London's Best Restaurants
There’s never been a better or, frankly, wackier, time to eat in London. Like so many of us these days, Londoners are positively obsessed with food, in all its guises: high to low, food trucks to four stars.
Whether it’s burger joints or old-school British lunchrooms; elegant Italian restaurants or trendy Peruvian ceviche bars; weekend markets or semi-secret chef’s tables, wherever your taste runs, London has you covered. Few cities on earth offer food this good across the board. (C’mon, bring it, New York! Step up, Paris and Tokyo!)
The only question for you, oh hungry pilgrim, is which London you’re after: the one with the amazing breakfasts? Or the one with 70-odd variations of Indian food? The one obsessed with tapas and pintxos? Or the one giving Copenhagen a run for its foraged nettles and sea purslane?
Here’s a better idea: how about trying them all? Read on for the best new restaurants in London.
Granger & Co.
The new Granger & Co. is not only the prettiest breakfast spot in London, it’s arguably the best. Opened by Australian chef Bill Granger, whose Sydney café Bills is legendary for eggs and pancakes, it occupies a prime block of Notting Hill where geraniums fill every window box. Sunlight pours through double-height windows, casting a glow on the radiant crowd. Order an Aussie-style flat white, grab a paper from the granite-topped bar, and indulge in a platter of silky eggs, gently folded with cream, and served with chipolata sausages and avocado relish—or go all out for Granger’s famous ricotta hotcakes, topped with sticky, molten chunks of honeycomb butter.
On Sloane Square, next to the Royal Court Theatre, Colbert is the latest hit from Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the gifted duo behind the indefatigable Wolseley. They’ve taken over the corner spot long occupied by Oriel, whose food was so lousy that the building’s landlord, the Earl of Cadogan, purportedly refused to renew the lease. Instead he turned the space over to Corbin and King, who upgraded it in the manner of an all-day Parisian café. With stage-set lighting, Buñuel posters, and distressed mirrors, Colbert could coast by on looks alone. Yet as at the Wolseley, the food is way better than it has to be. Come for breakfast, order the piquant blackberry-and-pear compote atop thick, tangy Greek yogurt with a side of nutty house-made granola, and your day will be the better for it.
Of all the far-flung cuisines making their way to British shores, the least likely is now the most pervasive: London has gone mad for American junk food. You can’t swing a Welsh corgi around here without hitting a jam-packed burger, hot dog, fried-chicken, or barbecue joint. In Fitzrovia, the line runs down the block each evening for red-hot wine bar Bubbledogs, where chef James Knappett and sommelier Sandia Chang pair grower champagnes with gussied-up hot dogs. Try the Small Eye dog, a bánh mì variation topped with pickled carrots, fennel, cucumber, cauliflower, and Sriracha-spiced mayo.
Cay Tre Soho
A key ingredient in Dean Street’s culinary renaissance, this Vietnamese bistro is the Sohofied sequel to the original Cay Tre in Hoxton, a favorite late-night haunt for London chefs. This branch, opened in 2011, has a chic mod-Deco theme—all black-and-white with splashes of turquoise—and a cool retro soundtrack heavy on Bix Beiderbecke. The menu is a fusion of traditional Vietnamese dishes and well-sourced British ingredients: a knockout pho made with ox cheeks; organic lamb in spicy red curry; grilled aubergines with Devon crab; Chinese mustard greens wok-fried with English chanterelles. Don’t miss the bánh cuón—as faithful a version of the famed Vietnamese ravioli as you’ll find west of the Mekong.
London is in the throes of a serious Peruvian craze, as the giddy crowds at Arjun Waney’s Coya (a private club–cum–Peruvian restaurant on Piccadilly) can attest. But the rage for anticuchos and pisco sours really took off here, at this long, narrow, and eternally festive Soho hot spot. The cocktails may be what most are here for—and they are terrific—but chef Gregor Funcke does a bang-up job with the titular ceviche (try the leche de tigre–marinated sea bass with yellow chile) and with skewers of grilled chorizo and octopus.
