Top London Restaurants You Should Be Booking Right Now
This month, London takes a big step back towards normality. With restaurants able to open their indoor seating areas, diners are no longer limited to venues with outdoor sections and terraces. The deliveries and meal kits that kept us going last year are finally taking a backseat to the Proper Restaurant Experience.
Check out our favourite London restaurants here …
Evelyn's Table, SoHo
An intimate chef’s table experience by London’s coolest foodie family.
Hidden among the bustle of Piccadilly Circus, Rupert Street has amassed a fine selection of restaurants on its shady cobblestones. You may walk by the blue exterior of The Blue Posts, set alongside Middle Eastern hit The Palomar and smart Taiwanese Xu’s Teahouse. But inside this wood-panelled space lie three storeys worth stopping for. Start with a drink at The Blue Posts pub before heading down a pine-green staircase to Evelyn’s Table. Helmed by Luke Selby, formerly head chef at Hide, and his two younger brothers, Nat and Theo (also ex-Hide), the 10-seater restaurant combines British produce with Japanese techniques and classic French methods. Follow up the blind-tasting menu with a visit to third-floor wine bar The Mulwray, where bottles are sourced from sustainable growers and biodynamic vineyards.
With an impressive CV that includes Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Dabbous and Hide, plus an appearance on Great British Menu in 2019, Luke Selby has been making a name for himself on the British food scene. Here, diners sit at the marble-topped chef’s table to be presented with five courses. First up: freshly caught Cornish mackerel, cured and served in a bowl with sweet sake and topped with elderflower and sliced gooseberries – a lip-smackingly tart, refreshing starter. Next, crunchy shiso tempura in the shape of tacos cradle wild mussels – a surprisingly hard ingredient to find in the UK, but never underestimate a chef’s dedication – served alongside a crystal-clear tomato consommé with basil.
The third course brought a ramen-style dish of ichiban dashi, a flavour-packed soup made with fresh kombu (dried kelp) and katsuo (dried bonito flakes). In the centre sits a circle of wonderfully flakey pollock kobujime (a Japanese technique where fish is aged between two sheets of kelp), sprinkled with small but mighty wild garlic capers, giving a burst of tangy acidity followed by a rich, garlicky flavour. Up next was the Selby take on a duck pancake: a bao bun filled with barbecued duck, studded with sesame seeds and splinters of cucumber. The main used the rest of the duck, dry-aged for eight days in a Himalayan-salt chamber. Slices of pink meat were served with charred greens, baked turnip, and a jasmine and citrus sauce. Closing the menu was a sake-soaked savarin with Kentish strawberries and ice cream.
Dishes can be paired with an exemplary wine list for an extra £60 per person. The drinks are as innovative as the food, and there’s also an intriguing selection of beer, cocktails and sake. Maître d’ Aidan Monk passionately describes the reasons behind each pairing, and the lengthy process to choose individual matches. The mussels were served alongside Susumante, a fresh and zingy sparkling Italian wine that enhanced the umami flavours, while the dashi was served with a rice lager to capture a traditional izakaya atmosphere. For those looking to choose their own accompaniments, the drinks list is split into ‘firm favourites’, ‘the path less trodden’ and ‘wild and free’. At The Mulwray bar, chat to Sarah for recommendations on post-supper tipples to round off the evening.
This close-knit team works flawlessly together, with tangible passion and a real family atmosphere, to ensure an evening of delightful food and drink.
A teeny-tiny marvel of food theatre starring Japanese dishes made with British ingredients.
You could walk past Maru several times and not realise it’s there, set as it is behind low-key frontage on the little Dickensian passageway in Shepherd Market that leads to Ye Grapes pub. (There’s a long tradition of doorstep assignations in these parts, but let’s not go there, eh?) This feels like a pocket of secret London, only to be stumbled upon by those with arcane knowledge of the city. In fact it’s the new restaurant from chef Taiji Maruyama – easily recognisable by his pony-tail swish of bleach-blond hair – who worked as sushi chef at Nobu then Beaverbrook, and is behind Taka restaurant, which now sits where Peter Gordon’s beloved Providores sat on Marylebone High Street, and no bad thing either. This address was a Taka too, but has been reborn as Taiji’s personal project, an omakase joint serving up to 10 guests – omakase being a surprise meal in which the chef chooses each piece for you. Sitting at the counter, the world outside, while sushi-grade tuna is sliced a few inches away, feels like just the kind of experience we want right now.
