linen-covered raised wooden counters. West Mersea oysters are fresh and plump, and desserts like spotted dick or baked jam roll are timeless public school favorites. The long-serving waitstaff wear funereal black and white and know all the regulars. | Average main: £19 | 39 Queen Victoria St., The City | 020/7248-3062 | www.sweetingsrestaurant.com | Reservations not accepted | Closed weekends. No dinner | Station: Mansion House.
INDIAN | Half-hour line ups form at this throbbing neon-fronted east-side Whitechapel mecca and family-owned curry house. Best bets include fiery Pakistani curries, chargrilled lamb chops, and spicy seekh and shami kebabs. Average price of dinner for two: £36. | Average main: £16 | 83-89 Fieldgate St., The City | 020/7247-9543 | www.tayyabs.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station:Aldgate East.
Local Chains Worth a Taste
If you’re zipping round town or don’t have time for a leisurely meal, try a local chain restaurant. The ones listed below are well priced and are the best in their category.
Bill’s: Linger at this popular chain where you can enjoy porridge, meze, afternoon tea (£9.95), or a steak dinner for two (for £17 each) in a cozy setting. | www.bills-website.co.uk.
Byron: This line of child-friendly hamburger joints mops up the mid-range burger market with its Scotch beef hamburgers, onion rings, and French fries. | www.byronhamburgers.com.
Busaba Eathai: It’s always packed at these Thai canteen supremos where you’ll find Thai noodles, rice dishes, and spicy meals in a bowl in sultry surrounds. | www.busaba.com.
Café Rouge: A French bistro chain that churns out great £10.25-£14.50 plats rapides and prix-fixe deals—so uncool that it’s now fashionable. | www.caferouge.co.uk.
Pho: Enjoy serene surrounds at this bargain-priced seven-strong Vietnamese gaggle of pungent pho (pronounced “foh”) rice and vermicelli noodle soup stops. | www.phocafe.co.uk.
Côte: High-quality and reliable £9.95-£12.50 classic French brasserie meal deals are the order of the day at this lower-upper-middle-market 22-strong chain. | www.cote-restaurants.co.uk.
Ed’s Easy Diner: OD on milk shakes, chili dogs, and made-to-order hamburgers at this chain of shiny, retro-’50s-theme, American-style diners. | www.edseasydiner.com.
Gail’s Artisan Bakery: Artisanal sandwiches, breakfasts, and lunches like chorizo, butternut squash, and quinoa salad are found at this chain of gourmet bakeries. | www.gailsbread.co.uk.
Masala Zone: The Covent Garden hub’s the most popular of these Indian restaurants, where you can gorge on £12 spreads of curry, vegetables, dhal, and raita. | www.masalazone.com.
Pizza Express: Serving classic thin-crust pizzas, old favorite Pizza Express is everywhere (there are nearly 100 in London). The Soho branch has a famed live jazz program. | www.pizzaexpress.com.
Pret a Manger: This take-out sandwich shop has store-made natural sandwiches, chemical-free wraps, sushi, salads, fruit, porridge, and tea cakes, too. | www.pret.com.
Wagamama: Londoners drain billions of bowls of Asian ramen and noodle soups at this high-tech, high-turnover kid-friendly chain of Asian canteens. | www.wagamama.com.
MODERN EUROPEAN | This East End fashionista hangout is located down a side alley in hot Bethnal Green. Once you’re inside, see the striking loft dining space and Manchichi bar in its postindustrial chic setting of all-white walls and floors, factory pipes, Crittal windows, and Bentwood chairs. All the men seem to wear caps, spats, ’tashes, trilbys, Acne jeans, or ’30s-era three-piece tweed deerstalker suits, while the Alexa Chung look-alike ladies are in capes, Emmanuelle 2 organza get-ups, denier 10 tights, and Scooby-Doo specs. Accomplished French and English dishes range from steak tartar, Croque Madame, and towering cheeseburgers, to cod and clams or Longhorn beef with red wine sauce. Fashion-forward desserts like Melba toast or brioche and butter pudding stand out, and be sure to catch Xavior, the resident pianist, at weekend brunch, camping up from Katy Perry to Girls Aloud on the baby grand. | Average main: £16 | 23-27 Wadeson St., Bethnal Green | 020/8983-7900 | www.bistrotheque.com | Reservations essential | Station: Bethnal Green.
INDIAN | The humble curry is England’s surrogate national dish and in London you’ll find some of the best around. Memorabilia-adorned Dishoom near Leicester Square is modeled on the all-day cafés of Victorian-era Bombay and it expertly churns out mesmerizing street food, from naan breads and handkerchief-thin roomali roti wraps, to masala prawns, black dhal, lamb biryani, and yogurt-and-milk-based sweet lassi drinks. Average price of dinner for two: £40. | Average main: £12 | 7 Boundary St., Shoreditch | 020/7420-9320 | www.dishoom.com | Reservations essential | Station: Shoreditch High St., Liverpool St.
FAMILY | Pizza East.