Vivek Singh made a big splash in 2001 with the opening of Cinnamon Club, a leather-paneled room in Westminster that upended Londoners’ notions of what an Indian restaurant could be. In 2012 the Bengali chef opened a decidedly more casual (and affordable) café on Kingly Street in Soho. The black-leg-chicken biryani arrives in a heavy iron Staub pot; leave the rice to cook for a spell until it gets paella-crunchy. A crisp-skinned, turmeric-dusted tandoori salmon is sauced with a delicious horseradish-spiked green pea relish. If you’re game for lamb’s brains, the kitchen does a fine variation on Mumbai’s iconic Bheja fry (mutton brains in mince curry). And props to Singh’s ingenious Bangla Scotch egg: a soft-cooked quail egg that’s pickled in beet juice till dyed bright pink, then breaded in a spicy garam-flour batter and deep-fried.
On a leafy corner of Mayfair, this gorgeous northern Italian newcomer is a collaboration between Arjun and Peter Waney (owners of the eternally popular Zuma) and restaurateur Giuliano Lotto (The Arts Club). The room glows with flattering light, part of it from the flame of a state-of-the-art Wood Stone pizza oven, which dominates an open kitchen manned by chefs in stovepipe hats. Crisp white linens and vases of red roses adorn each table. Elegant as a bespoke Brioni suit, Banca is a welcome throwback in an era when so many trendy restaurants dress down. Thankfully the food measures up to the setting, from the melt-on-the-tongue vitello tonnato to a sumptuously creamy wild mushroom risotto.
Believe the hype about this 12-table restaurant in Fitzrovia run by 32-year-old chef Ollie Dabbous—the food really is that good, even if the space comes off like an assembly-line floor (all concrete, steel, and exposed ductwork). What the room lacks in color is made up for on the plates. A startlingly vivid pea-and-mint starter celebrates the miracle of England’s greatest ingredient: a bright-green pea purée, drizzled with tart pea oil and topped with minty pea granita and whole peas in the shell. Dabbous’ signature dish, a coddled egg with smoked butter and wild mushrooms, recalls a Japanese chawanmushi custard, but tastes definitively of the English soil. It is unspeakably delicious, and I urge you to try it yourself, if you can score a table—I hear there are a few left for 2014.
London has thousands of Indian restaurants specializing in regional cuisines. One you couldn’t find much of till now: the Parsi cooking of Bombay’s beloved Irani cafés. This charming Shoreditch newcomer is an uncanny homage to Bombay’s Britannia, the king of the old Parsi cafés. The space feels like a walk-in sepia photograph, bathed in dreamy light; archival photos and old Hindi adverts capture the funky glamour of midcentury Bombay. And the food is terrific. Consider Dishoom’s take on berry pulao, the tart Parsi-style biryani—here made with tangy cranberries instead of barberries. There’s also a deep, rich black-lentil dal, fragrant with wintery spice. For those who really miss Mumbai, Dishoom even serves Thums Up, the sweet Indian Coke.
Is there any jamon ibérico left in Spain? You’d guess not, based on the number of tapas bars in London, each with a glistening ham racked up on the countertop. Long is the love the British have for the Iberian peninsula—and that love is begetting ever-better rewards. In a crowded field, the chic and diminutive Donostia, on a plummy stretch of Marylebone, is among the top new contenders. Chef Tomasz Baranski previously cooked at Soho’s estimable Barrafina (which itself recently expanded to Covent Garden), and his Basque-inspired pintxos here are as assuredly authentic as any in town.