Spoiler alert: for those who want each and every of the 20 courses to be a surprise, look away. Just go along, take an open mind (there’s nothing particularly challenging though) and an empty stomach. For the others, we’ll keep a few of the plates to ourselves. Talking of the plates, Taiji spent lockdown learning how to throw clay and made many of the ceramics here (the chopsticks, however, are not whittled by him). But he also spent his time scouring the country for raw ingredients. Just as Santiago Lastra at Kol has spliced authentic Mexican recipes with as much British produce as he can, chef Taiji has done the same for Japanese dishes. There’s mackerel, brill and crab from Cornwall, scallops from Orkney, monkfish from Devon, and wild fennel foraged from fields. Some courses come with the scent and tang of the sea, others are laid on our bare hands to be wolfed down in a single mouthful. A bowl of turnip, scallop-like in its whiteness, puddled in a sauce made with soil for real English terroir. In one whimsical course, we’re encouraged to decorate our plates with blobs and dots of purée, and scatter our artworks with micro herbs and flowers. This is food as theatre, but also food that conveys a real sense of place.
There are three pairings to choose from, each gracefully poured and explained by the sommelier. So tempting to choose the tea one, and be educated in the nuances of Japanese brews, of silver buds and umami greens and creamy matcha. But wine and sake gave us the nod – for reasons of comparison of course, and the fact we hadn’t been out for a while. The sake journey was eye-opening, showcasing the sheer variety of rice wines and demonstrating how light and floral they can be, a match for an Albariño or Chablis any day. Plum sake with the pudding was a plum choice. The white wines, meanwhile, were able to deal with the salty, umami elements of some dishes.
Close-up magic of the foodie kind – if there’s a four-letter word for fall-off-your-seat-brilliant Japanese flavours, Maru is it. But Maru is also pushing food sustainability by sourcing ingredients from Britain’s shore rather than flying it all in – and that’s commendable.
Circolo Popolare, Fitzrovia
London's most queued-for restaurant.
When Gloria, the Big Mamma Group’s first Italian trattoria outside of France, opened in Shoreditch earlier this year, it became an instant hit. The chintzy, maximalist interiors and gluttonous portions appeared on countless social-media feeds, and queues for a table started to hit the two-hour mark, even in the middle of the week. Enter Circolo Popolare, Gloria’s just-opened-for-summer sister. In Fitzrovia’s peaceful Rathbone Square, double-height walls are covered top to bottom in liquor bottles of every feasible variety (they’re all full – we checked), six deep and covering the entire restaurant. Grabbing Gloria’s maximalism and turning it up another notch, the ceiling is barely visible beneath hanging trellises of ivy and wisteria. Any wall space left (and there’s not much) is plastered with old-school Italian posters. It takes a minute to assimilate to the bombastic madness of it all. Through the second room at the back – this time covered floor to ceiling in wine bottles – you’ll find the terrace, opening onto Rathbone Square, with room for 60 people – making this one of London’s best spots for supper in the sunshine.
Big Mamma have made excessive their thing, but Circolo’s extravagant menu is a departure from Amalfi-inspired Gloria, looking instead to Sicily. Start with some antipasti – the burrata with pesto heart is creamy and stringy, pulling apart to reveal a freshly made, luridly green pesto oozing out. Order a few more dishes to share: we had the deep-fried courgette flowers, crisp and light, served with a golden saffron dip. Circolo’s show-stopper comes in the form of some of the best pizza in London, available to order as a giant one-metre stretch to split. The standout topping is the Orlando Blue: rich with gorgonzola, salty speck cuts through the cheese while sweet peach and honey add another level of flavour. The carbonara, made at the table in a giant wheel of Parmesan, is a crowd-pleasing transplant from Gloria, and the crab linguine – a huge portion with an entire crab sat plumb on top – is just as yummy. For pudding, it’s got to be the lemon meringue pie: a truly giant slice of crispy pastry and fluffy meringue that you’ll struggle to finish.
The cocktail list is packed with fairly classic Italian staples, but the limoncello spritz is a great, southern Italian take on the better known Aperol. Some cocktails can be ordered in giant punch bowls to share – the Punch Drunk Love comes in a big strawberry-shaped vessel with sloe gin, apricot brandy and Lambrusco. The wine list is, like everything else here, pretty massive – we tried the house Vermentino from Sicily, which was light and fruity.