PIZZA | Hoxton locals seem to have taken up residence at this knockabout gourmet pizza parlor, which serves up chewy, 10-inch, wood-fired, thin-crust, crispy pizzas in Hoxton’s converted Tea Building—a boisterous and achingly au courant 170-seat setting of exposed concrete walls, raw brickwork, pipes, pillars, and ducting. Amid a soundscape of Bow Wow Wow and X-Ray Spex, mix things up at long refectory-style shared tables with a starter of sea bass carpaccio with fennel and chili, or broad beans with Italian Pecorino, before tearing into one of the 11 semolina-crust pizzas, which might be topped with veal meatballs or San Daniele ham and pesto. There’s wine by the tap, cocktails by the jug, plus karaoke, slam poetry, hip hop, or old-school vinyl sessions in the Concrete basement bar. | Average main: £13 | 56 Shoreditch High St., Shoreditch | 020/7729-1888 | www.pizzaeast.com | Station: Overground: Shoreditch High St.
FAMILY | Rochelle Canteen.
BRITISH | You feel quite the foodie insider once you finally find the quirky Rochelle Canteen—it’s set in the old former bicycle shed at the restored Victorian-era Rochelle School (off Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, not far from Liverpool Street and the trendy boutiques of Redchurch Street). Ring a buzzer next to a pale blue door, go in through the “Boys” entrance (passing a former playground), and enter chef Margot Henderson’s long white, austere canteen which has an open kitchen and two long Formica tables, Ercol chairs, and Shaker coat pegs on the wall. Gloriously understated British fare arrives at a leisurely pace, from simple deviled kidneys on toast to a retro plate of Yorkshire ham and parsley sauce. Bump along with the Frieze London art, architecture, and designer crowd, and enjoy seasonal guinea fowl with bacon, or skate and capers, and finish with lemon posset or quince jelly. Note it’s BYO (£5 corkage), and only open 9 am to 4:30 pm weekdays for breakfast, elevenses, lunch, and tea. | Average main: £16 | Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, Shoreditch | 020/7729-5677 | www.arnoldandhenderson.com | Reservations not accepted | Closed weekends. No dinner | Station: Liverpool St.
SOUTH OF THE THAMES
First mentioned in 1276 and believed to have existed in Roman times, Borough Market in Southwark on the South Bank is a firm favorite with tourists, chefs, and foodies alike. Open Monday to Thursday (10 am-5 pm), Friday (10 am-6 pm), and Saturday (8 am-5 pm), this Dickensian location under Victorian wrought-iron railway arches at London Bridge is packed with food lovers eager to pick up the finest and freshest fruit, vegetables, and grub in town. There are more than 135 stalls, plus a bunch of pubs, bars, restaurants, and specialty shops, like Neal’s Yard Diary (6 Park St.), where you’ll be bowled over by the great mountains of stinky blue Stilton cheese stacked floor to ceiling. There are other noted eateries in nearby and burgeoning Bermondsey Street, too.
Anchor & Hope.
MODERN BRITISH | Exceptional Brit-focused fish and meaty dishes at wallet-friendly prices fly out of the open kitchen at this permanently packed, no-reservations (apart for Sunday lunchtime) stalwart gastropub on The Cut in Southwark, and a few doors down from the lively contemporary Young Vic theater. Pot roast duck, braised pig’s cheeks, Swaledale steaks, guinea fowl pie, Arbroath smokies, and Orkney kippers keep the British flag flying high and punch well above their weight in terms of taste and tenderness. Mains are well priced between £9 and £18, but bear in mind it’s noisy, cramped, achingly informal, and always frightfully overcrowded. That said, the kitchen has smarts and is highly accomplished, and you’ll find great feasting dishes to share—like Sunday lunch seven-hour roast shoulder of lamb or carve-your-own whole roast chicken that will easily feed three to four people. | Average main: £16 | 36 The Cut, Southwark | 020/7928-9898 | Reservations not accepted | No dinner Sun. No lunch Mon. | Station: Waterloo, Southwark.
Fodor’s Choice | Casse-Croûte.
BISTRO | French radio plays in the background and a Michelin Man perches benignly over the bar at this perfectly conceived Parisian-style mini-French bistro on Bermondsey Street near the Shard. Run by three friendly French guys—Hervé, Alex, and Sylvain—and miniscule with 19 tightly packed seats and six counter stools, the daily changing blackboard offers a highly restricted three-course menu of exceptional Gallic bistro riffs and classics. Sip Ricard pastis or an electro-green crème de menthe before lopping off two ouefs à la coque (boiled eggs with asparagus soldiers) or untangling your way through a blue cheese salad or perfectly constructed gratinée à l’oignon (French onion soup). With mains a steal at £11-£14, it’s elbows in as you slice into a generous bonette steak with pepper sauce or sublime brill with spinach. The £6 desserts like Paris-Brest choux pastry and cream will instantly transport you back to Montmartre or the Left Bank. | Average main: £12 | 109 Bermondsey St., Bermondsey | 020/7407-2140 | www.cassecroute.co.uk | Reservations essential | No dinner Sun. | Station: London Bridge.
FAMILY | Chez Bruce.
MODERN FRENCH | Top-notch French and Mediterranean cuisine, faultless service, a winning wine list, and a glossy south-of-the-river Wandsworth neighborhood vibe make for one of London’s all-star favorite restaurants. Take a taxi or overland train south of the Thames to lauded chef Bruce Poole’s cozy, gimmick-free haunt overlooking Wandsworth Common and prepare for gadget-free wonders, ranging from delicious homemade charcuterie or offal to lighter, simply grilled fish dishes. Pot roast pig’s cheek with polenta, roast cod with truffle mash, and monkfish with scallops, ham hock, and Jerusalem artichokes are all immaculately conceived and plated. Desserts like poached pear and clementine sorbet are packed with flavor and the sommelier’s a hoot. Set three-course lunches are £27.50 weekdays and £35 weekends; three-course dinners are £45 all week. | Average main: £26 | 2 Bellevue Rd., Wandsworth, South Bank | 020/8672-0114 | www.chezbruce.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Overland: Wandsworth Common.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Hutong.