….And the tapas trend continues. In the gentrifying environs of Bermondsey, the great Spanish chef José Pizarro has opened Pizarro, a larger and flashier offshoot of José, his perpetually jammed tapas bar up the street. The new space is even more rustic-chic: plank floors, unfinished beams, industrial desk lamps, and reclaimed chandeliers. Settle into a half-moon banquette, order a bottle of Txakoli (which your server will pour, per custom, from a height), and order your first round of tapas: girolle mushrooms with batons of Manchego in truffle oil, flecked with parsley and chives; impossibly tender razor clams drizzled with strong, grassy olive oil; and chopped salmon lightly cured in beet juice, crowned with an egg yolk.
Simplicity is the game at chef Mark Hix’s latest, located on funky Rivington Street in Shoreditch. You have basically two choices: grilled sirloin, priced by the gram, or a whole roasted free-range chicken. The steak is just fine, but the bird is close to perfect, its skin crisp and its meat delicate and juicy—all the better when dipped in fiery English mustard. The setting is a gorgeously decayed trolley shed, built in 1905, with hulking steel girders rising three stories to a soaring, skylit ceiling. The coup de grâce: a Damien Hirst installation of a bull, encased in formaldehyde, with a rooster perched on its back.
Honest Burgers Soho
The popular Honest Burgers franchise started across the river in Brixton; in 2012 a second outpost took Soho by storm. What’s their secret? Start with rare-breed North Yorkshire beef (sourced from Ginger Pig, London’s best butcher). The namesake burger is an inch-thick patty of savory dry-aged chuck, cooked to a properly pink medium. Topped with onion relish, lettuce, pickles, bacon, and aged cheddar, it’s sensational. Equally good are the crisp, twice-cooked fries sprinkled with rosemary salt. And you have to love a burger joint that serves Samuel Smith organic lager.
Just off Carnaby Street, the ever-crowded Pitt Cue started life as a renowned barbecue truck before going brick-and-mortar last year. The subterranean space is mobbed with Soho hipsters from lunch to late night, chugging Pabst Blue Ribbon and A&W root beer. Have they found a magical portal to West Texas? Perhaps so: the pit master does impressive work with smoky, slow-cooked beef ribs, and the addictive mashed potatoes come laced with marrow and a sticky glaze of barbecue drippings.
This clubby Soho landmark has stepped up tenfold since chef Jeremy Lee took over the kitchen. Spread across several snug, low-ceilinged dining rooms, it’s a convivial spot, with a nursery’s worth of greenery and a menu that could have been conceived and typeset in 1876—jellied eel, potted shrimps, all those defiantly British dishes one’s great-aunt in Leeds might crave. Bring yourself to order “bloater paste” and you’ll be rewarded with a sumptuous herring pâté; it’s topped with a layer of congealed butter that you pierce with a shard of crusty bread. Peppery grilled rabbit livers come on a skewer wrapped in even pepperier bacon. And Lee’s smoked-eel sandwich is a revelation, served on grilled sourdough bread with pickled onions and creamy horseradish.
Below a grungy parking garage just off busy Oxford Street, the cheekily named Meat Liquor is one of London’s trendiest restaurants. Join the queue, cross the velvet rope, and step inside a graffiti-and-neon-soaked faux roadhouse. The soundtrack is raunchy psychobilly; the food pure, uncut American. Meat Liquor’s saucy, spicy “dead hippie” burger is revered as one of London’s best, with a good bun-to-filling ratio and a satisfying if sloppy integrity. A reckless man might side it with chili-cheese fries and deep-fried pickles.
Out on the World’s End stretch of King’s Road, in far-southwest Chelsea, chef Joe Mercer Nairne is doing marvelous things at Medlar. With silk wall coverings and stenciled floral prints, it’s a soothing space, awash in pale celadons and suffused with natural light. The food is equally pretty: plump pink crayfish and bright-green basil leaves swim in a saffron-orange gazpacho broth, dotted with shimmering golden droplets of olive oil. A minerally onglet cut of beef is ingeniously paired with garlicky snails bearing a distinct hint of cumin; alongside are thrice-cooked chips with coarse sea salt. Make room for dessert, perhaps a raspberry-and-frangipani tart with slivered almonds and a dollop of clotted cream, or an elderflower-Prosecco jelly topped with lime granita, fresh mint, and English strawberries.