Circolo doesn’t shy away from its siblings' larger-than-life reputation, and it’s a refreshing departure from the capital’s sometimes rather serious restaurant scene.
A pop-up pasta joint goes permanent just off Oxford Street.
When fresh-pasta spot 10 Heddon Street closed after spending a few months at the top of everyone’s social-media feeds in summer 2019, the central London restaurant scene felt the loss. The collaboration between Smokestak’s David Carter and Chris Leach, previously of Kitty Fisher’s and Petersham Nurseries, quickly made most of the city’s best-restaurants lists. It’s not as though there’s a shortage of next-gen Italian joints in the capital – we’d rank Lina Stores’s two restaurant outposts, the pasta-heavy supper menu at East London’s Pophams Bakery and the original legend Padella in Borough Market among its loveliest. In many ways, 10 Heddon Street offered much of the same: homemade dough, unusual fillings and a laid-back dining room. With super-affordable prices and a location just off busy, chain-filled Regent Street, this pop-up was perfectly placed within the London foodie zeitgeist. Now it’s back with a new name (Manteca) and a fresh HQ (on Great Marlborough Street, just down the road from Liberty London), but also with the same team and ethos. Inside, the long, thin room is dominated by a granite bar: decorated with matte-black tiles and plenty of greenery, it’s a cosy and pared-back space to settle in for the evening.
The team here aims to offer nose-to-tail cooking. The menu is fairly simple: start with the house-made focaccia dunked in olive oil and topped with ribbons of mortadella, followed up quickly with some small plates to share. We tried the ’nduja mussels on our visit; with a hint of spice, they’re fresh and fiery, and the slice of bread that sits at the bottom of the tomatoey sauce becomes soggy and soaked in flavour. The main event is the pasta: order as many dishes as you think you can finish between your party. Silky pappardelle is served with rich ox-cheek ragu while tonnarelli is tossed in simple cacio e pepe sauce, elevated with the addition of brown crab. For anyone really hungry, the beef rib to share comes from a retired dairy cow (making it more sustainable as well as delicious). Finish up with the tart amalfi-lemon sorbet for a sweet kick of la dolce vita.
Embrace the Italian way of life and go for a full-on aperitivo – most cocktails are made with amaro, an Italian bitter. The wine list is relatively short and there are also dry options, such as the jasmine-and-peach iced tea).
The pop-up is back for good, and every hungry soul in central London is better off for it.
Frenchie's, Covent Garden
We visited Frenchie’s the week one of its two Parisian sisters – Frenchie Rue du Nil – won a Michelin Star. Rather than yapping and yodelling about this international feat, the London staff merely mentioned it in passing when we happened to ask them about the other Frenchie’s out in the world. So modest, so cool, so refined. Which sums up the vibe of Frenchie’s restaurant in London itself, really. Even the entrance – with a simple 'F' to signal its existence while a subtle 'Frenchie' spelt in tiles lies at your feet – is small, chic and unassuming. The long, thin interior continues the theme, merging New York and Parisian flavours in the low lights, exposed piping and subway tiles for a 'smart 1920s train carriage' sort of vibe. All together and we tip it as one of the most romantic restaurants in London.
Frenchie himself, meanwhile, is actually a chef called Grégory Marchand – a Frenchman who hit his big break at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in London, where the Naked Chef gave him his nickname (it’s easy to imagine it being shouted across a steaming kitchen in a strong Essex accent, non?). Following a year at the prestigious Gramercy Tavern in New York, Grégory returned to Paris to open two restaurants before hat-tricking with London’s own outpost in 2016.
Creative, rich and French-infused – if we were to sum the dishes up in three words. The bacon scones with maple syrup and cream are an unexpected showstopper, likely to stimulate moans even before your mains. Duck foie gras, lamb ragu, Duck breast, pork – each is served in seemingly delicate portions whether for starter or main event. Don’t let their petite appearance fool you, however – every one is surprisingly dense. Stamina should be reserved, however, for pudding – just a little trio of sweet options to choose from, plus a full dairy of cheeses, obviously.