NORTHERN CHINESE | Stupendous floor-to-ceiling views of St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge, and The City from the 33rd floor of The Shard intensify the excellence of the high-end northern Chinese cuisine at this swish replica of Hutong restaurant in Hong Kong. A chef carves a Peking duck table-side and places it in neat piles beside cucumber and spring onions, hoisin sauce, and a bamboo steamer of rice paper pancakes. Other staff use chopsticks to delve into a extravagant bowl of fiery “Red Lantern” Sichuan chilies to help reveal eight hidden tempura soft-shell crabs. Multicolored dim sum dumplings—like crystal crabmeat—are top-class, and best dipped in hot garlic-chili oil, and other standouts like Wuan cod or deboned, marinated, braised, and deep-fried spicy lamb ribs are notable for their incredible depth of flavor. The bill arrives in a Chinese jewelry box. | Average main: £23 | The Shard,31 St. Thomas St., 33rd Fl., Southwark | www.aquahutong.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: London Bridge.
TAPAS | Rising Spanish chef José Pizarro packs ’em in like so many slices of jamón jamón at this tiny tapas-and-sherry treasure trove on hot gastro-trail Bermondsey Street, just south of The Shard. With only 30 seats and no reservations, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a spot at the open-kitchen tapas bar or a perch at an upturned sherry barrel after 6 pm, but stick with it hombre—the Spanish tapas dishes are superb. Quaff a glass of Amontillado sherry and keep those delicately handcrafted small plates a comin’: patatas bravas, croquetas, meatballs, pisto and crispy duck eggs, hake and aïoli, razor clams with chorizo, pluma Ibérico pork loin fillets. Everything’s impeccably sourced—from the peppery Marques de Valdueza olive oil to the rare Manuel Maldonado chorizo. Service is decidedly Excelente!, but you’ll either love or hate the crushing crowds. | Average main: £16 | 104 Bermondsey St., South Bank | 020/7403-4902 | www.josepizarro.com/restaurants/jose | Reservations not accepted | Station: Borough, London Bridge.
MODERN BRITISH | Not far from The Shard and south of the Thames between London and Tower bridges, and only a hop from the London Assembly HQ, Magdalen is a self-assured beacon of class in a remarkably rising gastrocentric part of town. Magdalen specializes in bold, inventive, but unpretentious modern British cuisine at fairly keen prices. Punchy surprises like crispy fried calves’ brains with gribiche (£8.50), baked Somerset kid with butter beans and fennel (£18.50), and blackberry-and-apple trifle (£6) are hardly going to break the bank. The dark Bentwood chairs, elegant chandeliers, tea candles, and enveloping ox-blood-colored surrounds invite you to sit back with the short but sweet wine list and further ponder whether to indulge in a feast of slow-baked rabbit with roast garlic or whole stuffed suckling pig instead. The £15.50 two-course set lunch is definitely worth a gander. | Average main: £17 | 152 Tooley St., South Bank | 020/7403-1342 | www.magdalenrestaurant.co.uk | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. | Station: London Bridge.
Fodor’s Choice | Restaurant Story.
MODERN BRITISH | Young Brit hotshot Tom Sellers storms the ramparts at this sell-out gastro-mecca, with his conceptual take on ingredient-led New British and New Nordic cuisine. Housed in a modishly Scandinavian-inspired dining space, expect touches like edible nasturtium flowers, cod skin, or eel mousse Oreos to kick things off. The real fun, however, begins with a surprise beef dripping candle that melts into an Ebenezer Scrooge-like silver candleholder, which you mop up with bread throughout the meal. Genius dishes like pureed Désirée heritage potatoes with dandelion beurre blanc, coal oil and barley grass, or meadowsweet-pickled scallops with dill ash and horseradish cream pop up throughout the no-choice 6- or 10-course set menu. Stand-out desserts include Earl Grey-soaked prunes with lovage ice cream, edible twig, and a smudge of milk skin. TIP Reservations are taken a month in advance. | Average main: £26 | 201 Tooley St., Bermondsey | 020/7183-2117 | www.restaurantstory.co.uk | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: London Bridge.
Fodor’s Choice | Zucca.
ITALIAN | River Café alumni Sam Harris nails the elusive winning formula for this ultimate modern Italian bistro, doors down from the fab White Cube contemporary art gallery. Any restaurant that notes on its menu that “the use of mobile phones is both unsociable and unnecessary” knows what it’s doing, and this sure touch is in evidence throughout from the open kitchen and white melamine tables, to the passionately prepared, all-homemade Italian breads, pasta, and ice cream. Start off sharing a punchy £5.50 antipasto like salt cod with chickpeas, then swoon over the Pietmontese egg-yoke-colored pappardelle pasta with veal ragu, or indulgent Le Marche white truffle and wild mushroom vincisgrassi pasta bake. You’ll only find three fish or meat mains to choose from at dinner, but anything like the ink-black squid with white polenta or a blush-pink veal chop with spinach and lemon will be molto bellissimo! | Average main: £17 | 184 Bermondsey St.,Bermondsey | 020/7378-6809 | www.zuccalondon.com | Reservations essential | Closed Mon. No dinner Sun. | Station: London Bridge.