Ed Wilson and Oli Barker have built a small London restaurant empire devoted to rustic, hearty, French campagnard cooking: first with Terroirs (a natural-wine bar near Covent Garden), then Brawn (a temple to pork in Bethnal Green), and now with Soif, south of the river in Clapham. The narrow dining room is decked out with old wine barrels and French bric-a-brac; the menu makes any season feel like winter. Ribbons of fromage de tête come dressed with cornichon-spiked vinaigrette and adorned with a soft-cooked egg. A luxuriantly creamy soup of Jerusalem artichokes is festooned with petals of meaty, umami-rich black trumpet mushrooms. Basile, the sommelier, can walk you through the list of more than 200 wines, only a handful of which aren’t natural or biodynamic.
Maltby Street Market
For sheer quality of ingredients and foodstuffs, London is hard to top. This is the land of great milk and even better honey, where egg yolks bear the color of Thai monks’ robes. Then there are the famed weekend markets. Borough Market is the big one—and now has a worthy upstart rival. Tucked under the smoke-stained Victorian railway arches running through an industrial patch of Bermondsey, Maltby Street Market was founded in 2010 by defectors from Borough. Must-stops: Tozino, carving jamón ibérico to order; St. John Bakery, for open-faced smoked-salmon sandwiches with dill and crème fraîche; and Christchurch Fish, for freshly shucked oysters. Find a rickety table at Little Bird Gin Bar, where bearded lads in thrift-store caps serve top-notch Negronis in vintage crystal coupes. Saturdays, 9 a.m.–2 p.m.
Wright Brothers Soho Oyster House
This second outpost of the esteemed Borough Market original opened in 2010 with a secret weapon out back: a fabulous outdoor terrace on Kingly Court, a quasi-private oasis in the heart of Soho. At the first hint of warm weather, Wright Brothers’ alfresco tables fill up with stylish Londoners sipping Sancerre and slurping oysters. Join them, and order up a dozen West Mersea natives, a dozen Carlingford Loughs (their deep cups cosseting a creamy burst of brine), and a beer mug full of shell-on Atlantic shrimp, to dip in house-made mayo. Trust me: your afternoon is about to get a whole lot better.
This summer 2012 opening—a short walk from London Fields and Broadway Market—is an uncanny simulacrum of Brooklyn that somehow wound up in Hackney. It hits all the marks of hipster chic: plywood ceilings and Edison bulbs; Belle & Sebastian on the stereo; bearded dudes in cable-knit sweaters romancing women with bangs. On the offal-y, Italian-leaning menu, house-made charcuterie is a standout, as is a smoky starter of grilled eggplant mashed with ricotta and dried mint. A salad of crispy pig’s ears with arugula, baby celery, and roasted shallots is finished with an orange-yolked, soft-cooked egg. The pizzas—made in a brick oven wackily covered in mirror tiles—occasionally fall flat in flavor, but the lardo pizza topped with marjoram and arugula is worth the schlep from central London.
Kitchen Table @ Bubbledogs
But forget all those other places. The most exciting restaurant is this semi-secret gem called Kitchen Table, run by chef James Knappett and his wife, sommelier Sandia Chang. In a private room behind Bubbledogs (a hot-dogs-and-champagne bar in Fitzrovia), Knappett and three sous chefs prepare a nightly changing tasting menu for 19 guests. Over three mesmerizing hours, they apply ethereal techniques to earthy, woodsy ingredients—English truffles, foraged sorrel, confited pheasant—creating dishes that are complex yet comforting, novel yet deeply familiar. Verbena perfumes the sauce for butter-poached Scottish lobster; a pristine raw Dorset shrimp is laced with fresh dill and frozen horseradish. Chang and her wine team find ace pairings for each course, and the whole evening plays out like a freewheeling dinner party—albeit one hosted by a Per Se– and Noma-trained chef.