There are wine bottles everywhere here – not just behind the bar but lining the banquettes as well. Rather than share a list, Frenchie’s stocks fittingly small, artisanal producers, and is keen to suggest the optimum grape for your particular meal, which only contributes to the general level of passive relaxation each visitor feels. Non-drinkers should try the olive-infused tonic – apparently it reminds our waitress of her home in the South of France every time she smells it.
Go for the intimacy, the food, the sexy je ne sais qois. Also – try the lunch and pre- and post-theatre menus; they offer many of the same dishes for half the price.
Galvin Bistrot & Bar, Spitalfields
A polished little corner of France in the middle of the City.
Essex-born chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin bloody love France. Ply them with a decent red and they’ll tell you all about the journey they took with their father back in the day, when a big win on the horses funded a family road trip eating their way around la campagne and returning with a deep-rooted appreciation of classic French cooking. Actually, they’ll start telling you about it before you even get the cork out. Since that adventure they’ve worked with all sorts of names, from Antony Worrall Thompson and Terence Conran to the Ritz and Orrery, and opened French-accented restaurants up and down London. Their latest, the Bistrot & Bar, opened in 2020 for a short while before the inevitable happened, is off Spital Square – not far from the market and adjoining the fancier Galvin La Chapelle, set in a high-raftered Victorian former girls’ school (have a peek while you’re here). Inside are amiable clumps of bentwood chairs, a square-print tin ceiling, all the posters of Michelin and Lillet you’d expect; outside is a useful terrace that’s proving very popular right now. It looks like a French bistro, smells like one, and tastes like one too. So while we wait to hop the Channel for the real thing, brush off your GCSE French and book a table here – though, come to think of it, this is actually rather better than many of the real things. The ghosts of the Huguenots, who settled in this part of the city in the 17th century, are probably twitching their nostrils at the aromas of Roquefort and Languedoc Pinot Noir wafting over from the dining room.
This is French cooking through and through. Not a hint of Sri Lankan street food or pulled-pork tacos, not a whiff of home-mulched kefir. It’s a place to reacquaint yourself with classic dishes such as confit duck cassoulet and yolk-on-top steak tartare, practise your escargot-winkling technique – the snails set in a little rock pool of parsley and garlic butter – and hear the satisfying clink of spoon on plate as you secure another mouthful of beautifully caramelised apple tarte tatin. Menus are kept short and to the point. Order the tarte flambée Alsacienne, nuzzled by a few ham croquettes then followed by a substantial plate of steak frites, and no one would dare criticise you. Then, a little theatre as a golden roll of rum baba, with enough rum to keep a roomful of sailors happy, is wheeled over and served by the inch with a dollop of Chantilly cream. Almost all mains are under the £20 mark – this is reasonably priced throughout.
The brothers love tradition but are open to new ideas: the best one being the wines on tap, with Uncharted Wines supplying the vintages. But the list of bottles snuffles around the French departments with some lovely appley whites and bright reds, even allowing the occasional Portugeuse and Austrian label through along with the Davenport Horsmonden from Sussex. The beer, going against the grain, is a Czech Pilsner.
Just the sort of reassuring wallop of romantic Francophile flavours we need right now.
Bob Bob Cité, The City
Press-for-Champagne buttons hit the Square Mile.
Five years in the making and after a 16-month delay, Bob Bob take two has finally opened its doors. The original Anglo-Russian-themed Soho restaurant Bob Bob Ricard which opened 10 years ago was modelled on the Orient Express and we’re definitely still inside a train here, all be it on the third floor of the Cheesegrater, with its yellow doors visible from the ground. This over-the-top spot is rumoured to have cost £25 million. And though there are similarities to the Soho outpost, this is not a duplicate. It was designed as a bistro and chef Eric Chavot (previously of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons and Marco Pierre White’s The Restaurant) is dishing up French country classics in two all-booth dining salons (one red, one blue) panelled with mirrors and floor-to-ceiling rosewood. Twenty-four chandeliers and more than 1,000 lightbulbs create a soft glitz. And fans will be pleased to know that Bob Bob Cité has retained the press-for-Champagne buttons which ensured Ricard’s success. Here they are translated to match the French bistro set-up: presser pour Champagne, a button that quickly illuminates the correct table number on the ticker tape of LED numbers that dance along the four walls of the dining rooms when a customer calls for bubbles. Refreshingly (but not altogether surprisingly given the price tag) tables are not turned and guests can stay as long as they like.