KENSINGTON, CHELSEA, KNIGHTSBRIDGE, AND BELGRAVIA
If you’re fab, famous, wealthy, or all three, chances are you’ll be living—and dining—in one of these neighborhoods among London’s world-class museums, Royal parks, shops, hotels, monuments, fashion boutiques, and top restaurants (do the names of super chefs Heston Blumenthal and Tom Aikens ring a bell?). Chelsea, made famous in the swinging ’60s, is where today’s Stella McCartney-clad yummy mummies bomb around in their Porsche Cayennes and Persol sunglasses. The area’s restaurants range from bijou boîtes to exclusive little frou-frou places ideal for girly gossip and a bite on the go. Over in upscale Knightsbridge, you’ll find Harrods and the high-end fashion boutiques of Sloane Street, plus a heap of platinum-class hotel-based restaurants. Come here for an amazing dining experience, but don’t expect bargains (except at lunch). Nearby, Kensington is a Victorian residential neighborhood with a wider range of restaurants, from French bistros to funky Vietnamese hideaways.
Fodor’s Choice | Yashin.
JAPANESE | “Without soy sauce … but if you want to” proclaims the neon sign on the wall behind the sushi counter at London’s top sushi bar off Kensington High Street. Take their advice, bag a ringside seat, and watch head chef and co-founder Yasuhiro Mineno tease, slice, tweak, and blowtorch his way to the most awesome, fresh, funky, spunky, colorful, and exquisite sushi, sashimi, salads, and carpaccios that you’re likely to find this side of the East China Sea. Tofu-topped miso cappuccino comes in a Victorian cup and saucer, and soft-shell blue crab salad is a tangle of mizuna (Japanese greens). Delectable 8-, 11-, or 15-piece sushi spreads (£30-£60) might mesmerize with ponzu-spiked salmon, Japanese sea bream with rice cracker dust, salted Wagyu beef, or Japanese prawns. The bargain £12.50 five-piece salmon nigiri set lunch, with hot miso and bracing raw salad, is a smashing way to sample Yashin’s below-the-radar brilliance. | Average main: £22 | 1A Argyll Rd., Kensington | 020/7938-1536 | yashinsushi.com | Reservations essential | Station: High Street Kensington.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | The Harwood Arms.
MODERN BRITISH | British game doesn’t get much better than at this game-lover’s paradise and London’s only Michelin-starred gastropub off Fulham Broadway. You’ll find a catalogue of awesome game-based dishes like haunch of Berkshire roe deer with pickled mushrooms or Muggleswick grouse with potato and malt to keep you tickled. Tuck into game pie with Somerset cider jelly or Herdwick lamb with rosemary curd in a relaxed comfy-sofas-and-Sunday-newspapers home-away-from-home pub setting. You’ll find openers like treacle-cured smoked salmon are served on a gnarled slab of wood, and there are popular carve-your-own whole-roast lamb, pork, or beef joints for the table—and yes, you can ask for doggy bags on the way out. | Average main: £23 | 27 Walham Grove, Fulham | 020/7386-1847 | www.harwoodarms.com | Reservations essential | No lunch Mon. | Station: Fulham Broadway.
HUNAN | There’s no printed menu at this quirky, top-rated family-run Chinese stalwart (est. 1982), situated a couple of blocks south of Sloane Square in Pimlico. Instead, baffled diners state their culinary preferences to owner-chef Peng, or his son Michael, and sit back, relax, and chopstick their way through a succession of highly tasty, tapas-size Chinese dishes to share. Using a blizzard of garlic, ginger, fiery Szechuan chilies, and red peppercorns, a loyal, tanned, and gleaming SW1 crowd might enjoy 12 to 14 unfailingly delicious dishes like Hunan water-fried dumplings, sliced duck, signature pork broth with Chinese mushrooms, crispy frogs’ legs, pig’s ears, or pungent crab noodle soup. There’s no particular logic to what you might receive, but portions are generous, the wines intrigue, and the ongoing surprise is all part of the fun. | Average main: £22 | 51 Pimlico Rd., Pimlico, Chelsea | 020/7730-5712 | www.hunanlondon.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. | Station: Sloane Sq.
INDIAN | Indian Zing’s chef-patron Manoj Vasaikar woos the west London curry mafia with updated eclectic regional Indian cuisine on King’s Street’s emergent “Curry Mile.” Start with tamarind-spiced Rasam mussels and move onto Khyber Pass shank of lamb or Barbary duck with Chettinad spices. Average price of dinner for two: £75. | Average main: £18 | 236 King St., Hammersmith | 020/8748-5959 | www.indianzing.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Ravenscourt Park.
MODERN EUROPEAN | What’s not to like about Medlar? Sensational Modern European cuisine, effortless service, elegant oak floors, and mirrored walls make for a complete neighborhood package at the quieter strip of King’s Road in Chelsea. Weekday set lunches offer good value at £26, where you’ll find winners such as crab ravioli with fondant leeks and samphire, roast mallard with pear and star anise, or juicy steak with snails and triple-cooked chips. Deep flavors, balanced ingredients, and technical precision are the watchwords here, where you’re sure to find wondrous desserts—like cherry clafoutis with vanilla ice cream or blackberry beignet with lemon curd—that are gorgeous to the eye and inevitably delicious. | Average main: £21 | 438 King’s Rd., Chelsea | 020/7349-1900 | www.medlarrestaurant.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Fulham Broadway, Sloane Sq.
INDIAN | Wizard Indian chef Vineet Bhatia dazzles with some of London’s finest contemporary Indian cuisine at this tony Victorian town house. Ring the doorbell on arrival at this romantic celebration venue, which is kitted out with Indian prints, masks, bells, ornaments, and carved wooden deities. Bhatia exhibits god-like qualities of his own with ingenious surprises like popcorn prawns, crab lollies with coconut soup, wild mushroom rice with tomato ice cream, plus Bordeaux-infused lamb rogan josh and Darjeeling tea-soaked chicken. Grilled sea bass comes crusted in South Indian lentil-based “gunpowder” and a beetroot molee sauce (with coconut milk, curry leaves, onion, turmeric, and mustard seeds), while Punjabi chicken tikka is revealed from under a plume of smoke. Be sure to try the signature warm chocolate samosas, dubbed “Choca-mosas.” | Average main: £32 | 10 Lincoln St., Chelsea | 020/7225-1881 | www.rasoi-uk.com | Reservations essential | No lunch Mon. and Sat. | Station: Sloane Sq.
FAMILY | Bar Boulud.
BRASSERIE | U.S.-based French superchef Daniel Boulud combines the best of French high-end brasserie fare with a winning dash of superior Yankee gourmet burgers and fries, at this popular street-level, all-day hangout at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. Lilliputian-size platters of the most delicate Gilles Verot charcuterie, heartier coq au vin, or white pork sausages with truffle mash compete with palm-size Yankee, Frenchie, Piggie, or signature “BB” foie gras-beef burgers and fries in black onion or sesame seed buns. The knockout grazing menu has something for everyone, and professional but informal waitstaff make for a convivial vibe in this handy spot opposite Harvey Nichols department store. Note the £24 three-course lunch or 5-7 pm prix fixe deals. | Average main: £21 | Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park,66 Knightsbridge, Knightsbridge | 020/7201-3899 | www.barboulud.com/london | Reservations essential | Station: Knightsbridge.
Fodor’s Choice | Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
BRITISH | Splendid old English dishes executed with modern precision in an open kitchen are the schtick at Ashley Palmer-Watts’ award-winner at the Mandarin Oriental (Palmer-Watts is a protégée of TV chef Heston Blumenthal, who’s closely involved). As you take in views of Hyde Park, you simply must slice into a chilled Meat Fruit appetizer (c.1500), deceptively shaped like a mandarin, but encasing the smoothest, most creamy foie gras and chicken liver parfait on the planet. A plate of Rice and Flesh (c.1390) is a picture of yellow saffron rice with calf’s tails and red wine, and grilled octopus Frumenty (c.1390) is a lively dish of cracked wheat cooked with lovage in a smoked sea broth from the court of Richard II. Marvel at beef royale (c.1720) cooked sous vide for 72 hours at 56°C, plus cod in cider (c.1940) or Spiced Pigeon (c.1780) with ale and artichokes. Head off with resplendent spit-roast pineapple Tipsy cake (c.1810)—an homage to English spit-roasting from centuries past. | Average main: £34 | Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park,66 Knightsbridge, Knightsbridge | 020/7201-3833 | www.dinnerbyheston.com | Reservations essential | Station: Knightsbridge.
FAMILY | Koffmann’s.
FRENCH | Set in the swish Berkeley in Knightsbridge, this restaurant is run by veteran French superchef Pierre Koffmann. Never paying heed to trends, fads, or fashion, the ducal clientele here enjoy such signatures as stuffed pig’s trotters “Tante Claire” with sweetbreads and morels, or delicately seared scallops with a smudge of black squid ink. Culinary godfather to many of London’s top chefs—from Gordon Ramsay to Tom Aikens—Gascon-born Koffmann showcases 35-odd-years experience and the best of regional Gascony cuisine in a cute, carpeted, and well-appointed basement setting. Alongside a stream of minor British royalty, be sure to experience other gastro goodies like snails with garlic and parsley, wild duck à l’orange, Gascon apple tart, or signature pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream. | Average main: £26 | The Berkeley, Wilton Pl., Knightsbridge | 020/7107-8844 | www.the-berkeley.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Knightsbridge.
RUSSIAN | This kitsch White Russian fantasy dining salon in Knightsbridge overflows with a maximalist decor of vintage chandeliers, books, pics, knickknacks, Tiffany lamps, tchotchkes, mirrors, Cheburashkas, and a Russian pechka stove. Note the crochet and linen-covered tables tended by chirpy staff (some in dirndls) and dishes proffered with what feels like great aunt Vanna’s old family silver and jumbled crockery. Then snap into character with a horseradish vodka shot or three, and carb-up on pierogi sea bass savories, clear Siberian Pelmeni dumpling soup, or feather-light smoked salmon blinis. There’s good borscht and creamy beef Stroganoff with mash and wild mushrooms, and let’s not forget the sweet crêpes with condensed milk. But it’s the nostalgic dacha-like antebellum home-away-from-home setting that makes you feel like you’re participating in some kind of Anna Karenina-esque historical reenactment. | Average main: £27 | The Wellington Court,116 Knightsbridge, Knightsbridge | 020/7225-3122 | www.marivanna.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Knightsbridge.