The menu may start with caviar (Siberian or Russian) and oysters (with shallots and lemon, or gratinée, baked with truffle hollandaise), but the rest of the dishes are more considered and marginally less showy. Escargots en persillade are perfect, pungent with garlic and vibrant with grassy parsley. A fried duck egg is served on a salt-beef hash that’s topped with gruyère and truffle foam; and heritage tomato salad is paired with fat, silver-skinned anchovies and a tart Niçoise dressing. Mains include steak tartare, rib-eye and spatchcock chicken but Bob Bob Ricard’s now-famous beef Wellington is still the star of the show: served perfectly pink and encased in a golden cable-knit crust, it could happily feed four but is recommended for two. Don’t skimp on the sides – all of which come with the optional addition of truffle – the pomme purée and grilled hispi cabbage are the standouts.
Vodka shots are served at -18°C. Then, just press for Champagne. Two hundred of the bottles on the wine list are served up to Methuselah size (six litres to you and me). But for those not fussed by the fizzy stuff, there are also 50 vintages of Armagnac brandy, starting in 1888 – and vintage ports that go back to 1945. Ask for anything, and we suspect they’ll probably have it.
Flashy and splashy, the dining room at Bob Bob Ricard’s City sister is just as extravagant as the skills the chef shows in the kitchen.
A homegrown, produce-led restaurant in south-west London.
The team behind small-plates, produce-led Hackney restaurant Nest has launched a new venture on the opposite side of London. Just opened on Fulham’s Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fenn maintains the ethos of Nest, serving seasonal British food in south-west London. Fenn is an old English word for ‘low-lying wetland’, and the menu is inspired by Fulham’s riverside location, looking to UK producers for ethically sourced ingredients. Until Monday 17 May 2021, diners will eat outside in the restaurant’s covered outdoor area, a navy-blue wooden hut with cushioned benches, dangling plants and low-hanging heaters. Indoors, an open kitchen overlooks the dining room, where a giant carved ash-wood table takes centre stage – surrounding tables join it to seat up to 30 guests. For private dining, guests will be able to hire the downstairs wine cellar, where a 16-seater oak table sits among exposed bricks and wall-bound wine racks.
The menu, designed by executive head chef Johnnie Crowe and head chef Joe Laker (formerly at Farringdon’s Anglo restaurant and Belgravia’s Liv), consists of à la carte options and a chef’s set selection offering smaller tastes of the full menu’s best bits. We went for the set menu, seven dishes served on speckled china plates and thin tree-trunk cross sections. Kicking things off was FFC (Fenn fried chicken), two perfectly crunchy bites of deep-fried chicken thigh served with a dollop of pea-green wild-garlic cream. This was an absolute novelty for me – as someone with a gluten intolerance, simple delights such as fried chicken have been off the table (quite literally). Luckily, Laker also has various dietary requirements, so most of the dishes can be adapted. Second was a slice of freshly made bread and cultured butter, followed by beef tartare with fermented chilli, sprinkled with chives and drizzled in a punchy smoked oil.
The fish dish was halibut served with a dollop of shredded cornish crab, samphire and sea herbs, and the aged beef was cooked to juicy, pink perfection, accompanied by tart pickled walnuts, creamy fondant potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli, with a thick smear of wild garlic purée. A surprise pre-pudding palate cleanser arrived – a lip-smackingly sour green-apple sorbet – before yogurt sorbet on Pump Street chocolate shavings. Those who can find space to squeeze in more (surprisingly, we could), can opt for an additional cheeseboard – slices of British artisanal produce to smother onto cheese scones with a helping of sweet shallot chutney. There are options to add on Cornish rock oysters and Exmoor caviar as extra starters, and a separate vegetarian menu is available – the confit duck-egg yolk and wild mushroom almost tilted the scales in the meat-free menu’s favour.
The set menu can be paired with wine for an extra £45 per person, but we opted for an English bottle to match the homegrown ingredients in the dishes. The 2017 dry white Horsmondon from Davenport in Sussex was surprisingly lively – a dry, vibrant blend of citrus flavours and floral notes. Harry, the incredibly passionate front of house, had plenty of other wine suggestions, and we ended up trying a 2019 Argentinian dessert wine, a rich, intense Pinot Noir that provided a sweet accompaniment to our cheeseboard.
A delightful, flavour-packed triumph of British cooking in south-west London.
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