BRASSERIE | There’s always an upscale buzz at this star of the Brompton Road dining scene, not far from the V&A and Harrods. This smooth-running chic-and-fantastique classic French brasserie de luxe excels in doing the simple things well—and not costing the earth. Veteran chef Henry Harris’s signature dishes like roast partridge and juniper, foie gras with Calvados, soft roe on toast, skate wing or deep-fried calf’s brains, and not-for-the-faint-hearted tête de veau—poached calf’s head—all hit the high notes and come with a certain Gallic aplomb. While the tables may be a touch too close together and the wine’s a little dear, lots of the healthy-looking patrons are stealth wealth loyal local Knightsbridge regulars, and indeed many also seem to cherish the handy £15.50 to £17.75 prix fixe lunch or early evening deals. | Average main: £19 | 239 Brompton Rd., Knightsbridge | 020/7584-4477 | racine-restaurant.com | Reservations essential | Station: South Kensington, Knightsbridge.
FAMILY | Zuma.
JAPANESE | Hip, hip, hurray for this ever-fashionable informal Tokyo-style modern sushi joint and slim-hipsters’ hangout near Harrods and Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. Well lighted and designed with polished granite, blond cedar wood, exposed pipes, and open timberwork, Zuma takes in a sake bar, robata grill, and sushi counter—and attracts all the J Crew beautiful people from SW7 on a constant rolling news basis. You can’t go wrong with the fresh California maki rolls, tuna sushi, sea bass sashimi, pork with yuzo, or robata-grilled Wagyu beef that comes on a hoba leaf. Sip a sake, relax, enjoy the polite service, marvel at the engrossing petro dollar, Ruski, and spray-tanned “Made In Chelsea” Mwah! Mwah! set, and be sure to collar the sake sommelier to guide you through the 40-odd varieties of sake rice wine. | Average main: £20 | 5 Raphael St., Knightsbridge | 020/7584-1010 | www.zumarestaurant.com | Reservations essential | Station:Knightsbridge.
Fodor’s Choice | Pétrus.
MODERN FRENCH | Talented chef Sean Burbidge conducts a flawless dining experience at this Belgravia French haute cuisine hot spot. The soft-carpeted ground-floor dining salon may be a bit beige and dated, and a central circular glass wine cellar a tad passé, but add in the warm welcome, bonhomie, impeccable nibbles, bonne bouches, assured sommelier, stonking cheese board, petits fours, and charming fleet-footed service, and you’ve got an unrivaled full-court gastro press. Burbidge’s cuisine is all Technique! Technique! Technique! and it’s impossible not to gasp at his starters like exemplary Les Landes duck foie gras with grape jelly, or lobster ravioli swimming in creamed leaks and Champagne velouté. Bliss out on 25-day Casterbridge beef fillet with sticky Barolo sauce, and watch for surprises towards the end, like honeycomb-and-dark chocolate bomb that theatrically melts before your eyes, or mini white chocolate ices on sticks that emerge from a bowl of dry ice. | Average main: £28 | 1 Kinnerton St., Belgravia | 020/7592-1609 | www.gordonramsay.com/petrus | Reservations essential | Station: Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner.
NOTTING HILL AND BAYSWATER
Ever since Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts starred in Notting Hill and put the area on the global map, Notting Hill’s had a rep as London’s most glammy neighborhood, with it myriad boutiques, chic cafés, patisseries, restaurants, buzzy bars, and the famous Portobello Road Market’s collection of antiques shops, bric-a-brac, vintage-clothing stands, and food stalls. Portobello is one of London’s most popular street markets, so get there early on Saturday morning (the market is open 8 am-6 pm) to beat the crowds. Peruse the antiques and vintage clothes stalls, and when you want to snack, head to the north end where you’ll find fresh fruit-and-veg stalls, artisan bakeries, rare Spanish olive and French cheese purveyors, plus numerous hot-food stalls peddling savory crêpes, gourmet hamburgers, spicy German chicken rolls, paella, Moroccan kebabs, and Malaysian noodles.
MODERN ASIAN | Celebs and the perma-tanned Notting Hill brigade give a well-manicured thumbs up to this long-standing Asian tapas supremo off Portobello Road market. E&O’s size-8 figure-friendly medley of Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai all-star favorite dishes includes dim sum, sushi, sashimi, and tempura, with a slew of low-carb/no-carb options. Don’t skip lychee martinis in the singles-heavy see-and-be-seen bar, before mooching over to the moody monochrome and mirrored dining room for miso black cod, snow-crab maki, papaya salad, Thai rare beef, or lamb rendang; the sea bass sashimi is achingly fresh. There are pavement tables and curbside bench seats to people-watch on Blenheim Crescent. | Average main: £17 | 14 Blenheim Crescent,Notting Hill | 020/7229-5454 | www.rickerrestaurants.com/e-and-o | Reservations essential | Station: Ladbroke Grove.
Fodor’s Choice | The Ledbury.
MODERN FRENCH | Aussie chef Brett Graham wins hearts, minds—and serious global accolades—at this high-ceilinged neighborhood destination modern French (with Pacific and British hints) dining landmark. In a handsome four-square salon full of drapes, mirrored walls, and plush cream leather seats, you won’t find a more inventive vegetable dish than Graham’s ash-baked celeriac with hazelnut and wood sorrel, and it’s impossible to best his complex mains like roast quail with walnut cream, roe deer with bone marrow, or Cornish turbot with Riesling, cockles, and sea lettuce. Besides his obsessive interest in game, Graham’s famed for wicked desserts, so why not finish with thinly sliced figs with honey, olives, and sourdough ice cream? The assured service and sommelier round out this winning proposition. | Average main: £32 | 127 Ledbury Rd., Notting Hill | 0207/7792-9090 | www.theledbury.com | Reservations essential | No lunch Mon. | Station:Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove.
FAMILY | The Mall Tavern.
MODERN BRITISH | It’s all things British at this charming 1856 Notting Hill gastropub, which overflows with relaxed but discerning Notting Hill locals and Sloanes. Check out the Coronation mugs, Royal wedding trinkets, and Prince Charles and Lady Di memorabilia before sampling some great British bar snacks like pork scratchings, soda bread, or lop-eared sausage rolls. Move through to the simple dark-oak-floored dining room to feast on hearty beef pie with bone marrow poking through the crust, or wallow in ’70s nostalgia with chicken Kiev, mac ’n’ cheese, or high-quality smoked-salmon fish cakes with spinach and a coddled egg. There’s salted caramel chocolate Rolos or Victoria plum cheesecake for dessert, plus some stonking British farmhouse cheeses, like Shorrock’s Bomb, Isle of Avalon, or Leagram blue. Note the bargain £10 weekday lunches. | Average main: £13 | 71-73 Palace Gardens Terr., Notting Hill | 020/7229-3374 | www.themalltavern.com | Reservations essential | Station: Notting Hill Gate.
MIDDLE EASTERN | Wondrous Persian dips, unleavened taftoon breads, small tasty plates, steaming lamb bakes, and grilled kebabs are found at this lantern-filled Aladdin’s Cave, a warm Iranian canteen beloved by hordes of locals. Lines form onto Westbourne Grove for the hot pita and taftoon breads straight from the clay oven by the door, and you may have to wait to get in. Once inside, try grilled eggplant puree with walnuts, feta, mint, and tarragon, the Alounak kebabs, skewered marinated lamb with rice and grilled tomatoes, or the Zereshk polo—pungent saffron chicken with sweet-and-sour Iranian forest berries. Enjoy the Persian black cardamom teas and sweets, and lime juice-and-pistachio faloodeh Persian sorbet, but know that the sour yogurt drinks are not to everyone’s taste. | Average main: £12 | 44 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater | 020/7229-4158 | Reservations essential | Station: Queensway, Bayswater.
BRASSERIE | Owner, sommelier, and former pro rugby union player Thierry Tomasin scores at this upmarket French brasserie near Lancaster Gate and Hyde Park. Styled with swirly Art Nouveau mirrors and button-back banquettes in a 200-year-old converted former pub, Angelus has a rep for unrivaled Parisian-style brasserie de luxe dishes; the ducks liver crème brûlée, egg cocotte, frog’s legs, saddle of lamb or Grand Marnier soufflé are as good as they get. Classy £13 breakfasts, all-day brunch (10 am-10 pm), and light bites like three-egg omelet and truffled brioche steak sandwiches are well conceived, and service is notoriously—how should we say this?—Gallic! Ex-Le Gavroche sommelier Tomasin is sure to “Umm” and “Ahh!,”, shrug, sniff, gently smile, and then select an absolutely cracking bottle from the extensive and mainly French-focused wine list and Tomasin’s opus and all-round master work. | Average main: £26 | 4 Bathurst St., Hyde Park | 020/402-0083 | www.angelusrestaurant.co.uk | Reservations essential | Station: Lancaster Gate.
MODERN BRITISH | Bespeckled chef and co-owner Tom Pemberton mans the busy front-of-house grill at this Bayswater favorite, renowned for its pared-down, pomp-free, and ingredient-driven seasonal British fare. With an accent on well-sourced honest-to-goodness regional and seasonal British produce, many dishes are as unfussy as you’ll find. Slide into side booths, and work your way though uncluttered combos like steamed mussels with cider and thyme, lemon sole with sea dulse, duck breast with old-fashioned pickled walnuts, or warm and soothing English rice pudding with strawberry jam. Expect to brush past the entire Tory party leadership and the rest of the Notting Hill set on the way out. Note the £9.50, £13 or £15.50 set lunches are arguably the best high-quality weekday set lunch deals, bar none. | Average main: £15 | 3 Hereford Rd., Bayswater | 020/7727-1144 | www.herefordroad.org | Reservations essential | Station: Bayswater, Queensway.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet.
Go east to historic Clerkenwell for a popular vegetarian breakfast (£9.50) at Bistrot Bruno Loubet at The Zetter overlooking St. John’s Square, with free-range eggs, smoked bacon, grilled tomatoes, spinach, avocado, and roasted field mushrooms. | The Zetter,86-88 Clerkenwell Rd., Clerkenwell | 020/7324-4455 | www.bistrotbrunoloubet.com | Station: Farringdon St., Barbican.
Cecconi’s conjures up a suave Italian scented affair from 7 am weekdays and 8 am weekends for about £16, and offers pink grapefruit, egg-white omelet, bacon sandwiches, wheat-free toast, plus poached eggs, porchetta, and hollandaise—all in a swish green-fringed Ilse Crawford-designed upscale brasserie super de luxe setting. | 5A Burlington Gardens, Mayfair | 020/7434-1500 | www.cecconis.co.uk | Station: Green Park, Bond St.
Members of the House of Lords, cabinet ministers, MPs, politicos, and special advisors enjoy Indian Uttapam rice pancakes, green chilies, lentil broth, and coconut chutney for £8 in the converted Old Westminster Library, before ambling over into the nearby Houses of Parliament. | The Old Westminster Library,30-32 Great Smith St., Westminster | 020/7222-2555 | www.cinnamonclub.com | No breakfast weekends.
Curry addicts dart into all-day Bombay-style Indian street food canteen Dishoom off Covent Garden for coriander, onion, and green chili-spiced Bombay omelet, “fire toast,” steaming hot spiced chai tea, plus egg, bacon, or sausage naan bread rolls (about £13). | 12 Upper St. Martin’s La., Covent Garden | 020/7420-9320 | www.dishoom.com.
Mayfair’s head honchos treat The Wolseley like their staff canteen, and canter through a fine full English breakfast—eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and black pudding (£15.95)—before the global financial markets reopen. | 160 Piccadilly, Mayfair | 020/7499-6996 | www.thewolseley.com.
REGENT’S PARK, HAMPSTEAD, AND ISLINGTON
Stucco-fronted Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill attract a boho-chic media and artsy crowd who love the slightly rough and rowdy neighborhood home-away-from-home restaurants like vine-decked Lemonia. Meanwhile, farther north in leafy Hampstead it’s all Dick Turpin 17th-century wood-beamed coaching houses and inns with roaring fires, house ales, and trouser-busting Sunday lunches that predominate.
FAMILY | Lemonia.
GREEK | Primrose Hill’s favorite Greek Cypriot, vine-decked and ’80s-taverna-style Lemonia is large and light, and always packed with hordes of hungry hobo-chic locals. Besides an endless supply of Hellenic small-dish meze dips, hot breads, and starters, there are rustic mains like slow-baked kleftiko lamb in lemon, classic eggplant, Greek yogurt, and potato moussaka, herb-stuffed tomatoes, grilled prawns, calamari, souvlaki, and pleasing beef on the bone stewed in red wine. Expect friendly Greek service and hospitality, plus bags of noise, an airy glass-domed atrium out the back, and the odd fly-by from the Jude Law Primrose Hill megastar set. Weekday set lunches are a piffling £12.50. | Average main: £13 | 89 Regent’s Park Rd., Regent’s Park | 020/7586-7454 | Reservations essential | No lunch Sat. No dinner Sun. | Station: Chalk Farm.
FAMILY | Ottolenghi.
CAFÉ | Captivating meringue-filled foodie window displays and a funky modern all-white interior characterize this flagship North African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean deli/bakery/café set in Islington’s main Upper Street drag. Sit at white tables and dig into exceptionally inventive, tasty, and healthy dishes like roasted sweet potatoes with burnt eggplant and pomegranate, lamb cutlets with okra, Tunisian harissa-spiced chicken, or golden beetroot, red cabbage, and sour cream, along with cult Ottolenghi fresh salads, savories, soups, flaky pastries, and artisanal cakes. Go home with a take-out chocolate meringue or plum-and-quince tart, and pick up Ottolenghi’s outstanding Israeli and Palestinian-inspired cookbook, Jerusalem, on the way out, too. | Average main: £13 | 287 Upper St., Islington | 020/7288-1454 | www.ottolenghi.co.uk | Station: Angel.
THE THAMES UPSTREAM
This wealthy, westerly, leafy suburb may be under the Heathrow flight-path and follow the meandering course of the River Thames, but there’s nothing sleepy about the neighborhood dining scene here which is becoming more and more West End in style and substance by the hour. One fanatical locavore maverick stands out: the bearded Mikael Jonsson, a self-taught Swedish genius, who knows his wild scallops from his foraged blueberries, and produces six- and seven-course seasonal tasting menus of staggering class and brilliance.
MODERN EUROPEAN | Only a loony or genius would serve an appetizer of half a Cévennes onion with a few pear shavings and beurre blanc, but luckily maverick Swedish chef Mikael Jonsson falls triumphantly in the latter camp at his wild foodie haven. A former lawyer and prolific food blogger, Jonsson’s obsessive approach to the provenance of his largely British-sourced ingredients—very often wild, rare, or foraged—means that his dishes are some of the most vivid and intense around. Sit up on stools and watch Jonsson in an open kitchen prepare ingredient-driven marvels like wild Dorset sea bass with pickled black radishes and hyssop oil, hand-caught Devon scallops with a strikingly stuffed zucchini flower, or gloriously marbled 55-day-aged Darragh O’Shea Black Angus beef on the bone with juniper-smoked potatoes. For afters, a Cox and cobnut tart or English blueberries with rosemary sorbet are as lucid as the mains. TIP Book far in advance. | Average main: £27 | 301-303 Chiswick High Rd., Chiswick | 020/8747-0377 | www.hedonerestaurant.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon. No lunch Tues. and Wed. | Station: Chiswick Park.